Advertisements from the turn of the century are often funny or even a bit shocking. Back then, there was no regulation governing what manufacturers could say when marketing their products. They could make wild claims of almost supernatural success without anything to back it up.

This was the case for Golden Specific, an elixir that was said to be the cure (the only cure) for alcoholism. Golden Specific was manufactured in Cincinnati, Ohio and marketed to women whose husbands drank. This particular ad stood out when because it goes a step beyond fantastic claims of success, by advising the buyers to administer it to their husbands by secretly spiking their coffee with it. Once in the subject’s system, some strange alchemy would take place and they would no longer want to drink. Like an anti-roofie.

This begs the question, is the husband’s drinking really that bad? It seems like the wife’s secret drugging is much worse. And who knows, if Golden Specific didn’t work, they might try putting something else in their coffee.

But according to this testimonial, the husband was okay with it. Scroll down to read the ad. I’d love to hear what you think!

Golden Specific Advertisement

Few men become drunkards from choice or inclination. All welcome release from the awful habit. Golden Specific will cure the worst habitual drunkard.

Its cure is sure, without harmful results to the system. Many a home is now happy by the use of Golden Specific.

“My husband got into the habit of taking a drink with the boys on his way home,” says Mrs. Harry Burnside. “After a while he came home drunk frequently. He’s soon lost his position and I had to make a living for both of us and the little children. At times he tried to sober up, but the habit was too strong for him and then he would drink harder than ever.

“I heard of Golden Specific and sent for a free package. The treatment cured him. I put it in his coffee and he never knew it at all. He regained his old position and now we are happy and our little home again. I hope you will send Golden Specific to every woman that has suffered as I have and save her loved ones from the drunkards grave.”

Send your name and address to Dr. J.W. Haines, 683 Glenn Building, Cincinnati, Ohio and he will mail you a free package of Golden Specific in a plain wrapper, accompanied by full directions how to use it. Enough of the remedy is sent in each free package to give you an opportunity to witness it’s a marvelous effect on those who are slaves to drink.

Do not delay. You cannot tell what may happen to the man who drinks, and you would never forgive yourself for waiting.

They look very happy

This is part 2 of a very American double-header!

Have you taken the 2020 census yet? I did a couple of weeks ago, and I was surprised by how short it was. I remember it being very long and detailed in 2010, with questions like, “Do you carpool to work? If so, how many people are in your car pool?” Why does the government need to know that much information about me. I still don’t know the answer to that but nevertheless census records are really fascinating.

Ancestry.com recently highlighted this census record of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which was actually filled out at the White House:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s census

I found the records of two well-known people in the census data to share with you.

The first census is John Wilkes Booth, best known for being the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, just after the Civil War. Booth murdered Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, and fled on horseback into Virginia, where he was killed 12 days later by federal troops. Well, unless you believe the theory that Booth survived and died in 1902 or thereabouts.

John Wilkes Booth, 1865

In 1860, Booth was already a famous actor. In 1860, he had no idea that with five years, he would be infamous and reviled by Americans. The soon-to-be-infamous actor was just 22 and was already well-known. Booth was a famous stage actor, or as he put it, a Tragedian– one who performs tragic roles in the theater. He was living in Philadelphia, with his mother and siblings. His brother, Edwin, also a tragedian, lived at the same address.  Fortunately, another person living at the address listed his occupation as a Comedian, and hopefully balanced things out a little!

The 1860 census in Philadelphia (John Wilkes Booth highlighted)

 

The other record I found was Theodore Roosevelt’s 1900 census. Roosevelt had no idea what the next two years held for him. He was the governor of New York in June 1900. Eight months later, he would be the vice-president of the United States. And seven months into the second  McKinley administration, the president was assassinated, catapulting Roosevelt into the presidency. (Who knows what great things will happen to you in the next 15 months?)

Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt’s home

But in 1900, Roosevelt was not exactly bored and waiting for something to happen. He was living in Oyster Bay with his second wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt. Their house was called Sagamore Hill and in addition to the couple, it was also home to their six children and seven full-time employees.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1900 census

The census is a unique snapshot in time!

If you lived in the country or in a small town in 1900, visiting the circus would be something you remembered for the rest of your life. For most people, it was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. The physical strain and rough living conditions of a farm or a mining camp were part of a brutal life, along with worries about having clothes warm enough to withstand the winter and food enough to stay alive. Children had little opportunity to be children. They had to work to help their families survive.

Imagine then what experiencing the circus would be like for someone living that way, and how they must have felt when they heard the music and saw the bright, spangled costumes. The first American zoo opened in Philadelphia in 1874, but most people had never been to nor heard of such a place. Witnessing the strange and fantastic animals parading into town would have thoroughly amazed them. 

 

The circus has declined in popularity in recent decades, for many reasons. There are more practical opportunities for people to learn about the world and see new things. Organizations like the Elephant Sanctuary and the Big Cat Rescue have shone a light on the horrors of animal abuse in circuses. Most circuses wouldn’t mistreat an animal, but the evil actions of a few stigmatized the industry. And, labeling a human being as a circus freak sounds cruel and dehumanizing. If you compare the definition of the word “freak” from a 1913 dictionary to the 2020 dictionary, you’ll see an exclusively negative moral judgment has been added.

 

 

 

 


The most popular circus of all time was P.T. Barnum & Bailey’s circus, known for its astonishing array of talent, animals, and curiosities.

