Visualizer: 'Celebrations of Curious Characters' Conjurers, Con Men & Other Strange Celebrities .
For the past 30 years, Ricky Jay, the sleight-of-hand artist and actor, has been gathering material about magicians, con artists and other eccentric performers, human and animal. His newest book, "Celebrations of Curious Characters" (McSweeney's), features images and anecdotes from his collection. Mr. Jay, who is well known for his card tricks, shares tales about dancing rats, Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, and the conjurer Chung Ling Soo (born William Ellsworth Robinson) whose on-stage shooting in 1918 was officially labeled "death by misadventure." Here is a look at some notable characters.
"Bismarck, the Pig of Genius: His Life and Labours, His Wonderful Education and How He Got It" There is an entire genre of books about (and sometimes, supposedly, by) clever animals, including the 1871 "Bismarck, the Pig of Genius: His Life and Labours, His Wonderful Education and How He Got It." In the woodcut at right, Bismarck shows off his math skills.
Hubert's MuseumHubert's Museum, open from 1925 to 1965, was a fixture of New York's Times Square. Its trained flea circus was a major attraction, allowing spectators to watch fleas juggle a ball, rotate a miniature merry-go-round, race chariots and dance.
Giovanni Battista BelzoniGiovanni Battista Belzoni, born in Italy, first found fame as a performing strongman in the early 1800s. Then his career took an unusual turn into archaeology, and he became known as the world's leading Egyptologist.
Paul Boyton was a major 19th-century celebrity. He was the first person to "swim" across the English Channel—although he did so with the aid of a rubber suit and paddle.
Theodore PullIn his shows, Theodore Pull feigned a trance and foamed at the mouth to add drama. The foam came from eating soap.