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April 24, 2013

The Streets of Cairo in Coney Island from 1890s-1900s

Although many know this tune (there are surely hundreds of regional interpretations), few know of its origin and its importance to the New York City midway and sideshows of the early nineteenth century. Best known as “The Streets of Cairo,” it is oftentimes connected to visions of Arabia and Egypt, to snake charmers, belly dancers, and other mysterious notions of Near East mysticism.

Although not quite “a place in France,” there were certain locations in New York where the fabled song came to life. “The Streets of Cairo” sideshow was constructed on Surf Avenue, Coney Island, after the success of the Algerian Village at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.

Show at Coney Island with a man “levitating” a woman on stage, ca. 1908.

Woman gypsy/dancer posing outside at Coney Island, ca 1896.

A woman in a carnival or side-show with three large pythons, ca 1895.

Beggar among the crowd on Surf Avenue, Coney Island, ca 1896.

Crowd wandering through the “Streets of Cairo” show with camels at Coney Island, ca 1896.

Arabian Acrobats demonstrating acrobatic feats on the roof of Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre, ca 1908.

The operatic adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” with music by Richard Strauss, presented at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 22, 1907.

Crowd watching a barker at the “Streets of Cairo” show at Coney Island, ca 1896.

Woman gypsy/dancer seated in her side-show theatre at Coney Island, ca 1896.

(via Museum of the City of New York)


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