Prodigies: Drawing of Anomalous Humans by James G. Mundie
in RootsWeb Review: RootsWeb's Weekly E-zine
Vol. 7, No. 22, 2 June 2004, Circulation: 838,
Circus Folks: Finding Genealogy in Unwonted Places
By James Mundie
of Philadelphia Pennsylvania
For several years I have been working on and exhibiting a series of
portrait drawings called "Prodigies." The subjects of my portraits are
somewhat unusual individuals -- those once unkindly referred to as
circus freaks. The series has been exhibited widely and garnered much
Several years ago, I began to publish the works on a website
as a sort of permanent
online exhibition that now includes a gallery of historical ephemera
related to sideshow performance I have collected. I try to include a
bit of biographical information about each of the performers to help
viewers understand the context of the portraits.
Through the website, I frequently receive e-mail inquiries and comments
about my work. Quite an unexpected development is that I have often
received letters from relatives of some of the performers I have
featured in my series. Usually these are people who have just
discovered a famous (or infamous, as the case may be) circus performer
in their lineage and are anxious to discover more information.
Occasionally, they are able to provide me with more information about
their ancestor, which I have used to further flesh out my brief
Through these messages, I have become a conduit for connecting various
branches of sideshow family trees. For instance, in just the last two
months I have reunited two branches of the family descended from
Francesco LENTINI, the three-legged man known as "King of the Freaks";
connected two descendants of Eli BOWEN, the Legless Acrobat; provided
contact points for relations of Myrtle CORBIN, the Four-legged Woman
from Texas; and started a flurry of e-mails back and forth between
several parties related to Dolletta BOYKIN, the World's Smallest Mother.
So quite unexpectedly, my artwork -- through the magic of the Internet
-- has served to bring together long lost cousins and further
genealogical inquiry and research. I never would have thought such a
thing was even possible; but now every time I post a new drawing to my
website, I wonder whether I might open my incoming e-mail the next
morning to find a message from some distant relation of the unusual
Editor's Note: RootsWeb has a mailing list pertaining to circus folks.
Previously published in RootsWeb
Review: Vol. 7, No. 22, 2 June 2004.