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Super freaks! Sideshow Hall of Fame honors carnie history

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Take a deep drink of sideshow history!

Some of history’s greatest sword swallowers, fire eaters, and sideshow oddballs will finally receive their due next weekend at the Sideshow Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Coney Island. At the event, which kicks off the 10th annual “Congress of Curious Peoples” festival running April 21–30 at various Coney venues, audience members and aficionados will drunkenly deliberate on which curious characters will be immortalized in the Sideshow Hall of Fame. The crowd will also get a thorough education on some of the world’s premiere oddities, but they might not remember the details the next morning, said one organizer.

“It’s like the show ‘Drunk History,’ ” said Dick Zigun, who runs Coney Island USA. “We take it very seriously. People are extremely knowledgeable, but by the end of the night people are stinking drunk — it’s good fun.”

The Sideshow Hall of Fame has five categories: Born Different, Self-Inflicted (those who alter their body with tattoos or piercings, for instance), Working Acts (sideshow performers such as knife throwers and sword swallowers), Show Folk (the producers and talent behind the sideshow) and Attractions, bizarre non-living items that drew visitors, such as electric chairs, blade boxes, and the fake medicine of snake oil salesmen.

This year’s Born Different nominees are the Doll Family — a quartet of dwarfs who dazzled with song and dance routines — versus Martin Laurello, the “Human Owl” who could twist his noggin 180 degrees. Each of this year’s nominees worked with the Ringling Brothers at some point in their career, as a nod to the recent closing of the brothers’ circus, said Zigun.

Two nominees will duke it out in each category, and panelists will try to sway the audience in favor of their sideshow sensation. After the advocates have made their pitches, the crowd puts it to a vote.

Each winner will receive a celebratory toast while the crowd chants “Gooble gobble, we accept you! One of us, one of us!” — loosely quoting the 1932 film “Freaks.” Voters then down their drinks in a single gulp — or as much as they can stomach — all in the name of academia.

“Remember, we’re seriously discussing people who can turn their heads backwards, swallow coins, people who’ve covered themselves in tattoos,” said Zigun. “But as the evening goes on the audience and the scholars get incredibly drunk.”

This year, the lucky few will be immortalized with a Sideshow Hall of Fame plaque mounted at the Freak Bar for all to see, which Zigun hopes will become a destination in and of itself.

“It will become a weirdo tourist attraction,” he said. “For 10 years, we’ve been holding this event and have not had an actual iconic, physical hall of fame. So this will give it a home.”

The 10-day Congress of Curious Peoples will also feature “Superfreak Weekend” on April 22–23, an extravaganza of exotic sideshow performers including Koko the Killer Clown, Dr. Claw, and Nati The Patchwork Girl, along with a slew of lectures and panel discussions on sideshow and circus culture.

Sideshow Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Coney Island USA (1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, www.coneyisland.com). April 21 at 7 pm. $10.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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