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Photographic History Collection: Circus

Photographic History Collection: Circus

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Description
The Circus Collection includes the Photographic History Collection’s object holdings related to the history of circus from the end of the nineteenth to the turn of the twenty-first century. For the purpose of this finding aid, circus is defined as any activity relating to the staging and viewing of circus, sideshow, or “freak show” performances. The collection is primarily composed of thirty cabinet print and thirteen carte-de-visite photographs of performers in circus “freak shows.” Some of these prints are marked with the identities of the individuals depicted, including Chang and Eng, Siamese twins employed by the Barnum & Bailey circus and Tom Thumb, a famous performer with dwarfism. In a number of the photographs, the people who performed for the circus are accompanied by their families, or “normal” individuals to emphasize the distinctiveness of the performer. The collection also includes a photo album with twenty-three photographs of circus performers. These pictures show “freak show” performers, acrobats, and other individuals who may have performed in circus shows.
The collection also includes several books. In the handmade book, Record of an Idle Summer, Florence Albrecht details her summer activities and shares reflections on her time on the Jersey Shore in 1906. In the chapter “May,” the author describes the circus coming to town, including several photographs of circus tents, elephants, and a parade down the main street of the town. P.T. Barnum’s autobiography Struggles and Triumphs also exists in the Photographic History Collection. In the book, Barnum recounts his life’s endeavors, including his New York American Museum and eponymous circus. While there are no photographs in the book, there are a number of illustrations, including a portrait of P.T. Barnum based on G. K. Warren’s photograph, pictures of his museum and various aspects of his traveling show. There is a collection of gelatin silver photographs made in 1972 by Lesley Sussmann and Sally Bordwell documenting carnivals across the American South.
Object Name
Circus Collection
ID Number
COLL.PHOTOS.000043
See more items in
Work and Industry: Photographic History
Photography
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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