Hammer Horror Films: A List

In February 2019, I set out to watch all of the original Hammer horror movies. Last night I saw the very last one. I’m working on a piece exploring why these movies, with all their schlock and cheese, still hold such a dear spot in so many of our hearts, but I just can’t help but celebrate being done with this silly movie marathon.

Hammer TV (2)

From Hounds of the Baskervilles (1959)

It wasn’t easy. Not only did it take a whole lot of hours to watch them all, but several were very hard to find. Most came from Amazon and YouTube, but DailyMotion and some even less reputable sites were mined. More than once, our local hipster haven of a video store came through for me when I couldn’t find a title anywhere else.

(It’s probably no mistake that the most difficult ones to find turned out to be the most egregiously racist. Of course, if they tried to hide the sexist ones, very few would be left in circulation at all.)

Below is the Hammer horrors list that I followed, which I adapted only slightly from a list I found at iMDb, removing just a couple that weren’t actually horror but were adventure or sci fi instead.

How many have you seen?

Hammer Horror Films

(*Second titles are U.S. release titles)

  1. The Quatermass Xperiment / The Creeping Unknown* (1955)
  2. X the Unknown (1956)
  3. Quatermass 2 / Enemy from Space (1957)
  4. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
  5. The Abominable Snowman / The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)
  6. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
  7. Dracula / Horror of Dracula (1958)
  8. The Mummy (1959)
  9. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
  10. The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)
  11. The Brides of Dracula (1960)
  12. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / House of Fright / Jekyll’s Inferno (1960)
  13. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
  14. The Shadow of the Cat (1961)
  15. Captain Clegg / Night Creatures (1962)
  16. The Damned / These are the Damned (1962)
  17. The Kiss of the Vampire / Kiss of Evil (1963)
  18. Paranoiac (1963)
  19. The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
  20. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
  21. The Gorgon (1964)
  22. Nightmare (1964)
  23. Fanatic / Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
  24. She (1965)
  25. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
  26. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
  27. Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)
  28. The Reptile (1966)
  29. The Witches / The Devil’s Own (1966)
  30. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
  31. The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
  32. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
  33. The Devil Rides Out / The Devil’s Bride (1968)
  34. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
  35. The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)
  36. Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
  37. Scars of Dracula (1970)
  38. Crescendo (1970)
  39. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
  40. Countess Dracula (1971)
  41. Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
  42. Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
  43. Hands of the Ripper (1971)
  44. Lust for a Vampire (1971)
  45. Twins of Evil (1971)
  46. Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
  47. Demons of the Mind (1972)
  48. Straight on Till Morning (1972)
  49. Vampire Circus (1972)
  50. The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
  51. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
  52. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires / The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (1974)
  53. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
  54. To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

From Kidney Stones to Ass Goblins, or How Bizarro Fiction SAVED MY LIFE (or at least made it a little more bearable)

(This post was inspired by S.T. Cartledge and Zé Burns, who both recently shared their stories of how they discovered bizarro.)

The walls were white—not eggshell or ivory or smoke-stained, but white-white—and the room was small. There was barely enough space next to the bed to wedge in a nightstand, and on that nightstand there was barely enough room for a lamp, a clock, a bottomless glass of water, and a small amber bottle of pain killers. The good stuff.

In the bed was me, laid up sorry after a bout with a good-sized kidney stone, and disappointed to be finishing Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned on my trusty Kindle. I wasn’t let down by the story; I was sad because it would be a long time until another book came out from an author I liked this much. Most fiction, it seemed to me at the time, was either boring or pretentious.

Click—Other books by this author . . .

I was all caught up with Chuck P.

Click—Customers who bought this book also bought . . .

Fuckness by Andersen Prunty.

What’s this?

magazine of bizarro fiction 1Going nowhere and doing nothing, I bought the book based only on its title and I read it with delight. An old friend came to mind, someone I thought would also dig something like Fuckness. I looked him up, wanting to introduce him to something new, to be that cool friend who makes the find. Instead, he already knew about Prunty and this whole movement called bizarro.

