The Little Gate-Crasher
Mace Bugen might have been an achondroplastic dwarf, 43 inches tall with an average size head and torso set on small, twisted legs—but that didn’t mean he was an idiot or a pushover. In truth, he was smarter than most; over the years, he learned to effectively turn what society in those days called a handicap into a powerful tool he could use to his advantage.
“When I was a kid,” he once said, “I’d ask myself, Why is that guy on the football team? Why can’t I be on the team? Why didn’t God give me the height so I could be the hero?”
“Then at some point I figured it out: I gotta do something special to let ’em know I’m me.”
In The Little Gate Crasher: The Life And Photos Of Mace Bugen, I remember my amazing great-Uncle Mace Bugen through his journey as a first-generation Jewish-American kid in working class Philipsburg, NJ to becoming the first celebrity selfie-artist—way ahead of his time.
Featuring vintage photos of Mace with his exploits, The Little Gate Crasher captures three decades of American pop culture, seen through the unique lens of Mace and his gate-crashing exploits.
Underneath his antics, we meet a complex man who continually defies others expectations and meets life on his own terms. Mace becomes a successful businessman and devoted son to his aging parents. But in his gate-crashing antics, we best get to see Mace’s unique combination of guile, cunning and sense of entitlement, which he used to engineer photos of himself with some of the biggest celebrities of his day. If people were going to stare at him all of his life, he would give them something to see.
The Little Gate Crasher features over 50 vintage photos of Mace with celebrities, athletes and politicians, including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Muhammed Ali, Richard Nixon, Jane Russel, Joe DiMaggio and more.
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Little-Gate-Crasher-Life-Photos-Bugen-ebook/dp/B01EH101EC/
Amazon UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Gate-Crasher-Life-Photos-Bugen-ebook/dp/B01EH101EC/
Author Bio – Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is an experienced educator, author and speaker. At Jewish Learning Venture, she works as Director of Whole Community Inclusion and leads disability awareness programs for the Philadelphia Jewish community. Her most recent book The Little Gate Crasher, a memoir of her Great-Uncle, who overcame society’s prejudices about dwarfism to lead a remarkable life, was one of the national book selections for 2017 Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month. Gabby writes for and edits The New York Jewish Week’s The New Normal: Blogging Disability and is also a featured Philly parenting blogger for WHYY’s newsworks. Gabby holds a B.F.A. in theatre and creative writing from Emerson College and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
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Writing, Memoir & Family: Discovering New A Role Model
My Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, my grandmother’s younger brother, was born in 1915. Mace grew to be only 43 inches tall and had a hump on his back as a result of achondroplastic dwarfism. In the era that he lived, there were no orthopedic specialists to help him ease the pain that he endured because of his curved spine. And there was no awareness from society that people who were “different” in any way should be respected and accepted—and treated just like anyone else.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know more about Mace’s amazing life story and his incredible photo collection while working on his memoir, The Little Gate Crasher .
What I discovered in my Great-Uncle was an unstoppable spirit who overcame both the challenges of his limited mobility and also society’s prejudices towards people with dwarfism to live an incredible life on his terms. He became a successful business owner, was a fixture in his community, was an amazing uncle to all of his nieces and nephews and pursued his rather unusual hobby of getting his photo taken with the famous celebrities of his day.
What I also discovered while learning more about Mace’s childhood was the role of his mother, my Great-Grandmother, Sarah Sager Bugen. I never got to meet her, but my grandmother told me stories about her frequently—she, like Mace, sounded like an unstoppable force. She was a Russian immigrant, mother of five, who was known for welcoming strangers to her table, packing up all of her kids to go camping with the scouts and working tirelessly in the grocery store that was in the front of the Bugen’s home in between her homemaking chores.
There would have been no way that Sarah was prepared for the news that her son was born with physical differences—Mace was not only small but also had a hump on his back and crooked spine. Doctors predicted that he might not live to age 10.
But Sarah, notably, treated him like her other children. She had expectations for him. In fact, when he had to repeat his senior year of high school, he told his parents that he would prefer to drop out. His father acquiesced, content with the idea that Mace could work in the store. Sarah said no—she didn’t care how long it took him, she expected Mace to graduate from high school.
In my own journey as a mom of a son on the severe end of the autism spectrum, I am often reminded of the need to keep high expectations for him. My son has achieved so many things that are not easy and intuitive for him—learning to use a communication device on his ipad, work on academic and vocational skills at a school that pushes him to exceed, travel and go on social outings with our family.
I think often of how much support I have—a circle of parents of children raising autism, friends I’ve made in person and online. But Sarah had none of that—she was the only parent she knew who had a son like Mace.
Sarah also lived in a time in which it was socially acceptable to mock people with disabilities—Mace was taunted by kids and even as a successful adult faced jeers, stares and laughter. And yet his sense of self-worth and self-confidence never faltered and I give much credit to that to his mother.
My son’s disability is totally different from Mace’s but I gain strength from my Great-Grandmother’s loving example. I hope that I have given and will continue to give that sense of worth to my dear son.
Read more about Mace’s antics in The Little Gate Crasher—enjoy!
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is a writer and educator based in Philadelphia. The Little Gate Crasher is available on amazon.com.