Freaks geeks and foreigners grotesque nature

One of the most enduring tropes in the exhibition of nature at Coney Island is the phenomenon of "freaks": human beings whose morphological or behavioural attributes place them outside the spectrum of prescriptive human physiology, including the extremely large or the extremely small, those of ambiguous gender, those with extra appendages, unique skin textures or extraordinary physical abilities—or those who could be made to appear like any of the above (fake freaks or "gaffes"). Because normative definitions of what constitutes the "conventional" human form tend to be historically contingent, both within societies and between them, early freaks at Coney Island included those considered strange merely by virtue of their relative cultural exoticness as well as those who were culturally familiar but physically exotic.

It was Samuel Gumperz who first introduced the freak show to Coney Island in 1904 with the installation of Lilliputia, a village populated by some 300 Little People, or those born with one of the several varieties of dwarfism, at Dreamland. Lilliputia was a fully-functioning half-scale replica of fifteenth-century Nuremburg, Germany, replete with its own fire department (which contributed valiantly if futilely to the battle to save Dreamland from conflagration in 1911) and cadre of lifeguards. The popularity of Lilliputia spurred Gomperz to create the Dreamland Circus Side Show several years later, an amalgam of unusual people that included giants, dwarves, albinos, dog-faced boys, fat ladies, sword swallowers, microcephalies ("pinheads"), strongmen, and conjoined twins, among others. The success of Dreamland's freak show provided the impetus for other Coney Island institutions to create their own, including one at the Steeplechase Circus Big Show as well as several rival independent shows (Sam Wagner's World Circus Side Show, David Rosen's Wonderland Circus Side Show, and Fred Sindell's Palace of Wonders Freak Show) in addition to several animal freak shows (including Charlie Dooen's Freak Animal Show).

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