He sent me the first issue of “The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction,” which could have opened up a whole new world of fiction to explore. But too soon I was back at work, and back in the flow of researching and writing nonfiction.

* * *

Five years later a cascade of tiny stones tried to escape my left kidney all at once. Their spiky structure led to a log jam in my ureter, just even with my navel. It was exactly as fun as it sounds.

The walls are a pale blue-green now. We’re in a different house and I’m on the couch with my never-ending glass of water and bottle of oxy, in need of fiction. This is when I got hooked for real. With only Kindle recommendations to guide me, I floundered around, from Prunty to Mellick to Mykle Hansen, Jeff Strand, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Cameron Pierce, Laura Lee Bahr, Danger Slater, more Mellick, Bradley Sands, Max Booth III.

Two surgeries kept me out of commission for over a month. I read bizarro and bizarro-related authors the whole time, most of it in a gentle opiate haze that didn’t hurt my fondness (and at times downright glee) for what I was reading.

Gina Ranalli, Betty Rocksteady, Adam Millard, Jeff Burk, Tiffany Scandal, Violet LeVoit, more Mellick, Cody Goodfellow, Edward Lee, CV Hunt, Vince Kramer, Justin Grimbol, Bix Skahill, and Emma Johnson.

By the time I finally healed, the place I’d been working had evaporated. I was back to being a housewife and a mom with a lot of time on my hands, so I just kept reading.

That was the winter of 2016-2017. So it wasn’t very long ago, really, that bizarro books helped me through some of the most intense physical pain in my life. There’s a joy to them, an energy, even at their darkest, that I don’t feel in any other genre, a reveling in the weirdness and absurdity of life and in the possibilities of one creative mind to communicate with another. The punk rock ethos isn’t lost on me, either.

At its best, bizarro is surprising, insightful, and inspiring—not in any superficial way but in saying let’s explore this fucked up world, even if it is full of tentacles and ass goblins and everybody’s going to end up sprouting antlers. Let’s make our metaphors bigger than life and let things be funny and tragic at the same time, because that’s how life is. Let’s write stories that are fun to read even if not everybody gets it.

I’ve moved from the voice of the reader to that of the writer now, but that transition is a story for another day. For today I just want to say “Hooray for bizarro!” With all its pock marks and blemishes—the social turmoil that sometimes happens outside the books and the failed experiments that can happen inside them—there’s something uniquely valuable in this genre, something that goes beyond the superficial weirdness and shock value to the heart of what it means to be a human who has to wake up and face this fucked up world day after day.

And thank you to all the writers I mentioned and all the others I’ve discovered over the last two years, as well as to all the small presses who print them. Thanks to you all, I’ve gone from having nothing to read to having a to-be-read list as long as a human Santapede.

The Scariest Thing

One of my first memories is of a translucent woman in our basement. She stood eerily still, looking across the room at nothing in particular. Something in my preschool brain knew she shouldn’t be there. I fled up the stairs and never went back down there alone.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cara_mujer.JPG

Cara Mujer by Cesar Tort, Wikimedia Commons

But that wasn’t the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.

As a punk rock hooligan teenager, I had a number of deeply frightening experiences. At fourteen I was raped. At fifteen people I knew, around my age, started dying—from accidents or disease or really bad choices. There was a tangible sense in our scene that “you could be next.”

Twice I was the passenger of a driver with a death wish, flying through city streets. A twitch in the wrong direction would have killed us.

Twice I was the object of stalkers.

But none of those experiences come close to being as scary as planning my own death.

