30 August 2015

The Tattooed Lady, and the New Woman of the 1920s.

This 1920s-era photo makes me believe there was at least some crossover audience between those who attended circus sideshows and those who supported women's rights/women's suffrage initiatives. (And besides that, the image itself is glorious.)

A few tattoo historians claim that professional tattooed women of the 1920s, who were largely from impoverished and working-class backgrounds, were likely under-informed (if not uninformed) of current events and women's rights issues, and that they belonged to a class of women who didn't expect change from any women's rights movement. 

I don't know how this could be true--once the country entered into the 1920s, especially in urban areas. Large port cities like New York City and Baltimore had a steady stream of new customers, so tattooists were able to ply their trades (tattooing at barber shops and tattoo parlors, or working as attractions in dime museums) in the inner cities when circus work and warm weather came to an end. These same tattooed attractions would then be subject to vast quantities of downtime in cities with numerous daily tabloids and newspapers, and too many movie houses and theaters to count. To assume that they were unaware of the cultural atmosphere because of their class standing seems to sell these women short.

Additionally, by the 1920s, vaudeville had permeated the circus sideshow and the carnival stage--even big-name actresses were taking turns on the boards to earn a little extra money--and the resulting links between vaudeville, professional theater, and the feminist movement have been previously established in academic scholarship. However, because tattooed ladies and vaudeville entertainers traveled on the same shows together, it is an easy to assume that female sideshow attractions could (and would) be exposed to the same politics and "new" feminist ideas as women in vaudeville troupes.

It is important to note that a few tattoo historians also claim that the urban, politically-motivated feminist New Woman was too involved with the suffrage movement to notice the potential future "meaning" assigned to the role of tattooed ladies. It seems to me that at least some of these New Women were aware of what The Tattooed Lady stood for to the working class--according to this photo above, she was a well-recognized symbol of independence and forward thinking.

19 August 2015

Circus Museum: The Friedlander poster collection of Jaap Best

This is the largest known collection of Friedlander circus posters in the world. It doesn't come up in google searches all the time, and it's a great resource for circus-poster imagery. This collection was owned by the circus archiver Jaap Best. From the website:

"After Best’s death, Teyler Museum agreed to facilitate storage of the archive and to open the collections to the public. At the same time, to make the posters more generally available, Pictura was approached to make digital photographs which could be posted online. The website circusmuseum.nl was launched on 9 June 2005."


There are only a few tattoo posters in the archive, but it's wonderfull to see this vast slice of European circus history. And now, copies of the posters may be downloaded for research and educational purposes. I have seen MANY Friedlander poster copies for sale on etsy. Just know that those etsy shops do not possess the copyrights to those posters' images. And, you can purchase from this archive--I've not done so (yet), but I assume they'd ship to the U.S.

National Fairground Archive

Yesterday, I found an incredible resource during some random googling of circus-related terms. Frankly, I'm regularly amazed at what I can find with google and a little time; this archive has not come up during any of my searches for sideshows. I found a photo of a knife-throwing family on a blog--they credited the National Fairground Archive, which I'd not heard of before.

This is photo postcard is a souvenir of Princess Cristina's show--and that is Cristina, in the long robes. I've only seen two or three photos of Cristina in the past, and I don't believe she ever toured the U.S. So, she's not in my area of immediate interest for the essay project, but I was still really thrilled to find a vintage tattooed-woman postcard I've not seen before!

The National Fairground Archive is affiliated with the University of Sheffield, and theirs is a free, open resource. Many of their photographs are from the 1960s through the early 1980s, so there are a lot of wonderfully garish, vintage color photos of carnivals and fairs there.

Like this Paul Angel photograph, taken in 1987 at the Durdham Downs Easter Fair. I don't know why this fish-themed ride would be called the Polyp, but this photograph is delicious. LOL.

I haven't done much investigating of the archive yet, but I love the chance to share a new resource for circus, carnival, and fair-related photography. The fact that they allow printing and downloading of the images is incredibly generous, too.

17 August 2015

Agnes Riemer, Tattooed Lady and Murder Victim

A lesser-known tattooed attraction named Agnes Riemer, who lived in Baltimore, met with a tragic end in August of 1947. During some searching in newspaper archives, I stumbled on this first article. It was my introduction to Agnes and the story of her death.

She worked for years as "Agnes Kelly, the Tattooed Woman" in and around the Baltimore area. I know from census records that she had a first husband named John Kelly, but I do not know what happened to him--nor do I know if Agnes was already tattooed during that marriage. By 1930, however, she had met Fred Sloman, a tattooed attraction, and became a boarder in his home. At some point in their living arrangement, they became involved. The eventually married, but after a few years of working as a tattooed couple, the two retired from circus life. They lived as civilians for eleven years, until Fred hanged himself without warning in 1946.

