Circus Freaks – Chinese(?) Pinheads in Williamsport, PA

Another addition to my collection – a pair of so-called pinheads who were part of the circus freak circuit in the United States during the 1870s. These two gentlemen are at the present time unknown to me. I’ll do some research and see if their identity can be determined. While I love collecting images of circus freaks (or even just anonymous vernacular images) from the famous photographers of the era, I think the obscure, little-known or unknown photographers in small American towns are just as cool if not cooler, because they truly represent a slice of American culture, largely vanished today. I like the unpolished-ness of the image – two men sitting on a bench of some sort, covered with a rug or blanket. The posing is straightforward and unsophisticated, yet it does have a certain aesthetic sensitivity that makes it appealing.

Two Asian Pinheads, by John Nice, Williamsport, PA
Two Asian Pinheads, by John Nice, Williamsport, PA

Pinheads suffer from Microcephaly – a genetically-influenced condition where their brain cavity does not grow at a normal rate and their head ends up being abnormally small. They usually suffer from mental retardation and may also have motor dysfunction and seizures. They were a popular sideshow attraction and often were portrayed as “the missing link” between man and ape, and in the case of Zip the Pinhead (perhaps the most famous pinhead of all, although it is debatable that he was a true microcephalic – he displayed normal or near-normal intelligence and did not suffer seizures or motor dysfunction), he would come out on stage in a cage like an animal and make shrieks and howls. Zip had a 67-year career in the circus and sideshow entertaining, dying in 1926 at or about the age of 80.

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