For as long as I can remember, a few times a year I’ve had the thought, “I could just kill myself.” It shows up as a solution to all-consuming emptiness or to being intolerably overwhelmed. But I could always ignore it, trusting I would feel better soon—maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

A few years ago, I had what I thought was a nervous breakdown. Really, it was a mixed bipolar episode. Since then, my bipolar has been pretty intense. I have the rapid cycling kind, getting whiplash going from disco party highs to wallowing lows and back again.

The lack of any kind of control or predictability is scary, and, scarier, the intrusive “I could just kill myself” thoughts increased from a couple times a year to several times a month. My therapist had me make a list of things to do when I thought about killing myself: tell somebody, distract myself, get out of the house, be around people, and if nothing else works, knock myself out with (prescription) barbiturates.

For a long time, these things worked. In fact, the process became normal to me. Think about killing myself–> tell my husband or my mom–> find a distraction, preferably outside of the house if the impulse is really tenacious. It became so normal that maybe I didn’t worry about it as much as I should have. And then one early morning, from the bottom of a deep, deep low . . . “I could just kill myself.”

“You can’t do that to your son, to your husband,” I “self-talked.” This was on script; thoughts about my family were always a strong tether. But then I had a new thought, “You wouldn’t want them to find your dead body in the house. It would ruin the house for them.”

Irrational? You betcha. But this is mental illness we’re talking about, and I love my house. It’s not big or fancy. It’s just exactly what I want it to be: a livable piece of 1950s Americana. The kitchen floor is red and white checked. The bathrooms have the original four inch tiles. In that moment, it became okay for me to die, as long as it wasn’t in the house.

I didn’t follow the plan. I didn’t let someone know or distract myself. I went through my day determining the logistics of my death. Where would I do it? How would I do it?

I looked up the drug interactions of everything in my medicine cabinet. And for me, as for a lot of us, that’s a whole bunch of drugs.

I thought about whether to do it in a hotel or outdoors. “A hotel,” I thought, “because I don’t want my family to think I’ve run out on them. I want them to be able to find me.” I decided on somewhere swank, because, you know, fuck the rich. Plus, a nice joint could afford the cleanup costs if it got messy. I didn’t want some struggling local franchise to have to deal with a hazardous waste bill on my account.

There was an awareness in the back of my mind, suffocating under a lead blanket, that I needed to stop thinking like this. But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t stop planning my own death.

It was energizing. After days of debilitating depression, I was up and moving around. I brushed my teeth and drove my car while debating the nuances: Should I take my phone with me to the hotel? Could I stomach enough hard alcohol and pills to knock myself out before throwing everything up? Figuring out the minutia of the plan gave me purpose, even if that purpose was my own end.

I spent the better part of the day like this—jazzed on my own demise. I had settled on a hotel but hadn’t bought the alcohol when, fortuitously, I was due at an appointment with my therapist. I went. To not go would have raised flags.

As I sat there mindlessly chatting the hour away, the muffled voice in the back of my mind began to work its way free. The careful words were out of my mouth before I knew it: “My suicidal ideations are becoming more concrete.”

Staying vague enough to not end up in the hospital, I told her a little of what I’d been doing that day, and the look on her face made it real. For the first time it dawned on me that I had been planning a murder.

Not everyone has the good luck I had. If I didn’t have a therapy appointment that day, I might not be here to tell this story. Since that episode, I take that thought—I could just kill myself—as a serious warning every time. I know I have to get on top of it before it takes over.

Having a mental illness is the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.

I’m on a new combination of meds that seems to be helping, but I have no delusions about my future. There is no cure for bipolar. And even though I’ve only had a few fleeting thoughts about suicide over the last couple months, the list of what to do when I think “I could just kill myself” is right here next to my desk, just in case.

***

This post developed from a prompt asking “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” As always, my hope is to open the conversation and encourage people to talk about these hard topics with the people in their life. Suicide, I think, can be especially difficult to understand for people who’ve never felt the urge.

Let’s Talk About Bipolar

Let’s talk about bipolar, again. Let’s talk about it openly and at length until EVERYONE who has it feels free to talk about it with the people in their lives.

