Tag Archives: circus

Herman and Augusta Rice, “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age”

Headlined as “The Musical Midgets,” Herman and Augusta Rice were deemed in one newspaper advertisement to be “the most interesting little people now before the public.”1 Another called them “German Midgets” and noted that they were “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age.”2 This carte de visite of Herman and Augusta Rice, like that of the sideshow performer Ada Zingara, was found in an antique album that once belonged to an unidentified family of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.3

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Herman and Augusta Rice photograph, ca. 1880s, New York, New York; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Herman and Augusta Rice appear dressed in fine Victorian fashion and stand next to pillars to emphasize their short stature. Augusta’s hairstyle is particularly striking; a flat bow adorns the top of her head, and small curls are arranged across her forehead in such a way that it almost seems as though they could be part of a hairpiece. The bow and flattened style of her bangs were fashionable in the late 1870s.4 She wears a carefully fitted gown with a train and no shortage of flounces, ruffles, and lace trim. With a locket or pendant necklace and a bracelet setting off her ensemble, Augusta appears to be dressed very well indeed. Herman looks equally sharp in a formal fitted dinner jacket with a pocket watch and freshly shined shoes.

SCAN0916The photograph was taken by Charles Eisenmann, a photographer in the rough-and-tumble Bowery district of New York City who frequently photographed performers such as these.5 Although he was employed as a photographer in the city as early as 1876,6 he didn’t make the move to 229 Bowery, the address stamped on the back of this photograph, until 1879 or 1880.7 Eisenmann remained at this location at least until 1883.8

Herman and Augusta Rice, an alleged brother-sister pair, appeared at Harris’ Mammoth Museum in Cincinnati in 1883,9 were affiliated with Keith and Batcheller’s Mammoth Museum in Boston in 1884,10 and were showcased as curiosities at Forepaugh’s Dime Museum in Philadelphia in 1885.11 They had toured with P. T. Barnum in 1877, at which time they, along with a third sibling, Johanna, used the more Germanic surname Reis.12 One wonders, however, whether these names were merely a part of their identities as performers.

Who were they, and what became of them when their dime show days were over?

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Ada Zingara, Sideshow Performer

Tucked into the slots of an antique album filled with photographs of an unidentified family of Kaukauna, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, are several photographs of sideshow performers.1

Ada Zingara photograph, ca. 1890s, Chicago, Illinois; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Ada Zingara photograph, ca. 1890s, Chicago, Illinois; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The name Ada Zingara is handwritten on the back of this photograph, which features a woman posing in a rather scandalous fashion. Her dress is short, and she stands with one leg elevated on a bench as she pretends to fasten her pointy-toed shoe. Her stockings feature bold zigzags, and her dress is patterned as well. The bodice is trimmed with lace and loose cap sleeves, and the border of her lace-trimmed petticoat is also visible. She wears earrings, and a large, bejeweled crucifix lies at her throat. What is most striking is her hairstyle: Ada’s hair is teased into an Afro.

A search for Ada Zingara informed me that, in the early 1900s, she was a snake charmer. A 1906 sideshow advertisement specified that she had a den of “Five Big Anacondas.”2 However, I wondered why she was not posing with snakes in this picture, which was surely printed for publicity. And why did she have such a dramatic hairstyle?

Further research informed me that the circus great P.T. Barnum began exhibiting women with this hairstyle in the 1865, calling them Circassian Beauties. According to reports of the time, the women of the mountainous region near the Black Sea were particularly beautiful, and were prized by Turkish sultans who kidnapped them for their harems. Barnum capitalized on this sensational story, seeking first to purchase one of these slave girls abroad, and eventually settling for a local girl with teased hair (which was not an accurate Circassian style) who was merely marketed as a Circassian.3 Eventually, as the popularity of the Circassian Beauties waned, the women adopted other acts, including routines as equally alluring snake charmers.4

A close look at her face reveals that Ada Zingara is not very young. There are lines around her eyes, which gaze warmly at the camera. Her lips part in a faint smile, showing her teeth – and a possible missing tooth. Why did Ada turn to sideshows, and what became of her? What was her real name?

What I find especially interesting is the fact that this photograph occupies the very first page of the album – the page usually reserved for an important family member or the primary subject of the album.4 Of course, it’s possible that the photographs were rearranged in the years that this album made its way from its original home to the antique store. Whatever the case, it should be noted that this is not the only photograph of a circus or sideshow performer located in the album. The family of Kaukauna, Wisconsin must have enjoyed these attractions!

Did your ancestors collect photographs of circus or sideshow performers?



SOURCES
1 Unidentified Album of a Kaukauna, Wisconsin Family, ca. 1870-1900; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
2 “Ada Zingara,” The Billboard, 14 April 1906, digital image, Old Fulton Post Cards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 27 September 2013).
3 Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), “Circassian Beauties,” rev. 18:32, 3 July 2013.
4 Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2012), 142; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 27 September 2013).
5 “’Reading’ A Family Photo Album,” Photo Detective with Maureen A. Taylor, 22 September 2013 (http://blog.familytreemagazine.com/photodetectiveblog/ : accessed 27 September 2013).