As I now live in Brooklyn, Coney Island has been part of my past and present. I remember visiting the carnival and sideshow with my grandparents as a child and going on the Cyclone roller coaster with my grandfather. As we came off the ride my grandmother cried, “Grandpa Harry are you all right, your face is so pale!” Years later I again rode the Cyclone with my husband and nephew.
They tricked me into riding it three times in a row, by buying multiple tickets, and we came off the ride shaking and laughing. I also loved the Mermaid Parade held every June with wild costumes and artist’s installations and floats.
This is why I was happy to attend the verbal tour,
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, held at the Brooklyn Museum.
Our educator, Katherine Fein, verbally described the works bringing alive for us the colorful and unusual characters in the artworks.
One painting that particulary interested me was painted by artist, Marie Roberts, who still works in Coney Island today. Her painting shows the side show performers, and I realized that some of these performers have disabilities, but led interesting lives as performers.
This artist’s family has been part of Coney Island for several generations.
On the left side of the painting are sideshow performers from the past and on the right side are sideshow performers from the present. The painting is so detailed and the description is so thorough, that this is what verbal descriptions are all about.
On the left, Roberts pays homage to the past.
Her uncle, Lester Roberts, raises his arm toward the cast, which
includes Lionel the Lion-Faced Man (Stephan Bibrowski), the German-born,
well-educated conversationalist and gymnast who had been trained as a
dentist; Baron Paucci (Peppino Magro), the Sicilian-born womanizer
billed as the “World’s Smallest Perfect Man;” Prince Randian (whose
birth name is unknown), a British Guiana-born performer with
tetra-amelia syndrome known for his ability to roll and light cigarettes
with his lips; Zip—What Is it? (William Henry Johnson), an African
American with a tapering cranium; and Violetta (Aloisia Wagner), a
German-born woman billed as the “Beautiful Armless and Legless Venus.”On
the right, the artist celebrates the present. Dick Zigun, the unofficial
mayor of Coney Island and impresario of the Coney Island Circus
Sideshow, gestures toward today’s performers: Pain, who pounds nails
into his nose; a performer sitting on a bed of nails; a fire-eater based
on Insectavora; a sword-swallower (Heather Holliday); and the
tattoo-covered Eak the Geek (Eduardo Arrocha).
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