Because when people don’t talk about it, they don’t treat it, they don’t manage it, and people get hurt. And people with untreated bipolar don’t just hurt themselves.Colorful-spiral-galaxies-collide-in-new-Hubble-video (3)

Let’s talk about how hard it is to stay in treatment because of the very nature of the disorder. When we’re manic, we think there’s nothing to treat. When we’re depressed, we think nothing will help or we aren’t worth treating.

Let’s talk about drugs and side effects; about taking pills when you wake up and pills to go to sleep; and about how much it sucks but, then again, how much better the pills are than losing control and doing stupid shit or getting paranoid or psychotic or violent; how much better the pills are than alienating everyone, again.

Let’s talk about inpatient and outpatient and insurance and psychiatrists and therapists and counselors and CBT and DBT and EMDR and all the talk therapy and journaling and tracking and pain in the ass bullshit we go through to figure out how to keep ourselves in check.

Let’s talk about eating and exercising and sleeping being aspects of a treatment plan instead of just normal parts of living. And how it does get better when you get the right mix but it never goes away.

Bipolar is forever.

Let’s talk about triggers: the ones based in trauma and stress and the more inexplicable ones, like how the cashier raising her left eyebrow can set off a week-long, month-long, season-long depression where we have to fight every day to stay alive.

Let’s talk about trying to live some semblance of a normal life. Let’s talk about the chaotic résumés and checkered pasts, the bad decisions and their enduring and expensive consequences. Let’s talk about trying to hold down a job, maintain relationships, raise kids, care for others when taking care of ourselves can be its own full-time job.

Let’s talk about the embarrassment and the shame and the guilt we feel when things get out of control. And about how it’s easier to isolate than to expose ourselves to the inevitability of fucking up and facing up to having made a mess of things again. But isolation makes it so much easier to stop following the treatment plan.

The more we talk about it, the less we isolate and the more likely we are to stick to the plan.

Let’s talk about feeling powerless, about feeling helpless in the face of an unpredictable brain. Not knowing from day to day who’s gonna be at bat; not knowing if we can trust ourselves to make rational decisions.

Let’s talk about not wanting to talk about it, because it might scare people away, because it might mean losing our jobs, because it feels unexplainable, because it feels like a failure and hurts to talk about. Because talking about it makes it too real.

Let’s talk about denial.

Let’s talk about how bipolar takes a different shape in everyone who has it.

Let’s talk about it until people can’t remember why we didn’t talk about it; until we aren’t afraid of our employers finding out we have bipolar; until people understand, if not what it’s like, at least what we need them to; until we are accepted as we are by others and by ourselves; until we recognize that we can both manage a mental illness and thrive.

Let’s talk about bipolar until people stop getting hurt.

Memeless Mondays

Here’s a thing I’m doing to help me get more work done, to remember that IRL > online, and because, like so many of us, I’m addicted to social media. (I was even interviewed about it one time for the Mercury News.)

It’s a riff off of Meatless Mondays. Imagine if everybody decided to take the same day off from social media every week. What would you do with that time? I know what I’d do. Make a blog post about it, evidently. Plus get a whole bunch of other shit done. Like I’m going to do . . . right . . . about . . . now.

Seth Green hard at work, ladies and gentlemen

Best Books to Get You Started in Bizarro

After a painstakingly thorough survey of the field (i.e., asking writers and fans on Facebook), the following authors and titles surfaced as some of the best contenders if you’re looking for a good introduction to the bizarro genre.

The first seven names received multiple votes, but the books mentioned may not have. Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt was by far a standout favorite. After that, the entries are in no particular order. The parentheses indicate titles I added because I love them and could not leave them out. (Which doesn’t mean I don’t love some of the others, just that I had the honor of nominating these particular books.)

