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Freaks Museum: 1942

Freaks Museum: 1942

March 1942. El Centro, California. "Carnival attraction at the Imperial County Fair." Medium format acetate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Wally Is Correct

Modern society has put these carny side shows out of business.

Announcer guy

He's is actually part of the show, the incredible 'Man from the 21st century'

Goldfish Bowl

The man on the right has definitely won the prize (you can spy the little fella in the glass jar he is holding), but may be miffed that his date seems more interested in the "freaks" than his achievement. One hopes that the goldfish avoided the fate of so many of its brethren and escaped the toilet bowl to live a long and happy life, peering at the wider world through a window of curved glass.

Guess who won a goldfish

I wonder if the little fish survived the trip home.

Look before you drink

I noticed the fellow at right seemed to be holding a refreshing drink in a glass jar until I noticed the goldfish swimming in it. Must have been a prize at one of the game concession booths. If I remember, you got five ping pong balls to throw at the little jars of fishies, and if one stayed in rather than ricocheting off the lip, you won the goldfish.

I learned from hard experience the fish's life expectancy was only a few days before he took the inevitable trip down the commode.

Times change

Those may have been freaks in 1942 but a stroll down the sidewalk in 2022 will turn up better examples.

Time travel

Announcer guy of the show can easily slip into any contemporary photograph and nobody would notice, despite eight decade time span.

The Sultan's Delight

She doesn't look particularly delighted. And that fellow's goldfish is gonna be dead as a doornail before too long.

Hurry, hurry, hurry

As I commented in a previous photo, the crowd at the 1942 Imperial County Fair in El Centro, California was nearly all female. Maybe because of WWII?

I'm guessing the woman in shiny shorts is a contortionist and the pitch is she can fit inside the box behind the announcer. Few people in 1942 had tattoos, so did not realize the poster does not represent the way tattoo art is made (roll my eyes). The Indian is wrong on many levels. Aside from Native Americans not being freaks, he's holding a shrunken voodoo head, wearing a vest embroidered with a Mexican wearing a sombrero, and is generally dripping with Mardi Gras beads. But his presence causes me to notice the blonde announcer in the white t-shirt has an Indian Chief profile tattooed on his left forearm. Coincidence?


Judging by the hair (from behind), the audience is overwhelmingly female. A notable exception is the fellow on the right who appears to be scrutinizing the two women with almost identical hairdos on his left. And what’s freakish about a glass blower or a tattoo artist or a Native American or a woman in shiny shorts? I used to stand in the crowd, listening to the spiels, but I never paid to go in.

Have you "herd"

of Ralph ??

One step further

Less than two decades later, Diane Arbus took her camera inside the freak show. An early focus for her were the attractions of Hubert's Museum on West 42nd Street in Manhattan. She took a disreputable carnival attraction into high art institutions. Hubert's closed in 1969, but can be briefly glimpsed in a street scene in "Midnight Cowboy."

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