Researching sideshow mermaids was an interesting little task. A quick google mostly made reference to the eponymous Fiji Mermaid. A macabre splicing of a monkeys head and torso, sewn to a fish’s tail. I fancied something a bit more glamorous so kept on searching and began to uncover stories of simple illusions involving a trick of perspective. A girl made up in finest mermaid garb would position herself behind a small tank and appear to interact with rocks and plants within it. When viewed from the right position, she appears to be submerged in the briny deep.
Having always had a bit of a thing for mermaids it seemed the ideal excuse to get out my sequins and start sewing a little aquatic siren of my own, here she is!
Bryony Tide has never seen the sea. She grew up in a mining town in the Midlands on a diet of Bovril and artichokes, with nothing much to do except play tricks on the neighbour’s elderly and frankly quite flatulent dog. She despises water and hates even to get her face wet in the shower, the consequence of which being a constantly Bovril stained face. Ironic then that she secured a job in the sideshow as their resident fake mermaid.
And so, I find myself halfway through my sideshow ten-in-one. What a motley crew they make:
Strongmen were a mainstay of many a turn of the century sideshow, much rarer however was the strongwoman. There were several of note, often lifting men above their heads or offering a sum of money to any man who could beat them in a weight-lifting competition, as well as plenty of other odd displays of their inordinate strength. I figured my Ten-in-One wouldn’t be complete without a glamorous strongwoman of its own, so here comes Barbara Kettlebelle.
Despite her scrawny appearance, Barbara possesses unnatural strength for a woman having grown up wrestling with her fourteen older brothers. The circus offered her a place after witnessing her performing a clean and press with a baby elephant in the strongfolks Olympics. As you can imagine, a lady of her abilities needs a lot of fuel and her daily diet includes eight whole chickens, a gallon of chocolate milk, and her bodyweight in peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
Another new addition to the sideshow arrived today. Introducing Ms Juliana De’vine.
Juliana had a very successful career as a stockbroker, until she was a little TOO good at predicting the next big money-maker, leading her to be investigated for insider trading. No one would believe that it was her ‘gift’ which was her secret to success and so she was forced to leave the profession. After the circus came to town one fateful day, she realised that with the sideshow she could make her fortune by telling punters their own. And so the rest is history.
As promised, I’ve been sewing like a demon this morning to complete the second of my ‘Ten-in-one’ Sideshow Starlets. Making her debut is Bridget O’Hair, bearded lady extraordinaire.
Bridget was born with a full head of auburn locks, and by her third birthday she was already sporting a pretty impressive moustache. Her beard kicked in at age eighteen and scuppered her plans to become a seamstress as she kept getting it caught in her sewing machine. She tried her hand at welding after seeing the movie Flashdance, but it soon became clear that she was a fire-hazard, so her only option was to join the circus as the sideshow bearded lady where she shares digs with best-friend and partner in crime Elsie.
Bearded ladies were a firm fixture in circus sideshows of the Victorian era. Few women are able to grow an impressive enough beard to shock and amaze paying customers so their facial hair was often ‘enhanced’ or even entirely faked, although this was rare.
One of the most well-known and successful bearded ladies was Annie Jones. Born in 1860, she joined her first circus at just nine months old, and continued to exhibit her fully genuine beard until she died at the age of 42.
I used her fairly plain style of Victorian dress as my inspiration for Bridget’s simple dress which worked quite well as her face is the main focus.
So now Elsie and Bridget can keep one another company while I work on the next act for my sideshow. Hmmm….who shall I make next?
My brain and my sewing machine have both been whirring since I last blogged. I’m so excited about the new doll venture and I’m just bursting with inspiration. Feedback has been great on Elsie Inkwell and she won’t be alone for long.
I’ve become a little obsessed with the realm of circus sideshows, particularly those from days gone by. I dipped my toe into the history of them while researching the tradition of a tattooed lady and I’m steadily learning so much more. They’ve been around since the 1600’s but rose in popularity during Victorian times, showcasing human oddities and biological rarities of every kind, some more genuine than others.
Often patrons paid an entry fee to a tent displaying ten acts at a time. These were known as a ‘Ten-in-One’, which led me to the idea of creating a Ten-in-One of my very own. Ten gorgeous little sideshow starlets, unique little bundles of grease paint and hocus-pocus.
The second act is under construction and should be making her debut sometime tomorrow. The rest of the Mistress of Monsters Sideshow will be hot on her heels so stay tuned…