P.T. Barnum with his distant cousin, General Thom Thumb

Two performers in the Barnum & Bailey circus were the subject of a short article in the August 21, 1904 edition of the The St. Paul Globe (St. Paul, Minnesota). The thoughts of Charles Tripp, “the armless wonder” were captured, and buried deep in the Sunday paper on page 20. It is a fascinating look into the thoughts of someone who was labeled a circus freak–– labeled that way in the title of the article, as a matter of fact.

 

Charles Trippe’s partner was Eli Bowen. Charles had no arms and Eli had no legs, and they rode a tandem bicycle together, and called their act The Buffalo Express. A reporter from the Globe overheard a curious woman ask Trippe how performers spent their free time. The response Trippe gave made it clear that, however they were labeled, circus performers viewed themselves as professional entertainers who were proud to bring a little lightness to the hard lives of so many people.

 

Charles Trippe (left) and Eli Bowen (right) on a tandem bicycle. Charles has an animal perched on his shoulder. Maybe a kitten?

“We have many ways of enjoying life,” Trippe told her. “Even sitting up here on a platform to be stared at has its compensations.”

Seeing the incredulous looks of those listening to him, Trippe added, “Just think what a wonderful opportunity we have for studying human nature. Every kind and condition of men and women pass before us. When we look down, we see courtesy and kindness, rudeness, selfishness, hate, and love. All the peculiarities of human nature pass before us. What could be more interesting to the observing man or woman— and I assure you there are many of us— than to run the gamut of human passions as depicted in their faces?”

“But what about when you aren’t on exhibition?” the woman persisted. “What then?”

Trippe considered and said, “We have our means of personal enjoyment. Of course, it depends upon the individual, just as it does in the unprofessional world. The human prodigy has the same feelings, the same sentiments, the same sense of pleasure in pleasurable things as the rest of humanity does.”

A ring full of wonders

Trippe understood, though, that this wasn’t the type of answer the woman wanted. He acknowledged that he and the others had to stay aloof, because of the nature of what they did for a living. “If we become too common in the eyes of the public, we would undoubtedly lose our value.” Trippe seemed intent on humanizing the performers to his listeners, and attempted to convey there was much more to each performer than just being a Circus Freak. “Miss May, the giantess, for instance, is an expert needlewoman. Lionel, the lion-faced boy, has a great eye for beauty in nature.” Lionel had created some beautiful pictures, he added. “He is learning to paint in watercolor and that keeps him pretty busy.”

“The Korean twins are learning photography. I am myself an enthusiastic amateur photographer and I am teaching them the mysteries of the camera,” he explained. (It’s unclear why the Korean twins were part of the circus unless they had an act or were conjoined.)

“The midgets enjoy themselves during off hours. They get along better than some of the other prodigies.” There were five of them, Trippe explained, and they were from Hungary. Mr. Bailey had discovered them in Vienna in a little midget theater. “Their great objection to come to this country was their unfamiliarity with the English language. This summer find them busy at the English dictionaries. Now I notice they spend all their spare time studying on the peculiarities of American speech and before the season is over, they will be able to converse fluently without an interpreter.”

He smiled as he spoke of a young woman named Anna, who was just 26 inches tall, and made all her own gowns. He thought she would soon marry one of the midgets.

 


I admire Mr. Trippe for his insight into human nature and his ability to gently change the minds of his listeners. He refused to feel small, no matter how others might treat him.

I’m including a few of pictures of the performers here to honor them.

Image credits: Some images are screenshots from a YouTube video that featured side show acts, some are from the PBS American Century, and some are from the Library of Congress (LOC). LOC resources include their ID numbers.

 

Several performers had a disorder called acromegaly, which results from excess growth hormone. The onset is middle age. The initial symptom is typically enlargement of the hands and feet, followed by enlargement of the forehead, jaw, and nose, thicker skin, and a deepening of the voice.

Jack Earl was 8’6, and suffered from gigantism and acromegaly.

Maurice Tillet, known as the French Angel. Symptoms of acromegaly began to appear in Tillet at age 12. By age 20, Tillet was transformed. He became a wrestler in 1937 and wrestled until his death in 1952.

Tillet, prior to changes beginning to occur.

 

Isaac W. Sprague was called The Human Skeleton. He had an unusual condition, which caused him to continually lose weight, despite a healthy diet. Sprague died at age 46, weighing just 46 pounds.

 

Francesco Lentini was born in 1889, with a parasitic twin . He had three legs, four feet, and two sets of genitals.

 

 

Ella Harper was born in 1879. She had a rare condition called congenital genu recurvatum, which caused her knees to be bent backwards, and made it more comfortable for Ella to walk on all fours.

 

Daisy and Violet were conjoined twins who had already achieved stardom in Europe, before coming to America.

Daisy and Violet, conjoined twins

There were also people who traveled with the circus because of their ability to perform stunts . The famous escape artist Harry Houdini had performed for circus audiences, while Max Schreyer performed daredevil bicycle stunts!

Schreyer the Wonder performing bicycle stunts (LOC reference number: LC-USZ62-15891 b&w film copy neg.)

 

Harry Houdini exhibits his chained wrists.

 

Finally, there were the performers who could interact with animals in a way that would ordinarily be deadly. Snake charmers were always the most fascinating and the highest paid of these performers.

Octavia, the Yankee Snake Charmer.

 

1906 Vallecita’s Leopards (LOC reference number: LC-usz62-117923 bw-film-copy-neg)
Black bear hugs his trainer (LOC reference number: LC-usz62-15899-bw-film-copy-neg)