Sunday, November 28, 2010

Congress of Freaks, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1924

Once a year, from approximately 1924 through 1935, photographer Edward J. Kelty took a kind of yearbook photograph of the Congress of Freaks associated with the combined Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

This was taken for the 1924 season.

It's from a book called Step Right Up, Barnes and Noble, publishers, available on the interweb here, at

The book is a collection of Kelty's circus photographs, a genuine labor of love that, while not quite possessing the genius of Bellocq's Storyville Portraits, comes pretty close.

One thing the Kelty book doesn't do is properly identify the cast of the pictures. There is a list, published in 1927 of the stars of the Freak show, so perhaps I can shed some light on a varied cast of wonderful- looking people. These id's are not based on visual recognition,  just from written lists.

Front row, from left to right:
Ajax, the sword- swallower; unk, unk, seated: Schlitze, the pinhead (and star of Tod Browning's Freaks); unk; one of the Carlson Sisters; Major Mite, the smallest man on earth; Tom Ton; Slats, skeleton sheik; the other Carlson Sister; Jeannie Tomaini; Mlle. Cleo, snake charmer; Twisto, the human knot; and an unidentified trio of sax playing sisters.

Back row, from left to right:unk; Cliko, the African bushman; either Eko or Iko, one of the ambassadors from Mars; Koo Koo, the bird girl (also featured in the movie, Freaks); Baron Paucci, midget; unk; Jim Tarver,  giant; the Dancing Doll family of midgets (Freaks); again, either Eko or Iko; unk; and Ho Jo, the bear boy.

I remember going to a circus back in 1954 or so with Peter D'Albert and Robyn Ferrien, and there was still a Freak tent, probably one of the last. Of course we weren't allowed inside. My main memory though is of the Shriners and their little motorcycles. Back then I really wanted one of those bikes.

Now I just want a fez.

Times change.

(New information! Thanks to Rebecca Stith, we now know that the woman next to the Carlson sister is Violetta, the living shop window bust; and that the man next to Mlle. Cleo is Martin Emmerling, known as Laurello. Also, according to this website, that is not Ho Jo, but Lionel the lion-faced boy. The giant might actually be Jack Earle. He is definitely not Jim Tarver. - Bret)


SueWho said...

Oh yeah, let's hear it for the Shriners! Sorry that I can't help with the other guys though.

Hesse; said...

The tiny man on the picture has to be Gerrit Keizer from holland. (dutch)

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