An antiquarian book dealer explores the nexus of a Times Square dime museum and the art-photo market.
At the heart of the sideshow business in New York until the mid 1960s, Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus was often celebrated, most notably by the New Yorker’s A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell—to both of whom Gibson (Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe, 2002, etc.) dedicates this book. For many years, Hubert’s manager and “talker” (“barker” to the rubes) was dignified Charlie Lucas, an African-American who frequently doubled as a savage warrior chief or as WooFoo, the “Immune Man.” Lucas also performed a Dance of Love with his attractive wife, a snake charmer billed as Princess Sahloo or sometimes simply Woogie. He stored his odd, wonderful journal and sideshow ephemera along with a stash of photos in a trunk that, after his death, eventually came into the possession of Bob Langmuir, an acquisitive and paranoid Philadelphia book dealer. Langmuir determined that the photos were the work of Diane Arbus, who had been introduced by Lucas to many of her subjects, including diminutive Andy Potato Chips, tattooed Jack Dracula and Congo the Jungle Creep. Gibson deftly tells the story of the collection’s acquisition by Langmuir, the authentication of the pictures as Arbus’s work and the efforts to value, display and market them. He novelistically chronicles the burdens of discovery and ownership, entwining these topics with such additional themes as the unraveling of personality, the rigors of love (requited or not) and marriage (functional or not). He brings together eccentric character studies, oddball action on old 42nd Street and complex art-world maneuvers to yield some classic Americana. The Arbus/Hubert’s collection is scheduled for international exhibition and a New York auction in April.
Artfully developed tale of uncommon people and some photographs once lost.