Monsters - the photographs of Chas. Eisenmann

Michael Mitchell

These are sample images from the 2002 edition of Monsters.

Clear, sharp, full size images are included in the book.

Contact your bookstore or ECW Press.

Monsters - Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age (2002)
Myrtle Corbin
Sophia Schultz
Millie & Christine
Typical Thin Man
Charles Tripp
Anna Leake Thomson
Zip (left)
Lady in an ornate dress
Monsters of the Gilded Age (1979)

This last image is the cover of the original 1979 edition by Gage

New (top) and Old covers

Michael Mitchell is a Toronto photographer and writer. He studied photography and filmmaking at Ryerson and holds an MA in Anthropology from the University of Toronto.

portrait by Robert Lansdale -->>
Michael Mitchell, Toronto

Collector Willie Cadot joined our society as a charter member in 1975. Willie had scoured the country side buying up old photographic images. In the mid seventies he sold the images at antique shows and from his store The Magic Lantern on Queen St West in Toronto. One set of cabinet cards he had featured many strange and deformed individuals. These images by Charles Eisenmann, were traditional style portraits of well dressed but unusual subjects. The images were in excellent condition showing the skill of the photographer both in the studio and in his darkroom.

A young Toronto photographer and anthropologist, Michael Mitchell saw the images and was fascinated with the subjects and their photographer. He kept pressing a very reluctant Willie Cadot to sell the set. Eventually Michael’s perseverance paid off. He received a call one evening from Willie with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Willie had recently purchased a house and discovered it needed repairs. Being tight for cash, he decided to sell his set of Eisenmann cabinet cards.

After a few years of research, including the diligent search of New York trade weeklies of the 1860s (eg New York Clipper) on microfiche, Michael tracked down a considerable amount of information on Eisenmann, the mid-1800s Bowery, and many of the subjects of Eisenmann’s portraits. Once organized and edited, this material became the text of Monsters of the Gilded Age released by Gage publishing in 1979. The following March 1980, Michael was guest speaker at our monthly meeting.

The book wasn't widely distributed and eventually Michael bought the remaining copies and rights to the book. Subsequently it received wider circulation and recognition generating many requests for information and copies of the images.

Years later Michael sold his collection of Eisenmann cabinet cards through Sotheby’s auction house. He believes the photographs were studio proofs since each pose consisted of carefully printed images on blank cards plus one on the traditionally ornate signed card. Fortunately he kept the copy negatives and the proofed text to his book.

In the new century, Michael was once again involved with a publisher, this time a small quality publisher, ECW Press of Toronto. While chatting with the publisher, Jack Davis, Michael mentioned he had rights to a book about 19th century freaks. Davis sounded out a number of his contacts, including some in the circus industry and agreed to publish a new edition of the book with much better quality images in colour (images in the original book were printed with a single ink colour in lower resolution).

Two weeks after the new edition was published, Michael received a phone call from Eisenmann’s great grandson, Robert Wainwright in New Jersey (Eisenmann had mostly daughters making it difficult for Michael to trace the Eisenmann family).

Bob Wainwright periodically searched the web for information on his famous great grandfather. Seldom finding anything new, he was astounded when a search informed him about the new book.

P.T. Barnum - made freak shows popular Eisenmann (just over 5 feet tall) poses with giant
Eisenmann's grandchildren with Michael Mitchell
Eisenmann's lenses - larger one took two hands to lift! white dot is a 50 cent coin
Voightlander engraving on lens
Eisenmann's last work - Dupont employee ID photos
Chas Eisenmann in his later years
Tobacco cards - Eisemann's downfall when depression resulted in cancellation of completed orders by Duke Tobacco Doris - Eisenmann's second wife and long time partner - met when she was 15 Eisemann studio in the Bowery - mid 1880s

Michael accepted an invitation to visit New Jersey where he met Bob and two other members of the Eisenmann family, including a granddaughter now in her 80s who was about eight when Eisenmann died.

He discovered that Eisenmann had disappeared twice, once after his first wife died and again when his business failed in the late 1800s. The family believes he went to China the first time, but no pictures have been found from that adventure. The second time, after failure of his business, it is believed that he went to Germany and stayed with relatives. On returning to the States, Eisenmann joined the Dupont company where he spent the rest of his working life photographing employees to make ID badges.

While visiting with the Wainwrights, Michael met another collector of Eisenmann materials. This individual collects the clothing Eisenmann's subjects wore and studio props as well as images. He also collects mummies that he keeps in his house, but that is another story....

Michael was interviewed in 2002 by both the Toronto Star and CBC plus other radio stations when the new edition of his book was released. This month we had the privilege of seeing Michael’s slides and hearing about his research and success in documenting the story of Charles Eisenmann and his famous subjects.

If you have a chance to hear Michael, don’t miss it. Meantime, pick up a copy of his book for insights into the world of freaks and 19th century portraiture.

The images shown on this page were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 990 and adjusted and sized in Photoshop 7. Hovering over an image will show a title. All images unless otherwise credited are copyright Michael Mitchell and may not be used without his permission. Questions? Please contact me at

Robert Carter

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