Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Adventures of the Stranded Dime Museum Freaks

I have no idea who Benjamin P. Elliott is, but I have to thank him for creating one of my favorite oddball comic strips. Adventures of the Stranded Dime Museum Freaks was Mr. Elliott's only comic strip series as far as I know, drawn for the Philadelphia North American from March 9 to May 25 1902. Ah, if only he had stuck to the gig. He had all the tools -- good drawing ability, sense of humor, goofy imagination.

For those unfamiliar with dime museums, they were entertainment venues, where, for a mere tenth part of a dollar, you could marvel at all sorts of wonders and freaks of nature. Mermaid skeletons, devil babies, two-headed cows, medical oddities ... you name, they had it. I imagine around the turn of the century you'd find at least one operating in any major American city. Most of the exhibits, of course, were fakes, or at least fancifully represented, but hey, whaddya want fer a dime, buddy? Here's a brief introduction to them from Wiki, and here's a page about Hubert's Dime Museum in New York City, and below (if the link works) is a Youtube video of some of the exhibits at the American Dime Museum, probably the last of its kind and recently shuttered. I am surprised at how little there seems to be online about dime museums, a great (if not necessarily all that proud) part of American history:

Thanks to Steven Stwalley who provided the scan!


To my eye the signature looks like "Benj. P. Elliott", with two Ts. A search finds a potential candidate in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The June 27, 1883 issue reported that a "Benjamin P. Elliott" was admitted to the Philadelphia High School. The February 12, 1886 issue reported on the Central High School commencement where Masters and Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded. Elliott was one of many students who were declared "meritorious". He received the same distinction the following year as reported in the February 11, 1887 issue. However, it is not known which arts program he was enrolled.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census there is a Philadelphia "Benjamin P. Elliott", born August 1868, who fits the age of the Inquirer Elliott. However, the census has his occupation as "Indext Maker"; he married in 1894 and had a year-old daughter.

On February 16, 1902 the Inquirer reported on various visual arts activities. At the Philadelphia Sketch Club, a "B.P. Elliott" was elected to the House Committee.

There was a 1911 publication, "Address of the President, the Rev. Azel W. Hazen, D.D., on the First Decade of the Society", produced by the Middlesex County Historical Society in Connecticut. Page 37 listed item 133: Painting by Benjamin P. Elliott, who lived on the corner of Court and Pearl Streets, Middletown [Connecticut].

So, there was an artistic Benjamin P. Elliott at the time of "Adventures of the Stranded Dime Museum Freaks" but I'm uncertain I correctly identified him.
Quite right, Alex. My research was done on microfilm where the sig was (as usual) really hard to read. I'm confident you've got our man and I'll update my info. Thanks!

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