Not Freak, But Friends: a Family's Circus Sideshow History
I recently completed a custom project for a woman with a story to tell.
Imagine, if you will, her childhood. On any given Sunday, he mother would prepare a fine dinner and set extra plates at the table. Friends were coming, you see, and they were always welcome for the meal. She would help her mother prepare for the arrival of the guests, whom the little girl loved for their warmth and their laughter.
But these were no ordinary guests. Because the little girl's parents were performers in a circus sideshow - and their guests were their colleagues. People like Johan the Icelandic Giant and Carl Norwood the Frog Boy.
Fortunately, the woman had photos from her parents' time with James Strates Circus. Her father, Eugene Jenkins, was an assistant manager, as well as a knife thrower, performing on the midway from town to town. But some of these photos were in bad shape and needed restoration.
The client could remember the circus folk assembling in her parents' house. They were just . . . normal people, coming together for food and fellowship. But they were not your average people. I say that not because of any physical abnormalities. I say that because they were a family. They cared for one another. They watched out for one another. In fact, what makes them above average is that they were probably closer than most families and communities.
Take Carl Norwood and Dick Hilburn, shown above. They not only became friends but business partners as well, and Dck and his wife remained close to Carl throughout the lives of the two men. That is amazing when you also consider they traveled and lived in the South during the time of Jim Crow. That did not deter them - they were brothers.
Pictures like this, even if they can be restored only partially, are priceless. They are part of a unique family history but they also allow us to appreciate the varied history in the United States, a time when people went to look at the freaks - and those labeled as freaks instead held up a mirror to the public as to who really were the freaks. Because they were friends. They were family.
Wow. I wish I could have been there at those Sunday dinners. But I was grateful to help preserve this family's history. If you have old photos that need restoration, please contact me. I will give you a firm quote before any work is started, since the level of restoration needs to be determined first. Genrally, you can expect a cost of between $30 to $50 per photograph.
Enjoy the gallery below of restored photos.