Eustis Estate

Tattooing as Spectacle

From the 1870s to the 1920s, America’s industrial cities filled with immigrant and native factory workers eager for amusement. With wages in their pockets and precious leisure hours to fill, this growing, increasingly diverse urban working class created a demand for new forms of popular entertainment that could transcend differences in language, education, and culture. Spectacle—the sensationalized display of the odd, the exotic, and the transgressive—offered universal, irresistible appeal. As dime museums, burlesque theaters, cinemas and peep shows flourished in the gritty entertainment districts of America’s cities, enterprising men and women found that a living could be made from exhibiting their tattooed bodies—and from the spectacle of tattooing itself.