Coney Island 'SIDESHOW' Relics, Freak Show Memorabilia in 5/2-25 NYC Exhibition & Sale
While the golden era of New York's most beloved amusement park is long gone, relics of Coney Island's colorful history and photos of its amazing cast of performers grab the spotlight in "Sideshow," an exhibition and sale running May 2-25 at The Ross Art Group's Manhattan gallery. Sideshow's featured collection belongs to Dr. Robert M. Lerch, a New York City physician and longtime collector of the bizarre and unusual. The exhibition chronicles roughly the first 50 years of Coney Island whose first enclosed amusement park area opened in 1895 with additional pieces from other early 20th-century carnivals and circuses.
The "backbone" of the show, said Ross Art Group's owner, Mickey Ross, is the collection of 28 original architectural drawings and blueprints that conceptualized Coney Island carnival rides and structures.
"The drawings were created by amusement park ride inventor and manufacturer William F. Mangels and depict classic rides like the 'Whip,' Loop roller coaster and mechanical carousel horses," Ross said. Like all other items in the exhibition, the architectural designs will be available for purchase.
The collection also features an assemblage of circus photos by itinerant photographer Edward J. Kelty (18881967). The grouping includes several of Kelty's inimitable 11 by 20-inch panoramic shots of performers known collectively as "the Congress of Freaks."
"Kelty had a fascination for human oddities and spent 20 years following and photographing circus troupes. Once a year, the entire Ringling Brothers 'Freak Show' cast would gather for a group shot. It was a big event," said Ross. "The pictures include every imaginable type of performer sword swallowers, snake charmers, bearded ladies, fire eaters, 'giants and midgets,' plus aerialists and clowns."
Other iconic photos in Sideshow were taken prior to the end of World War I by Arthur S. Mole & John D. Thomas. Their technique consisted of organizing thousands of people especially army troops to form aerial views of iconic symbols, like The Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam.
Dr. Lerch's fascination for Coney Island memorabilia, arcade machines and quirky figural folk art dates back to his 1960s childhood in Manhattan, when he was introduced to the vast archive of pioneer collector Frederick Fried. Many years later, Lerch would acquire a portion of Fried's Coney Island trove.
Additional Sideshow highlights include:
- Circus and other posters, including original Belgian-release poster for 1932 film "Freaks"
- Coin-op and vending machines
- Carousel memorabilia and figures
- Cast-iron amusement park jester head and four clown shooting gallery targets
- 17 x 6 inch glass coffin
- Antique carved wood contortionist figures on pedestals
- 1923 cast-iron Coke bottles from Atlanta bottling plant's fence
- Games, trade stimulators, carnival knockdown figures
- Convex carnival mirror
Sideshow featuring the collection of Dr. Robert M. Lerch (Email) runs May 2-25 at the Ross Art Group gallery, 532 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
Exhibition hours: 10 a.m. 6 p.m., Mon-Sat. May 2 opening-night hours: 5-8 p.m. Performers from Coney Island USA's Sideshows by the Seashore will entertain and pose for pictures to raise awareness that Coney Island is back in business following Hurricane Sandy. They include Leo the Human Gumby (contortionist), Insectavora (tattooed lady, human blockhead), and Scott Baker (magician, master of many sideshow feats). Also, sideshow banner painter Marie Roberts will be there to discuss Coney Island's unique history.