If there are any other titles or authors you think should be here, please leave your suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them. Now, without further ado, the list:

Laura Lee Bahr, Haunt

Jeremy Robert Johnson, Entropy in Bloom

Danger Slater, I Will Rot Without You; (He Digs a Hole)

Mykle Hansen, I, Slutbot; (HELP! A Bear is Eating Me!)

Kevin L. Donihe, House of Houses

Brian Allen Carr, Edie and the Low-Hung Hands

Carlton Mellick III, The Haunted Vagina; I Knocked Up Satan’s Daughter; Fantastic Orgy; Cannibals in Candyland; Quicksand House; Apeshit

Bradley Sands, Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, (Dodgeball High)

Karl Fischer, Towers

Sean M. Thompson, Hate from the Sky

Autumn Christian, Ecstatic Inferno

Garrett Cook, Time Pimp

Cameron Pierce, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz

Caris O’Malle, The Egg Said Nothing

Ed Wageman, The Panty Thief of Bridgeport

Emma Johnson, Bezerkoids

Zoltán Komor, Flamingos in the Ashtray

Jeff O’Brien, Bigboobenstein

(Andersen Prunty, Fuckness)

Tiffany Scandal

Violet LeVoit

Cody Goodfellow

Rios de la Luz

Collections

Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade (ed. Cameron Pierce)

Any of the Bizarro Starter Kits

Collaborations

Sixty-five Stirrup Iron Road, by Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J.F. Gonzolaz, Brian Smith, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding, and Shane McKenzie

If you’re still looking for great titles to read after these, check this out. It’s my virtual bizarro bookshelf, featuring covers and favorite sentences from all kinds of books in this crazy ass genre.

Subway Underground Block Party Book Signing ~ Saturday, 20 October

Cochise County people, come hang out! I’ll have a table outside Lucy St. John’s hip and quirky Redbone Vintage on Saturday, the 20th of October. I’ll be selling signed copies of Skull Nuggets, From the Vedas to Vinyasa, and Yoga to Ease Anxiety.

Even if you already have the books or could give a shit about them, come by and chat. It’d be great to catch up with my Bisbee and Sierra Vista people!block party flier

Write What You’re Trying to Figure Out

Skull Nuggets came out while I was in a down swing. I have a box of them in my closet. I haven’t thrown the party I thought I would, the drunken revelry reading with my friends. I haven’t taken them to local bookstores. I haven’t been posting on all the bookish Facebook groups I joined for that very purpose. I haven’t done any of the things I thought and even said I would. Because of depression.

Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel is nearly finished. Two more passes and I think it’ll be ready for the editor. But now I’m on an up swing and I know that if I start on it, I won’t be able to stop. I am forcing myself not to look at it because we are leaving tomorrow for a driving vacation centered around my niece’s wedding two big southwestern states away.

This is how it goes for me and my “treatment resistant ultra-rapid cycling bipolar II”:

Every few weeks, I consider disappearing, not existing. The depression is heavy. It changes everything. I don’t think as clearly or as quickly. There are painful gaps in my memory. Even words are slow to manifest. It’s easier not to speak. Physically I am not as strong. Psychologically nothing is worth the effort. I do not believe people who tell me they want to help, that they are there for me. Who would want to let this terrible scabby funk into their life if they didn’t have to? And who would I be if I forced it upon them?

Every few weeks, I am full of energy and ideas and appalled at how disconnected from the world I have become. I reach out to people and start projects. I think my life is worthless and wasted unless I’m producing something amazing, never before seen, and perfectly crafted. If I have an ongoing project, I work obsessively, through the night, for days and weeks. I work instead of interacting with loved ones, instead of taking care of myself physically. This single pointed focus is far more comfortable than existing with the persistent nagging unharnessed energy.

Every few weeks, I return to my baseline, where I am not down or up. From there, I assess the damage, the fallout. What promises have I made and broken? What relationships have I strained? In this state, I pick up the pieces and try to recreate a sustainable pattern. I fix my sleep schedule and buy healthy foods. I begin to get a handle on things, to become a functioning, responsible adult again.

