01 October 2008

The Circassian Beauties

Little Flora "Cannibal" via Sideshow World

A tip of the hat to: benhästen, and Uncertain Times.

"Any freak show worth its salt in the 1880s included a Circassian Beauty. She was invariably a pale-skinned young woman kitted out like a hippie from the 1970s: puffy silk pants, sheer-flowing coats, and most importantly, a nimbus of frizzy, Afro-style darkish hair. Usually these women had names beginning with ‘Z’: Zana Zanobia, Zoe Meleke, Zula Zeleka, Zalumma Agra, Zoberdie Luti. Often they would seat themselves cross-legged on stage, holding a water-pipe, and looking demurely at the audience as the pitchman presented them as the purest example available of the Caucasian race. (...)

The Circassian beauties were of course a hoax. Zoe Meleke, who appeared on the P T Barnum circuit in the States, was American-born. According to the circus press agent Dexter Fellows in the 1930s, one of the most famous Circassians - ‘Zuleika, The Circassian Sultana’ - was an Irish immigrant from Jersey City. Women tricking themselves up as these beauties would create the trademark ”mossy hair” by using beer as shampoo and an artful use of the comb. The only real requisite was pale skin and a certain round-faced vacant beauty - that and a willingness to be gawped at by rubes pruriently imagining her in congress with a Turkish overlord"

From the very scholarly and erudite folks at The Vapour Trail
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