From Publishers Weekly
From the late 1950s until her death in 1971, renowned photographer Diane Arbus took pictures of oddball performers at the now-forgotten Hubert's Museum, a typical freak show in New York City's seedy Times Square. One frequent subject was Charlie Lucas, first a freak himself, later an inside talker. In 2003, Bob Langmuir, an anxiety-ridden, pill-popping, obsessive antiquarian book dealer from Philadelphia, unearthed a collection of photographs and memorabilia, including Lucas's journals and what he thought were Arbus's photos. This trove of genuine American kookiness came to dominate his life. Following Langmuir's quest—from the slums of Philadelphia to the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—as he gathered, priced and ultimately came to understand this collection, author Gibson (Gone Boy: A Walkabout
), himself an antiquarian book dealer, effortlessly twists these strands together with an emotional wallop. His toil in Hubert's vineyard, Gibson writes of Langmuir, amounted to no more or less than the continuing archaeology of the old, weird America. Gibson's laser focus on Langmuir's shifting state of mind as he struggles to master his personal demons and navigate the pitfalls of his own obsession gives this story its heart and opens a window onto a lost part of the American soul. 21 b&w photos. (Apr.)
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Hubert’s Museum was a freak show that existed since the 1930s in New York’s Times Square—an area long since cleaned up and homogenized for the general public. Hubert’s closed in 1965 and from then on existed primarily in the documents and photographs that were put into storage. But Hubert’s seedy past remains culturally significant because it offers a peephole view of a less-sanitized America. Also, it was one significant artist’s portal and first foray into the world of freaks—photographer Diane Arbus. In 2003, quirky collector Bob Langmuir unearthed some of Hubert’s pieces and soon realized that he was sitting on a batch of unknown Arbus prints. His journey to get them authenticated by Arbus’ estate and appraised by various auction houses—during which he got divorced and was institutionalized—makes up the bulk of this fascinating account, which takes readers into the backroom dealings of collectors, art galleries, and museums. How the Arbus photographs are tied to Hubert’s and what ultimately becomes of them are the central mysteries that will keep readers raptly engaged. --Jerry Eberle