Sunday, August 23, 2009

Annie Jones

Annie Jones was born in 1860 with her chin covered in fine hair. Her usual looking parents were said to be shocked by the hair on her face; hair that thickened and grew quickly. She grew sideburns, a full mustache. The usual mother adjusted to the unusual. Annie was nine months old when she joined P.T. Barnum's traveling exhibitions, then billed as the Infant Esau.

When I was a kid I played Esau in a church play. Ten performances or so, not counting dress rehearsals. I don't remember if I wore the hair for those, or just the canvas robe. I only remember pulling on the thick fur on my arms, stroking it.

Annie Jones was famous for the rest of her life. When she was sixteen she married a bally-talker. Fifteen years later she divorced him and married her childhood sweetheart. She survived a childhood kidnapping, learned to play music, and came to be known for her "gracious etiquette." She invested most of her money in real estate.

She was often photographed, in beautiful gowns, corseted to the edge of life. She is lovely and bizarrely soft. These images are perfect covers for Gender Trouble, for the ways they feel nonsensical, and the ways they make perfect sense.

When she was five years old Civil War photographer Matthew Brady took these portraits of her. It was 1865, the same year Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published. Original illustrations here, here, here, and here.

(My favorite two Matthew Brady battlefield images are here and here.)

Annie died of Tuberculosis when she was 37, shortly after returning home to her mother.