And then it starts over.

This month marks the two year anniversary of the breakdown that led to the speeding up of my cycles.

Two years of trial and error drug testing. Two years of denial and fear and hope and disappointment.

I feel relentlessly conditioned to say something positive at the end of this. To say that because I’m in the midst of a new round of psych testing, effective avenues of treatment are right around the corner. But I don’t feel that way. I don’t have that hope.

So how do I end this? Recently, my mom suggested I write a book about my experience with mental illness, and I flinched, physically tensed, at the idea. No way. The strength of my reaction surprised me, and I realize now that it was because I thought all I had to report was failure. I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say. I felt like I couldn’t write about the problem when I don’t have a solution. How could that help anyone?

Well, maybe it can help me. But I’m not ready to take on another book project, especially since they often aggravate my condition. So I figure I can use this forum as a place not to write about what I know, but to write about what I’m trying to figure out. Who knows, maybe it will help me. Or maybe it will help someone else.

Book Signing July 7th at The Ninth House

Come by and say hi!

I’ll be at The Ninth House metaphysical shop (236 S Scott Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701) Saturday, July 7 from 2:00 – 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ll have copies of From the Vedas to Vinyasa and Yoga to Ease Anxiety for sale at the friends and family price of $10 and $5 respectively.

The Ninth House is a cozy little shop with super comfy couches where we can just sit around and talk. Hope to see you there!

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Black People in the History of the Sideshow

I’m working on a story in which a pair of black, conjoined twins join a modern day freak show. I was asked if I’d done my research on black people in sideshows.

I have done a crap ton of research and read about all kinds of people, from all over the world, who ended up in the sideshow business in America. But I hadn’t organized them by race.

When I searched the internet for something on the topic of black people in the history of the sideshow, nothing like an overview came up. Maybe this will help fill that gap.

What follows is a brief overview, a skimming of the surface on this topic. It is in no way meant to be presented as a complete list of black sideshow performers. Of course, a definitive examination of all of the issues involved would consume several hundred pages. It could be a thesis. It would be a very cool thesis. If you write that thesis, let me know!

____________________

The history of black people in the sideshow is complicated, not least because the history of the sideshow is itself complicated. The easiest way to come to grips with the story is by recognizing three different eras: the Victorian era, the Depression, and the Modern era.

Victorian Era

While anomalous bodies had been put on display at markets and in taverns in Europe as far back as the middle ages, it was during Victorian times that curiosity cabinets expanded into museums that featured both inanimate and animate displays. The dime museums of the northeastern United States were the forerunners of traveling sideshows, and the most important of them all was P.T. Barnum’s American Museum.

Barnum’s very first act, in 1835, before the museum or the circus or anything, in fact the act that started it all, was a black woman named Joice Heth. Blind and confined to a wheelchair, Heth claimed to be 161 years old and to have raised George Washington. She told amazingly detailed and period accurate stories, and Barnum himself claimed to believe her. She is said to have brought in $1500 a week. When she died, her autopsy revealed her to be around 79 years old.

There are several stories of the sideshow performers who lived above Barnum’s American Museum. It was a small fraternity, and from the beginning it is said the “freaks” looked out for one another. During this era, when anyone not white was treated as property by those who were white, people with interesting looks or disabilities were either bought or stolen from all over the world and brought to the States. Some of the most famous “born freaks” of this era and the next were from China, Laos, Turkey, Peru, British Guiana, and El Salvador. And while they were certainly being exploited, in that they were bringing in a whole lot more money than they were being paid, they also had power in their own right. They were the stars of the show, the real money makers for their outfits. It behooved the boss to keep them happy.

A few other big name black stars from before and around the turn of the 20th century were Millie-Christine, Nicodemus the Indescribable, Ashbury Benjamin, George and Willie Muse, and Zip the Pinhead.

