When museums were fun

two_headed_calfThe Western Australian Museum used to be interesting.

No. Wait. Hear us out. We’re serious.

In 1888 they displayed a (dead) chicken with three legs.

The following year they outdid themselves and had a four-legged chicken on display. 1890 appears to have passed without the number of legs on chickens increasing.

Not until 1903 did the museum collect a small dead wallaby with four hind legs and two pouches, which was shot somewhere near Bunbury.

1906. Two headed calf from Australind.

1910. A Bunbury lamb that looked like a rat.

The following year another four-legged chicken (yawn). This one pickled in a bottle of spirits.

In the middle of World War I, the museum obtained a fish with the body of a snake but the head and tail of a fish. They think of naming it the Anzac Frost Fish.

1920. Two headed lamb (haven’t we had one of those already?)

In 1936 Otto Lipfert, the museum’s taxidermist, stuffed Bricky, the Bayswater freak calf, and put him on display. Bricky later went on tour to UWA.

During World War II, two-headed lizards were all the rage. (And also in Japanese horror movies in the following decades.)

After that there were a whole string of two-headed lambs, bobtails, and the like.

The WA Museum should open its archives and redisplay each and every one of these donations. Or explain why they’re hiding them.

Also, a new museum is about to open in Perth. It had better have at least one freak of nature, or it’s letting the side down.

When the freak show came to Perth

Monkey BoySo you thought the Giants were good last weekend? Baby, you don’t even know what entertainment is.

Through the magic of history, let Dodgy Perth transport you back 120 years to show you a good time.

On Hay Street, right where the Kings Hotel now stands (lovely piece of architecture that it is) was once the site of Ye Olde Englishe Fayre. So on a hot December night in 1895, let’s find out what there was to see.

After passing through an elaborately decorated entrance, you would first see the standard fairground stuff: sideshows, refreshment stalls and a stage for a variety performance.

Persuasive attendants would tempt you to part with your money for swinging boats, shooting-galleries, and the inevitable Aunt Sally. Opportunities to lose money on games were everywhere.

But you want real entertainment, don’t you? Not the ordinary fairground paraphernalia.

Let’s pay (again) and enter the first tent. Here you’ll encounter waxworks, including those of Beach and Searle, renowned Australian scullers. Unfortunately, this wax wasn’t made for the Perth summer heat and is beginning to melt a little. Next!

Mummies. Four-thousand year old mummies. They will hold you for a bit.

And if mummies aren’t your cup of tea, how about the body of conjoined twins. That ought to make you stare. And at the two-legged pig right next to them. There were plenty of other freaks to guarantee value for your money.

But the big draw card of Ye Olde Englishe Fayre was Monkey Boy.

Either “a human monstrosity” or a “hideous freak of nature”, he was substantially under a metre tall, and a mere thirteen years old. He looked like a monkey, acted like a monkey, but (shockingly!) could talk to the crowd.

Everyone rushed forwards to touch and manhandle the weird child.

And the papers all agreed that “monkey-faced boy” was the best thing ever to appear in the colony.

Forget your Giants, Perth. They knew what real entertainment was 120 years ago.

Please note that this is an edited re-post of an earlier article. Dodgy Perth has many new followers lately, and the story is so good it’s worth rereading anyway.

Monkey boy and the peculiar pig

Monkey Boy

The centre of attraction in the side shows was the monkey boy who is veritably a human monstrosity or a hideous freak of nature.

14 December 1895. Saturday. With little else to do in Perth, we decided to follow the crowd and do the opening night of Ye Olde Englishe Fayre.

Passing through an elaborately decorated entrance, we saw sideshows, refreshment booths and a stage for the variety performance.

In one tent were waxworks, although you thought they looked rather the worse for wear. The figures of Beach and Searle, those renowned Australian scullers, were melting in the summer heat.

Moving on to the next tent, we sneered at the alleged age of the moth-eaten mummies. 4,000 years old? Really?

The conjoined babies made us linger for a while, though, as did the peculiar pig caged right next to them. The other freaks were good for a laugh although a few made you turn away in disgust.

The centre of attraction in the side shows was the monkey boy who is veritably a human monstrosity or a hideous freak of nature.

I went all giddy and lost a lot on the Razzle Dazzle. The persuasive attendants tempted others to spend money on swinging boats, shooting-galleries, and the inevitable Aunt Sally.

As for the variety show, we thought the acts variable. The Fakir of Oolu—looking uncannily like Charles Sylvester in a turban—worked the disappearing lady trick, but without charisma. Professor Seguy juggled heavy weights with ease and speed.

Pearl Akarman’s appearance as The Living Serpent impressed. But we agreed that contortion feats by a woman are not edifying.

And management has to sort out the crowd. Women and children were rudely pushed and hustled, and neither group should have to listen to such questionable comments as were passed on the performers.