Dr. Nodnol here with the distinct privilege to introduce you to a man who defies introduction. But alas, never one to refuse the tasks at hand, it is with great privilege and honor that I introduce you to James Taylor… no, not that James Taylor.
The James Taylor I speak of is the planet’s foremost authority on sideshow (self-proclaimed, but universally accepted!). For nearly two decades he has been interviewing sideshow folk and collecting their stories in his publication, Shocked & Amazed – On and Off The Midway!
Perhaps Baltimore knows him best from his days at the American Dime Museum. Washington, DC knows him as the curator of the curious collection at The Red Palace (formerly the Palace of Wonders) where a small fraction of his large collection of oddities is now on display.
I first encountered James at The Winter Festival of Wonders, where he provided a Cabinet of Curiosities for the event, and gave a short lecture on the history of sideshow. Moments after meeting him, I quickly determined that we were destined to be friends, and I was not afraid to let him know it.
You see, James is a historian and collector of all things strange and bizarre! His collection includes not only two-headed creatures, mummies and a genuine unicorn skull, but a vast amount of oral history which he has collected from those who lived it!
James is quick to point out that to be a historian of sideshow not only means knowing the fire eaters, glass walkers and sword swallowers, but also becoming familiar with all of those shows and the show folk who did not quite fit into the circus. His vast knowledge of “other” forms of entertainment includes Burlesque, Magic, Belly Dance, and more!
The sideshow began around the 1840′and thrived through the 1940’s appearing next to circuses and on the carnival midways of our not too distant past. For generally 10 cents or less, you could feast you eyes on a museum filled with mysterious objects, or catch a 10 act show. It was inside these tents, where our relatives would turn for thrill, chills, and the unexpected.
James Taylor was not always interested in the sideshow. Though he always had an interest in the weird and unusual, the sideshow did not enter his life until his father passed away in 1988 and his mother took up with a carnival man- Jerry Farrow. James lovingly reflects on Jerry referring to him as probably the funniest and most fascinating man he ever encountered. This is a particularly strong statement coming from James, who now knows some of the strangest and most interesting people alive today! It was hearing Jerry’s stories from his carnival days that initially triggered James’ full-fledged love affair with the sideshow.
James suddenly found himself wanting to know everything there was to know about sideshow, but was surprised to discover just how little had been published on the subject. As an avid reader, he was disappointed to not have more resources to explore his new found passion. As an accomplished writer, James knew what he had to do. And so he set off to write a book. He would travel, meet and interview the people who had lived the sideshow—the show folk themselves.
A series of events, led the book to become a magazine, and suddenly, his one time effort to capture the sideshow became a lifelong commitment. Since 1995, James has published 9 volumes of his occasional periodical, each containing the stories and history of a different era and a different world.
Through his meeting with curious folks—freaks, geeks and otherwise— James suddenly found himself collecting not only curious stories, but curious things. Without planning or intention, he began amounting a rather serious collection of peculiar things. As it turns out, show folk always seem to be looking to make a buck, and someone who came to interview them was quite an easy mark. James recalls with nothing but pure joy, going into debt for the first time to acquire a genuine five-legged dog. And so it goes once a collection turns serious.
The collection grew so large in less than 10 years, he partnered with Richard Horne and opened the American Dime Museum in 1999 right here in Baltimore. When he left the project in 2003, almost immediately his collection was moved to a new spot in DC, in the ever-changing H Street Corridor, when some of it still remains today. The rest, spends most of its time in storage as it waits to find its next permanent home.
As for James, he’s always moving forward. He recently finished his first novel (after nearly 20 years), and is starting work on his second. The long-awaited Volume 10 of Shocked and Amazed is in the works, and he is always looking for the next opportunity to share his amazing collection with the world.
I proudly present the Official Dr. Nodnol Curious Person Award to James Taylor, who has committed over 20 years to his relentless efforts to preserve the mysterious, bizarre, and wonder-full for all of humanity to enjoy.
James will be appearing at Instant Gratification THIS Sunday at La Caja Estudios at 1111 Hollins Street in Sowebo, where he will be presenting a Lecture on the history of sideshow, sometime around 5:30 PM! Dr. Nodnol is pleased to be an Official Sponsor of this event, and will myself be in attendance presenting a short demonstration on my miracle elixir.
Please join me next week as I introduce you to Marigold Bumbleroot, a genuine Bubble Fairy!
May your day be filled with the strange and unusual,
Dr. Finius J. Nodnol III, Esq.