Within the same year, Agnes married another man, Lawrence Riemer, about 15 years her junior. And then, in 1947 (on the four-month anniversary of the wedding), he strangled her with a belt, in order to literally silence her. Because the husband painted himself as a victim of abuse, he received only one year in prison for her murder, even though he admitted to the crime. He did, however, set himself up for being called a "Meek Little Man" in the news. Every article paints him as a passive, weak man. I am guessing part of that is due to his defense.

The initial article (as well as some other articles) refer to the third husband as Lawrence or Larry. The article above unfortunately names him as "Harry Riemer." There are conflicting accounts--in some, he doesn't remember strangling Agnes, and in others, he did it because she was verbally abusive. Regardless, all accounts describe Agnes as a shrew, as a wife who was relentlessly abusive to Lawrence.

I haven't yet located any photos of Agnes or of any of her 3 husbands, and I haven't yet found consistent census records that fit their names and dates, so these newspaper articles are, right now, the only proof that she even existed.

And, in an interesting turn, I found a snippet about Agnes on a Riemer family timeline. Apparently both of Agnes's earlier husbands met "violent ends," but no more was said about that. Also, it was mentioned that Agnes was extremely violent and drank excessively. So, geneaology sites, so far, are just deepening this mystery.

10 August 2015

Research and Citation--An Ugly Truth

It seems too time-consuming to many, but proper citation of all sources--sketchy, online sources included--is something about which I'm passionate on a professional and a personal level. I enjoy teaching research and documentation--I like the fact that in one area of academic writing, there are rules. Clear, defined rules. Also, because I demand so much of my freshman comp students; I just can't tolerate shortcuts in citation from anyone. Toward the goal of showing future students that even I use the techniques that I endorse, I've been keeping a working bibliography of my sources as I've begun my reading and researching. I plan on sharing my process in future writing classes.

However, I also know that I'm twenty-five years older than most of my students. My idea of research and documentation comes from an entirely different era of education. I know that my students rely heavily on citation generators online, but because I went to school in the age of card catalogs, I have very little experience with those same generators.

Long story short, I couldn't pass up the chance to practice using a citation generator. After getting started, I decided that I still like the process of using a hard copy of some tabbed MLA guide or another, seriously. But, I decided to use the generator to create my entire annotated bibliography. The sabbatical project will likely have over 50 sources; right now, I have 38.

I randomly chose NoodleTools to create my annotated bibliography (in the photo above, you might notice it's called a "Works Cited" at NoodleTools, even with the annotations).

I was shocked to find that any error in formatting that I attempted to submit was caught by this program! Improper capitalization in a title? This program catches it. Improper abbreviation of "revised"? This program doesn't stand for it. Now, the user must click on the yellow "!" sign that appears, and a small window explains what in that component of the citation is incorrect, so that the writer can fix it.

I was so impressed--but at the same time, I have no idea what the hell my students are using to create their citations online. I don't think I want to know--for reals. Many of my students' citations are still riddled with errors, so maybe I've just stumbled on a generator that's "better" than what's popular in the college's student body right now.

Regardless, I'm going to be taking screen shots of my entire process, so that I can use them in online courses as demonstrative teaching tools. I'm hoping that much of the time I'm spending on documenting my research strategies will help my instruction to resonate with students. And--now I have a specific citation generator to suggest to students, with a working knowledge of how to use it myself. Boom.

Anyhow, I have 32 of my sources cited and annotated now. I have all of my research completed for one of the tattooed women I'm writing about, so I think I'll be starting on at least one essay this week. I am so excited about what I've been able to find, and I'm also excited for what still may be out there!

06 August 2015

Some details in an art journal, and the creation of poetry.

Leafing through my art journal, and I'm amazed at what waits in there for more exploration. 

This bit of found poetry above is on the margins of this larger page: 

I look at that detail and realize I'm not without skill. And some days it's hard to find a toe-hold when it comes to confidence.

I often think I need to be more focused--and then I realize these bits of poetry and puzzle came from a definite lack of focus. So there's where I am tonight, cats and vices gathered 'round me, trying to conjure a lack of focus. :)

05 August 2015

The Ronald G. Becker Collection at Syracuse University

By the by . . . I wanted to share what an amazing resource this is. Charles Eisenmann took photos of many circus acts and attractions, not just the tattooed, and the Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann photographs at Syracuse is filled with simply gorgeous victorian photos (and this archive's treasures don't come up in google searches).

To me, this is a perfect example of why the Internet and a few google searches are not "good enough" when it comes to academic research--regardless of topic or skill set. As a colleague of mine is known for saying: "Dig deeper."

The Ronald G. Becker Collection