This rare and delightful poster from the 1930s advertising Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Sideshow is up for bid in Mosby & Company’s Fall Auction. Strange People from the Remote Corners of the Earth? The performers are not ID’d but we think the musicians are Margaret and Mary Gibb, from Holyoke, Massachusetts, who were celebrated as “The Only American-Born Siamese Twins” and the Texas giant is Jack Earle. Both were with Ringling in the 1930s.
Looking into the Gibb girls bio, we discovered that they made their show biz debut at the age of 13 in Dave Rosen’s side show and museum, then located at Bowery and West 15th in Coney Island. The date was April 11, 1926. After a couple of days, the Coney showman was arrested for exhibiting minors and the twins were given into the custody of the Children’s Society over the objections of their father, who said he was with them all the time.
The incident gets a mention in the book “Sodom by the Sea: an affectionate history of Coney Island” (1941):
The side-show successors of Chang and Eng were continually getting into legal hot water at Coney Island. Around the time of the First World War, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children objected to the appearance of eleven-year-old Godino and Lucio Simplicio, Filipino double monsters, and proved them to be without proper guardianship. The SPCC followed up its success in the Simplicio case by raiding David Rosen’s side show on the Coney Island Bowery because of the exhibition of thirteen-year-old Marjorie and Mary Gibb, Siamese twins from Holyoke, Massachusetts. Rosen had studied the law during the previous Coney Island controversy and wriggled out of the trouble by arguing that the girls were still in the custody of their father, by contract, and moreover were not violating the statute by dancing or singing.
However, the Gibb girls returned home for a while, announcing that they had been so shamed by the publicity that they were consulting medical experts as to the possibility of being cut apart. That in turn created more publicity, which made their parents so nervous that the operation was postponed. Several years later the Gibb girls proved to be still on exhibition at Coney Island, when their attorney, Abraham Reiss, raised the roof over the unfair competition furnished by a Cuban pair of Siamese twins who he declared were not genuinely married in gristle.
According to the Gibb Sisters obit in 1967, they went on to become vaudeville and circus stars with an act that featured dancing and piano playing. From 1934 through 1937, and again in 1939, they toured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The twins were joined at the base of the spine and despite sensational articles from the 1920’s about proposed operations to separate them, the only direct quote that we could find states they did not wish to be separated: “We are perfectly happy as we are,” said the Gibb Sisters on their 50th birthday. “We never wanted to be separated.”
Mosby’s live auction is on November 11 and 12 in Frederick, Maryland, but the catalogue is online and you can bid now or in real time during the auction.
Related posts on ATZ…
March 22, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Souvenir of Frank Bostock’s Coney Island
January 24, 2011: Artifact of the Day: Souvenir of Henderson’s Restaurant
December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike
November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola