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The Porcelain Snow Sister-Sidshow Pinhead Freaks

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Elvira and Jenny Lynn Snow -were born March 2 1901,in Hartwell, Georgia, USA

Elvira died November 1976.

Height- 4 feet 5 inches (1.35m)

They were sold by their parents to the circus to be exhibited in sideshows. They were billed as Pip and Flip, Pipo and Zipo or under similar such names. At one time they were managed by their brother, Cliff. They appeared at Coney Island in the late 20s and were still being exhibited as late as the early 40s.

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How I sculpted the Elvira and Jenny Snow.

  • I sculpted the Snow sister from porcelain. I made the head with breast plate with holes so I could sew them to the cloth bodies. The arms and legs only go as far as you can see and have grooves around the ends so that I can glue and tie the limbs to the cloth bodies.
  • Fired at cone 10.
  • They are painted with Seeley’s China paint. They have painted eyes because the glass eyes less real to me because I have trouble controlling the eye opening  and shrinkage factor.
  • Their bodies under the dresses are stuffed white muslin cloth and wire so they can assume different poses. This is the first time I did this instead of making a ball jointed doll. It makes them much easier to get them to stand and stay in poses. I’ll still keep experimenting with BJDs but for now this is working better for my purpose.
  • I made their little cotton dresses from an old man’s dress shirt and leather shoes  from an old leather skirt and yes! they have cotton panties on under their dresses.
  • Their tuff of hair is made from Tibetan sheep fur which is inserted into a hole on the tip of their heads and glued with liquid Nails Glue. They stand on a wooden hand painted base and can be removed from the base. They have holes in the bottom of their shoes to accept posts that stick up from the base to help them stand. They stand 10.5 inches tall. (26.67 centimeters) and I adore them.

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”

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The Snow Sister’s history

In 1929, Coney Island’s sideshow impresario Sam Wagner presented two pinheads billed as Pip and Flip.

Jenny Lee was 12 years younger, but had the intelligence of a 18 month old child. Elvira was about a five year old equivalent.

IMG_0497Why do they only have a small tuff of hair?
They had shaved heads except for a small patch at the top to show off their pointed heads. Their managers had them shave their heads to empathize the pointed heads.

The sisters became Coney island’s greatest attracion during the depression and after. They were paid $75 a week. “Life is pretty nice for them.” Wagner once told a newspaper.. ” They spend winters in Georgia at home and have all the money they need. They have nothing to worry about and I suppose you could say, nothing to worry with.” ~ American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History’s Most Wondrous

“Pip and Flip were special to me. They were pinheads. Well, the doctor term was Microcephalia. It’s when your noggin fails to grow and the body doesn’t. Some pinheads – the ones the carny bosses said were from Peru – were pretty much dwarfed. Nevertheless, they were all usually a tad touched in the head and hyper as a jack rabbit.

So they locked up Pip and Flip. Not because they were dangerous but because they would wander off the first chance they got. Combined, they had the mentality of a first grader and every now and again, I would sneak them roasted peanuts in a brown paper bag. They were adorable.

Carny bosses said the pair were twins that came from the Yucatan of Mexico. I knew that was a bunch of baloney, though. I got the skinny from the human skeleton one night. He said that they were actually born in New York and their real names were Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow and worked the Coney Island sideshow before being sold to this swampland pit of despair.

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It was 1933, I think, when the man in the big black trenchcoat ushered the two girls out of the cage and into a large car on the outskirts of the fairground.

I followed him because it didn’t seem right.

“Hey, where you takin’ them, bub?” I shouted.

After he ushered Pip and Flip into the back seat, he strolled towards me and said. “I’m Tod Browning. Gonna put them in my movie.”

“Movie?”

“Yeah…” he said patting me on my shoulder. “They’ll be in good hands. Metro-Golwyn Mayer owns them now. Lock, stock and barrel. Don’t worry.”

Oh, sure, I saw the movie. The whole carny went on our night off. The two gals made it. Apart from their small part in the movie, though, I never saw Pip and Flip again. It’s as if they vanished.

No one knows what happened to them.”
from:

http://bukowskisbasement.blogspot.com/2010/08/carny-freaks-pip-and-flip-fridayflash.html

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the freak gang

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The Snow Sisters were called Pinheads. So what is a Pinhead?

A pinhead is a person born with a condition known as microcephaly. It is a neurological disorder and is characterized by a smaller than average head. Biologically, during conception the head fails to grow in time with the face – which continues to develop at a normal rate; this produces a person with a small head and a receding forehead. As the individual grows older, the smallness of the skull becomes more obvious, although the entire body also is often underweight and dwarfed. It is very common that the development of motor functions and speech are also usually delayed and mental retardation is common in persons with microcephaly. The term Microcephaly is really a blanket term for many similar disorders. It may be congenital or the result of various syndromes associated with chromosomal abnormalities.

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I first saw The Snow Sisters in the movie “Freaks” by Browning. It was banned in the UK for 30 years!! Freaks is a 1932 film about sideshow performers, directed and produced by Tod Browning and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with a cast mostly composed of actual carnival performers. The film was based on Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story “Spurs”. Director Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities as the sideshow “freaks,” rather than using costumes and makeup.
Browning had been a member of a traveling circus in his early years, and much of the film was drawn from his personal experiences. I too joined the circus when I was 15. I aspired to be preforming in the big tent-center ring. But instead they put me in the mess tent washing dishes.
In the film, the physically deformed “freaks” are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the “normal” members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain his large inheritance.

By 1929 when Gumpertz left Coney Island to run the Barnum and Bailey Circus, Sam Wagner assumed his position as Coney Island’s foremost impresario of the odd and unusual in humans. New Yorkers had become to educated to believe in the existence of Wild Men so he exhibited Zip’s successors simply as pinheads. He managed to find a pair of sisters from Georgia named Pipo and Zipo. He paid their families $75 / week which was a landfall for the family during the Depression. While Pipo only had the intelligence of an 18 month old baby, her sister was considerably brighter. Zipo had the intelligence of a five year old. They were billed as Pip and Flip – pinheads from Peru.

SAM WAGNER  had no trouble convincing Coney’s freaks to join his operation. It was a matter of economics; they needed a job. Most preferred the low but steady seasonal pay versus being constantly on the road in search of more lucrative one night stands. Besides most freaks liked the sense of community, of living at Coney among their abnormal peers. Best of all he stroked their egos by treating them as something special and displaying them as something unique. It didn’t matter if they were dwarfs, giants, ugly, amazingly obese, had three legs, no arms or legs; the public would pay money to stare at them and gaze in awe. It was common for parents to sell their freak children to the side shows or circus because they needed money and there was no support system for caring for these children.

Around 1915 the Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Children objected to the appearance of eleven year old Godino and Lucio Simplicio, Filipino Siamese twins. This was the start of protection of the children in freak shows. Although it did nothing for Elvira and Jenny, who spent their whole lives in the sideshow business.

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By 1929 when Gumpertz left Coney Island to run the Barnum and Bailey Circus, Sam Wagner assumed his position as Coney Island’s foremost impresario of the odd and unusual in humans. New Yorkers had become to educated to believe in the existence of Wild Men so he exhibited Zip’s successors simply as pinheads. He managed to find a pair of sisters from Georgia named Pipo and Zipo. He paid their families $75 / week which was a landfall for the family during the Depression. While Pipo only had the intelligence of an 18 month old baby, her sister was considerably brighter. Zipo had the intelligence of a five year old. They were billed as Pip and Flip – pinheads from Peru.

SAM WAGNER  had no trouble convincing Coney’s freaks to join his operation. It was a matter of economics; they needed a job. Most preferred the low but steady seasonal pay versus being constantly on the road in search of more lucrative one night stands. Besides most freaks liked the sense of community, of living at Coney among their abnormal peers. Best of all he stroked their egos by treating them as something special and displaying them as something unique. It didn’t matter if they were dwarfs, giants, ugly, amazingly obese, had three legs, no arms or legs; the public would pay money to stare at them and gaze in awe. It was common for parents to sell their freak children to the side shows or circus because they needed money and there was no support system for caring for these children.

Around 1915 the Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Children objected to the appearance of eleven year old Godino and Lucio Simplicio, Filipino Siamese twins. This was the start of protection of the children in freak shows. Although it did nothing for Elvira and Jenny, who spent their whole lives in the sideshow business.

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The two Snow sisters, a sideshow act, these poor little girls were sold to the circus by their parents. They were pinheads. I made artist dolls of them. I don’t know why their story captured my heart but it did.S

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See Elvira and Jenny in a clip from the “Freaks ” movie.

“Freaks is a tale of love and vengeance in a traveling circus…

In her essay “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” Elizabeth Grosz attempts to unpack our fascination with freak shows. She concludes that the individuals most frequently showcased in these spectacles, including Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, “pinheads” (microcephalics), midgets, and bearded ladies “imperil the very definitions we rely on to classify humans, identities and sexes – our most fundamental categories of self-definition and boundaries dividing self from otherness” (57). In other words, while we comfort ourselves by breaking down the world into neat binary oppositions, such as Male/Female, Self/Other, Human/Animal, Child/Adult, “freaks” blur the boundaries between these reassuring oppositions. She concludes, “The freak confirms the viewer as bounded, belonging to a ‘proper’ social category. The viewer’s horror lies in the recognition that this monstrous being is at the heart of his or her identity, for it is all that must be ejected or abjected from self-image to make the bounded, category-obeying self possible” (65). We need the freak to confirm our own static, bounded identities. And yet, I think there is a certain terror that we may not be as bounded as we think. If the hermaphrodite can transcend traditional gender categories, then perhaps our own genders are more fluid. For many that is a truly horrifying thought.

For example, in one of the film’s earliest scenes we witness the “pinheads” Schlitze, Elvira and Jenny Lee dancing and playing in the forest. From a distance they look like innocent, happy children. But as the camera approaches, it is clear that they are neither children, nor are they quite adults either. Thus it is the ambiguity here, rather than the disability itself, which is momentarily disturbing…

Grosz also mentions that “Any discussion of freaks brings back into focus a topic that has had a largely underground existence in contemporary cultural and intellectual life, partly because it is considered below the refined sensibilities of ‘good taste’ and ‘personal politeness’ in a civilized and politically correct milieu” (55).”

Amanda Ann Klein. “Teaching Todd Browning’s Freaks,” on the Judgemental Observer blog

Tod Browning with Elvira and Jenny

Tod Browning with Elvira and Jenny


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  • Grosz, Elizabeth. “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.55-68
  • Hawkins, Joan. ”’One of Us’: Tod Browning’s Freaks,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.265-276
  • Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994

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One Comment

  1. I love these dolls. They are one of a kind.

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