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Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus Hardcover – April 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012336
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,411,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory Gibson's father was a traveling salesman, and his family moved frequently, mostly in the northeastern quarter of the country. He graduated Massapequa High School, Massapequa, New York in 1963, and Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania in 1967. He then joined the United States Navy and spent three years as a shipfitter on a sub tender, sailing up and down the Pacific coast. Gibson has said he considers this period "an ideal grad school experience".

After the Navy he moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts and got a job repairing docks on the waterfront. This was unsatisfying, since he wanted to be a writer. However, he'd gotten married and started a family, so he postponed writing books and began selling them instead. In 1976 he opened his own antiquarian book business, Ten Pound Island Book Co., specializing in old and rare maritime books and manuscripts. Ten Pound Island Book Company also publishes books primarily of local interest

In 1992 his oldest son was murdered, the random victim of a rampage shooting at Simon's Rock. The shock of this event caused him to write a book investigating how such a thing could happen. The book, "Gone Boy: A Walkabout", met with critical success, and was Entertainment Weekly's "best book of the year" for 1999. It is still in print, currently in its third printing.

The satisfaction Gibson derived from writing it convinced him that he should write another one. "Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny of the Whaleship Globe" was the result. This book tells the story of the grisliest mutiny in the history of American whaling, and it, too, was well reviewed. The New York Times deemed it "a worthy contribution to the literature of whaling".

Gibson's third book, "Hubert's Freaks" is the story of Bob Langmuir, a gifted but troubled antiquarian book dealer whose headlong pursuit of the archive of a Times Square freak show led him to the discovery of a trove of hitherto unknown photographs by the great American photographer Diane Arbus. Also in the archive were the notes and dream journals of Charlie Lucas, an African American performance artist who ran the freak show (it was called Hubert's Museum) in the 1950s and 60s. The discovery so excited Bob that he commenced an affair with Arbus, and a soul-communion with Lucas, even though both had been dead for decades. When he was released from the Behavioral Health Evaluation Unit he resolved to redeem himself and his discovery by taking it into New York's high-end art world. What follows is both a spiritual journey and a fresh look at the business of art. Larry McMurtry said of the book, "Hubert's Freaks will fascinate those among us who are continually stimulated by the richness and variety of American subcultures. I devoured it".

Gibson's non-fiction works specialize in the close examination of various American sub-cultures, from gun collectors to whaleship crewmen to freak show performers, usually as seen through the eyes of a single strongly delineated character. His approach combines unflinching realism with dark, dry humor.

In April 2013 his first crime novel "The Old Turk's Load" was published to excellent reviews. Booklist said, "Gibson's elliptical, ever-evolving plot seems a marriage of Raymond Chandler complexity and Donald E. Westlake comic haplessness, but he imbues his characters with a kind of desperate humanity that is brilliantly played out when Manhattan goes dark in the famous 1967 blackout. The sense of time and place is wonderfully evocative, and The Old Turk's Load will be a signal pleasure for crime-fiction aficionados."

He lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts and in Cork City, Ireland with his wife, Anne Marie Crotty.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alen Macweeney on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Like dust to a vacuum cleaner, and sucked in faster than I could think to this gripping story of Bob and other protagonists and characters of this marvelous book. Knowing some of them personally added another dimension for me, but the detail of Diane Arbus's intimate perception and insertion into the lives of her subjects brought a deeper dimension to portrait photography. And then of course is Bob, the art dealer in his trader world, with potential marks and hopes of patrons, where the real money is in the art world, to the gatekeepers of that realm posing or installed as museum curators. The book is a tantalizing thriller with insight.

Alen MacWeeney
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen Valentine on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I suspect that if Carl Jung were alive today he would have gladly contributed a blurb to Gibson's book. One of the things today's contemporary culture has an ambivalence toward is what Jung referred to as our shadow-side, the dark underbelly of consciousness that drives our obsessions, fascinations, perversions, and behaviors in ways we don't always want to own. Diane Arbus was a photographer who was keenly attuned to the shadow in all of us and especially in the culture of her era. In Hubert's Freaks, Gibson has tuned into that strange, dark, fascinating and alluring realm --- both through the subject matter and through the character of his hero/anti-hero Bob Langmuir, a man with more than a nodding acquaintance with his own shadow-side.

In addition to the main story of how Langmuir came to acquire the Arbus photos, his trials and tribulations in authenticating them, and the circuitous route to making a profit from them, there is the equally fascinating side stories of the people of Hubert's Museums. The "freaks", some with their own physical anomalies, others with an ability to tantalize the shadow-side of Americans willing to trade 25 cents for a few minutes in their presence.

This is the sort of book that you start wondering what you will find and finish wondering where you have been --- a world of freaks and the photos that immortalize them from a time that seems long ago but is as close as the world wide web. Fascinating.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Windle on April 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Greg Gibson is a superb writer and has succeeded in combining the multifarious strands of a twisted plot to give us a riveting account of a fascinating episode in the life of an American icon. A must-read -- I finished in one flight from NY to SF. Buy it now and give copies to any friends who can read. They will kiss your feet.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By ken reiss on April 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Greg Gibson has captured a moment in the slippy-slidey story of Times Square by ressurecting the red-fronted phenomenon of Hubert's Dime Museum, which lived in the time after 42nd St was the center for legitimate theater but before it crashed and forced the City Fathers to scrub the fun out of it. He uses the story of a neurotic antiquarian book dealer who winkled out trunksful of leftover stuff and the Diane Arbus photographs that were in it, to weave a rich ohmigod, New York story that I had thought was no longer available in these low-cholesterol times. If New York in the middle of the 20th century meant anything to you, you need to read this. (Remember Prof. Heckler's flea circus?)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. CRADDOCK VINE VOICE on June 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Gregory Gibson is an antiquarian-book dealer who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He has written a book about another rare-book dealer who stumbled on a collection of memorabilia from Hubert's, a flea circus and side show in Times Square that included valuable photographs of the freaks and performers taken by Diane Arbus. It tells a complex and fascinating story of how this cast of characters, not just the side show's exhibits, but the photographer, her estate, the collectors, the museum curators, and the auctioneers, all came to be in one way or another Hubert's Freaks.

Gregory Gibson is the perfect guide to the strange world where freaks and Fine Art collide. He gives not only an overview of how the value of Fine Art by recognized masters has appreciated, and how the market in its ever thirsting quest for new objects to invest in has began to attach the same values to Fine Art Photography, but he is also able to zoom in on Bob, an enigmatic and eccentric collector, and describe how his acquisitions relate to the bigger picture:

"By the same subtle principle that enabled Star Wars characters to detect disruptions in the Force, the gravity of twenty-one newly authenticated Arbus photographs altered the fabric of the universe."

Gregory Gibson is also an adept amateur psychologist, and describes a multitude of characters, always with empathy and evenhandedness. Although his main allegiance is to Bob, he also gives Bob's wife Jan's point of view as they go through a messy divorce. He even enters the narrative himself when he assists Bob in trying to negotiate for some Hubert's material that may have belonged to Woogie, the snake dancer.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Diane on March 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
Hubert's Freaks is intricately woven and engaging. While I was looking more for a book that detailed the environment of the old Times Square, I am not the least disappointed that I got the fascinating story of several unique individuals who crossed paths in bizarre circumstances. This true tale will keep you reading and wishing you could have seen Hubert's for yourself.
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