Handicapped/Helpless

The category and designation Handicapped and Helpless on showhistory.com is one that considers that many persons who sold their likenesses as souvenirs may not have been performers per-se. Nor did they necessarily appear in a sideshow or dime museum venue, but instead plied the streets and byways for their living. Or they appeared in tented religious shows-- so-called revivals, and/or evangelical "healing crusades."

Freak, disabled, handicapped or helpless, they nonetheless chose to make portraits of themselves which they sold while on exhibit. Many of these performers traveled, going from town to town displaying themselves in public, occasionally for pay, but always in the realm of public display. Selling trifles such as pencils, postcards, and pitchcards, many of the latter that fall into the category of what we call "pity cards." Specific to this genre of "performer," these cards detail the personal travails and handicap that led to the peripatetic life, and hopefully evocated enough pity in bystanders that they forked over a few coins in support.

Pity cards as a performer-sold artifact often feature "misery boasting," bragging about their difficulties to elicit larger donations. The worse the personal misery described on the card, the better the chance to get the public to donate, or buy one of the souvenir cards sold by the performer. The opposite of a humblebrag (bragging about yourself by couching it in a phony show of humility.)

Misery-boasting "pity cards" were a genre of pitchcards sold by those injured and unable to make a living any other way. They are related to the performance of the maimed and disabled in the larger world of the sideshow, though these handicapped performers typically didn't travel with shows, but independently exhibited themselves.