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One of Us: Sideshows, Freaks and the Unexplained: Home



If you need any special accommodations or have questions about the exhibit, please contact:

Alexis Shpall Wolstein, Instruction Librarian

ph: (309) 438-7271



About "One Of Us"

“One Of Us: Sideshows, Freaks and the Unexplained”

October 27th – December 12th, 2014    

Milner Library, Floor 6, Special Collections


When Tod Browning’s film Freaks was released in 1932 it was met with horror and controversy. The film, in which the eponymous characters were played by people who worked as carnival sideshow performers and had real deformities, was considered so shocking by audiences that one woman threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her to suffer a miscarriage. Despite the controversy, Freaks and the sideshow inhabitants it depicted are invariably a part of American popular culture.

This exhibit looks at the long history of biological rarities and oddities that have commonly been thought of as “freaks of nature,” and the desire of the so-called “normal” audience to stare in awe at bodily differences. Featured are a variety of ephemera and artifacts from Milner Library’s Circus and Allied Arts Collection, dating as far back as 1634 up to the present-day.

Gaze upon 19th century cabinet cards of bearded ladies & legendary conjoined twins! Wonder at the strange attractions once housed in Barnum’s American Museum! Be amazed by the size of the sideshow giant’s ring and the shoes worn by Tom Thumb’s wife on their wedding day! Question your preconceptions of what makes a person a freak! Is it society who determines who is or isn't normal, or can we choose to be a freak? Ask yourself, are you in fact “one of us?” 


Sponsored by Milner Library and Illinois State University’s  Disability Concerns


"What You Can Tell by Looking: Disability, Language, and the Power of Description"

November 6th, 2014 – 4PM

Milner Library, Floor 6, NW Corner


"Don't stare!" It's one of the earliest etiquette lessons most parents teach curious children about how to deal with bodily difference and one that has had far-reaching effects on perceptions of dis/ability. Based on examples from the “One Of Us” exhibit, this presentation will explore how not acknowledging bodily difference prevents adequate language practices to describe bodies. Browne will focus specifically on the use of metaphor, semantic shift, and recent linguistic reclamation efforts by disability advocates to argue that you can't describe what you refuse to see.


Kate Browne:

Kate Browne is an English Studies PhD student specializing in disabled women's life writing, circus & sideshows, and US popular culture. She plans to write her dissertation on representations of body size including an enthusiastic chapter on sideshow fat ladies.