In 1904, Ota Benga, a young Congolese “pygmy” arrived from Central Africa to be featured in an anthropology exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Two years later, the New York Zoological Gardens displayed him in its Monkey House, caging the slight 103-pound, 4-foot 11-inch tall man with an orangutan.
The attraction became an international sensation, drawing thousands of New Yorkers and commanding headlines from across the nation and Europe. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, written by award-winning journalist Pamela Newkirk, explores the circumstances of Ota Benga’s captivity, the international controversy it inspired, and his efforts to adjust to American life.
It also reveals why, decades later, the man most responsible for his exploitation would be hailed as his friend and savior, while those who truly fought for Ota have been banished to the shadows of history. Using primary historical documents, Newkirk traces Ota’s tragic life, from Africa to St. Louis to New York, and finally to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he lived out the remainder of his short life.
On Saturday, January 16, Pamela Newkirk will be at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights for an up-close-and-personal reading from her book Spectacle!
WHO: Author Pamela Newkirk
WHAT: A reading from her new book, Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga
WHEN: Saturday, January 16, 3:00pm
WHERE: The Weeksville Heritage Center, 158 Buffalo Avenue, Brooklyn
HOW MUCH: Free. RSVP here.