Millie and Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born in 1851. Early on, before they were two, they were bought by a showman who purchased the rest of their family as well, planning to keep them together and be the girls’ manager. But then they were stolen and taken to Britain. It was four years later when their owner tracked them down. He brought their mother with him to Britain. Since there was no slavery in Britain, the girls were returned to their mother. They all came back to the U.S., where the girls were given singing lessons and developed beautiful voices. They were called the “Two-headed Nightingale.” The twins made a large amount of money, and retired to the farm where they were born, which their father had bought from their original owner. Later, a fire would destroy most of their possessions.

John Doogs was born in 1863 with truncated limbs. His right leg and left arm were hardly more than stubs, and his other limbs didn’t quite reach full size either. But he was incredibly strong and a talented acrobat. He went by the name of Nicodemus the Indescribable.

Ashbury Benjamin performed around 1879. He had vitiligo and was billed a black boy turning white. It appears he did not stay with show business for long.

George and Willie Muse were albino African-American brothers. Stolen from their mother in 1899, they were labeled many different things: cannibals, sheep-headed, and aliens from Mars among them. Eventually, they were reunited with their mother, after great perseverance on her part. Now free, they rejoined the sideshow circuit and made a decent living at it.

William Henry Johnson, who may have been microencephalic, played the role of Zip the Pinhead for 40 years at various different sideshows and did quite well for himself. He started his performing life as P.T. Barnum’s “What is It?” in 1860. On his deathbed he is reported to have said to his sister, “Well, we fooled ’em for a long time.”

The Depression

The next era in the American Sideshow is dominated by the Dust Bowl and the Depression. This is the era of traveling carnivals scraping out a living on the road. Again, “freaks” were the sideshow’s main attraction. Times were tough and several sideshow performers were sold into their professions, regardless of color. But the firsthand accounts that came from under the canvas roofs of the ten-in-ones paint a picture of mutual admiration and tolerance, if not support, between people with anomalous bodies, no matter what they looked like. In fact, it is often regarded by those who experienced it as one of the most accepting places anyone could ever want to be. George and Willie Muse and Zip the Pinhead were among those who hit the road.

Modern Era

The next era sees the diminution of the traveling sideshow, and Coney Island emerging as a last bastion for freaks and working acts alike. A few of the more famous black performers from the middle of the 20th century follow.

Otis Jordan, a.k.a. Frog Boy, was born in 1925 and immediately his bones began to ossify. He learned to roll and light a cigarette with only his lips and turned it into his act as The Human Cigarette Factory. He performed with sideshows from 1963 to 1990, when he passed away. He was a strong supporter of sideshows when people were trying to get them closed down. It was the only job he’d ever had that allowed him to support himself. “I can’t understand it,” he said of a woman working to end sideshows, “How can she say I’m being taken advantage of? Hell, what does she want for me – to be on welfare?”

Willie Ingram, called Popeye, was born around 1932. He could thrust his eyes an inch out of their sockets. He toured with sideshows throughout the country and appeared in the 70s movie The Freakmaker.

Currently, there has been something of a freak show revival. In the 1990s it was the Jim Rose Circus and more recently Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow, about which AMC did a reality series a couple years back. Two black performers who appeared in it are George Bell and The Creature (a.k.a. Markus Boykin).

George Bell, born in 1974, is the tallest man in the U.S. at 7’8” tall. He has appeared on the TV show Freakshow and with Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow.

Markus Boykin, born around 1989, is one of the most heavily pierced and tattooed men alive. He calls himself The Creature and has performed with Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow.

The future of black people in the sideshow is dependent on the future of the sideshow itself, which is something that is enormously complicated. Let’s just say that, while I recognize the debate against training people to treat anyone as “other,” in my opinion, as long as everybody has agency, as long as people with anomalous bodies have a choice about what they want to do, if so-called “normal” folks want to give them their money, I don’t see the problem with that.