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Step Right Up:
Sideshow Wonders and Human Curiosities

28 July to 3 September 2005
Orange Hill Art, Inc.
Atlanta GA

Orange Hill Art, Inc., Atlanta GA

Once again, the siren call of the sideshow lured me deep down south — this time courtesy of Robbi Raitt and Elizabeth Patrick of Orange Hill Art in Atlanta GA. The show that Orange Hill put together was in many ways a continuation of the fun started by Mark Sloan's Alive Inside exhibition from earlier in the summer with me, Kevin House, J.D. Wilkes and Jeffrey Pratt Gordon's Johnny Eck memorabilia all hitting the next stop down the road, but this time joined by Alabama folk artist Butch Anthony. Just as in Charleston, the show kicked off with a big reception and killer after party, but I digress.

I flew into Atlanta from Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28th — just a few scant hours before the whole shebang was scheduled to start. Elizabeth Patrick, director of Orange Hill, was kind enough to retrieve me from the airport, which made me especially glad when I realized just how far of a trip it was (that would have been one expensive cab ride!). There were still lots of last minute details to be taken care of before the opening at 7:00 P.M., so I helped move stuff around the gallery (located in the former Obelisk Flour Mill), put beer on ice and other things before Elizabeth suggested we catch some lunch at a restaurant just up the street. That was a lovely break from the bustle of preparation (and the ungodly heat), but soon we were back at the gallery and things were humming along again. By this time, Kevin House (who had flown in from Vancouver the day before) returned to the gallery from a brief sojourn to nearby Little Five Points. He was a little dazed from the oven-like temperatures he'd been experiencing that afternoon, but we caught up a bit and exchanged a couple of chuckles while sampling the beer from the cooler.

Orange Hill Art, Inc., Atlanta GA

With things more or less in hand, Robbi took Kevin and I for a quick trip back to our lodgings for a freshening up. Forty-five minutes or so later we were back at the gallery, when suddenly the sky opened up. The rain was so intense that the street outside the gallery looked like a river. The wind was so fast that a nearby construction crane was swinging crazily back and forth. It looked like the storm intended to stick around, much to Robbi's dismay, but after another twenty minutes it left as quickly as it came and the sun was shining again.

Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and then turned back to other matters. Had anybody heard from Butch or Sideshow Bennie? What the hell good are popcorn bags with open slits down the back? Is this enough beer? Where's Eeka?

Eeka, the Lion Girl

Eeka turned out to be a pretty and aspiring young lingerie model who answered an ad Robbi put on Craig's List. He wanted someone to work the artfully arranged 'cage' he had set up as a blow-off attraction. Apparently this girl had had a life-long ambition to perform as a feral lion-girl, and this just happened to be the first opportunity she'd had to realize her dream. I was standing behind the bar chatting a bit with Eeka (I don't think I ever knew her real name) when she told me that she had other skills that might be useful in a freakshow. "Oh?" says I — with one eyebrow creeping dangerously skyward. "What can you do?" With a huge smile she pushes herself away from the bar and holds both arms straight out from her sides, with her palms facing up. Suddenly, her hands are pointing at the floor — her elbows having bent completely the wrong damn way. Sweet merciful crap! It was one of the most startling and wrong-looking things I've ever seen. She said she'd been able to do that since she was a little girl, and although it looked awful it caused no pain. She send her elbows sometimes popped out of joint without her even realizing it. I was the only witness to this performance, so for the rest of the night I would encouraging people to ask Eeka to show them "the elbow thing". They'd go off bemused, like they were expecting something completely lame, but come running back all excited: "Holy crap! That's the weirdest thing I've ever seen!" Worth the price of admission.

Behold the wrath of Eeka, the Lion Girl!

Eric, a friend of Elizabeth's, arrived shortly after this. He would be acting as a talker for the evening — complete with straw boater and bamboo cane. We introduced Eric to Eeka, and they briefly conferred over her Lion Girl origin myth. Eric suggested that her pregnant mother had been on safari when she was attacked by a lioness, who then raised the babe torn from her prey's womb as her own cub. Eeka enthusiastically suggested an elaboration involving cannibalism. Eric seemed pleased with the material and affixed his handlebar mustache before going out onto the sidewalk to gather the tip.

Eric working a tip

Keving House surveys the crowd

Pretty soon the gallery started to fill up, partly due to Eric's bally performance. An entire gaggle of Atlanta jugglers showed up and proceeded to throw balls around, followed by a bunch of girls from a local roller derby team (subsequently to be known as Kevin's Fan Club), and various other folks eager to see the show.

Double the fun

Butch Anthony arrived from Alabama with his date — sisters dressed as conjoined twins. More people kept turning up, the booze flowed freely, and a belly dancer helped keep things lively.

The place was packed right up through 10:00 P.M., but eventually it was time to push folks out onto the sidewalk and head over to the Star Bar for the after party event at which Kevin, Sideshow Bennie and Those Legendary Shack*Shakers would be performing.

The Grace Vault at the Star Bar

The Star Bar had been a bank in an earlier incarnation. The vault is still there, but it's been rechristened as the Grace Vault — a shrine to Elvis Presley complete with kneeling rail, votive candles and juke box. The centerpiece is a painting of Elvis' mama, surrounded by all manner of Elvis-related crap. Why go to Graceland when you've got this?

Kevin House on stage

When we arrived Kevin had just taken the stage with his guitar and theremin. The crowd grew steadily during his set. When Kevin finished, Sideshow Bennie took the stage.

Sideshow Bennie

Bennie went through his usual bit of mayhem: sticking his hand in animal traps, smashing that same hand with soup cans (in the interest of food safety), chopping celery off his chest...

cute chicks + bed of nails = fun!

...having pretty young things sit on a bed of nails on his chest while he reclines on a bed of barbed wire...

sorry, no change

...and inviting folks to staple legal tender to him. You know, the usual.

Those Legendary Shack*Shakers

Following Bennie were Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers, who put on a blistering set (and only managed to break half as many things as the last time they played there).

Elizabeth Patrick does her Yosemite Sam impersonation

[All photographs by James G. Mundie.]

All Images and Text James G. Mundie & Kate Kern Mundie 2005