The multitalented Ricky Jay (sleight-of-hand artist, author, actor, film consultant, and scholar of the unusual) wrote and published a unique and beautifully designed quarterly called Jay's Journal of Anomalies. Already a coveted collector's item, the complete set is gathered here for the first time. A brilliant excursion into the history of bizarre entertainments, the journal covered such subjects as dogs stealing acts from other dogs, an anthropological hoax involving the only survivors of a caste of ancient Aztec priests, and the ultimate diet: ingesting only air.
The journal was described in The New York Times as "beautiful and elegant...a combination of rigorous scholarship and personal rumination."
In a delectably deadpan and winning style, Jay conveys his admiration and affection for the offbeat that characterized his bestselling Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. He explains how wags since the sixteenth century have cheated at bowling; he explores the ancient relationship between conjuring and dentistry; and he chronicles the exploits of ceiling walkers and human flies. Crammed full of illustrations drawn from the author's massive personal archive, Jay's Journal of Anomalies will baffle, instruct, and, above all, delight.
For Jay's subjects are so stupefyingly surprising. They almost all have to do with some sort of performance, and the stranger the better. There is a chapter on, of all things, crucifixion for showmanly profit. Tommy Minnock, at the beginning of the twentieth century, gained wildly enthusiastic response from his audiences as, nailed to a cross on the stage in a supposed hypnotic trance, he crooned, "After The Ball Is Over," one of the most popular tunes of the time. "I am told by those who saw me," he wrote "nailed to the cross that I presented a weird but impressive spectacle." Evatima Tardo around the same time was regularly nailed to a cross, suspended there for over two hours. She seldom had volunteers from the crowd who would come up to run the nails through her limbs, so her assistants had to do so. The nails were dipped in poison beforehand; she was quoted as saying, "There wouldn't be any fun unless I had prussic acid on the ends." She laughed and sang, and declared that she had never had such a pleasant time: "This is so easy, I am going to do it all over again tomorrow night, and three nights next week." Jay writes that, "while no one would claim that Minnock and Tardo inspired a trend of copycat crucifixions," there were successors, including Faith Bacon, who hung nude from a cross and gyrated to Ravel's Bolero. Some fakirs participated in crucifixions in the spirit of competition, outdoing each other by staying aloft for days at a time. You will find here surprising chapters on such thing as the magical amputation of the nose. You will learn of the surprising, longstanding connection between legerdemain and dentistry. There are trained dogs and pigs, and a description of how flea circuses worked. There are those who made their fortunes by making faces; the means by which performers were able to dance upon the ceiling (including "The Great Philosophical Antipodean Pedestrian from Ohio"); the rascally ways in which hustlers would gain the trust and the pocketbooks of novices in ninepins; the adventures of professional fasters; and much more. The careful, quietly amused way in which Jay tells these odd histories is perfect for his subject matter, and shows a matchless enthusiasm for his themes. "I really do love this stuff," he tells us at the end, and there is easily sufficient evidence here to show that in that there is no deception.