The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island unearths the incredible true story of the Igorrotes, a group of “headhunting, dog-eating savages” from the Philippines, who were taken to New York in 1905 by the charming, opportunistic doctor-turned-showman Truman K. Hunt. There they appeared as “human exhibits” alongside the freaks and curiosities at Coney Island’s Luna Park. Millions of fair-goers delighted in their tribal dances and rituals, near-nudity, tattoos, and tales of headhunting. The Igorrotes became a national sensation—they were written up in newspaper headlines, portrayed in cartoons, and even featured in advertising jingles, all of which was fueled by Truman’s brilliant publicity stunts.

By the end of that first summer season at Coney, Truman’s sideshow scheme had made him a rich man. But Truman was a man who liked to live large, and his fortune was dwarfed only by his ability to spend it. Soon he would be on the run, with the tribe in his care, across the US, pursued by ex-wives, creditors, and the tireless agents of American justice.

The book boasts a colorful cast of characters, including the mercurial Truman Hunt; his diligent Filipino interpreter, Julio Balinag; Fomoaley Ponci, the tribe’s loquacious, self-important leader; Luna Park impresarios Fred Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy; and Frederick Barker, the government man dead-set on bringing Truman to justice. At its heart, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island is a story which makes us question who is civilized and who is savage.