Hubert's Museum was a Times Square dime museum open from the mid-1920s until 1965. This cabinet of curiosities was an icon of sideshow culture, featuring a flea circus, sword swallowers, contortionists, and other fabulous freaks. During its later years, the museum was frequented by my favorite photographer, Diane Arbus. Indeed, that's where she met the awesome giant Eddie Carmel who stooped for a famed family portrait with his normal-sized parents. Recently, a rare book dealer named Bob Langmuir came to possess the personal papers of Charlie Lucas, a sideshow performer himself who served as a manager at Hubert's Museum. Among the papers were two dozen of Arbus's original photographs, worth around $100 when she was alive and now valued in the high six figures at least. A new book by Gregory Gibson, titled "Hubert's Freaks," tells the story of the Museum, Lucas, and Lagmuir's efforts to make big bucks of his find. I ordered a copy before even finishing the review of the book in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. From the LA Times:
During the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, Charlie Lucas presided over the "Darkest Africa" exhibit as "African Chief of the Duckbill Women," a.k.a. "WooFoo, the Immune Man." He wore a bone through his nose and swallowed fire. (The fair that year celebrated, without irony, a "Century of Progress.") He and his wife, the beautiful Woogie, eventually settled in New York, and Lucas found work managing Hubert's Museum, where Woogie performed her snake-charming act alongside the aforementioned Sealo, Professor Heckler's Flea Circus, Mildred the Alligator Skin Girl, a Russian midget named Andy Potato Chips and Eddie Carmel, the Jewish Giant.
Not incidentally, Lucas was befriended there by photographer Diane Arbus, who talked her way into the homes of his colleagues and shot what would later become iconic photos of, among others, Andy Potato Chips with two other midgets in his Uptown living room and Eddie Carmel bent beneath the ceiling of his Bronx apartment, his parents looking like frightened Lilliputians beside him.
So when Bob Langmuir — the protagonist of Gibson's tale, a rare-book dealer and collector of African Americana — happened across a trove of Lucas' papers, he had reason to be excited.