When people hear of carnivals and circuses, they picture animal acts, bustling crowds, overpriced rides, and unscrupulous con games where winning was determined by skill or chance. Per contra to this, this event, had a much darker and shabby side than most people really knew much about.
In the old days, there were no TVs, Radios or any form of digital entertainment for our forefathers. People had to witness some form of living miracles to be entertained. Am not talking about the changing water into wine kind of miracle, though, people would have loved that. I am talking about Circus Freaks; one of the biggest attractions back in the day was the freak show events.
History dating back to the 16th mid-century in England, tells stories of people who were suffering from a medical condition and had some form of deformities or genetic anomalies, being used as the form of entertainment, interest, and curiosity as people wilted away their hours.
Circus sideshows might have been a vicious inhumane act as the so-called ‘freaks’ were placed under a contract to entertain people, nonetheless, some of these individuals went on to benefit greatly having become world prominent acts and profiting off what some could not afford to pay them.
Even though the appeal of the circus freaks waned off by the 20th century when people started seeing the exploitation of people with deformities as ferocious and they became more sympathetic to their condition, some modern shows still live on to keep the image alive.
So, as you marvel at the thought of whether being a circus freak was a good or bad thing, given the two-faced-ness of the situation. Here is a list of the top 16 circus freaks that can ogle at.
Individuals with missing limbs popularly known as freaks caused a reason for amusement for many people. Circus Freaks who did pretty ordinary things yet so simple pulled a huge audience crowd to come see the wonders of the world.
Mademoiselle Gabrielle was born in Switzerland in 1884 with no limbs and bared an exemplary example of the half woman and an independent woman even though she bared no limbs. She had a well-proportioned figure and was strikingly beautiful.
As a performer, she was always on top of her game, delivering her performance with demure and grace. This earned a high tier in the sideshow world of fame.
In spite of her disability, she was married three times and managed to make a hefty income for herself during her performing days.
Conjoined twins can have a hard time in life since they have to decide to do the same things in their lives despite having different interests. For the Hilton sisters, who were conjoined twins, they shared a common nervous system and could feel the same pain.
Unfortunately, they were sold as slaves to a midwife who took all their earnings when they danced and sang in circus freak shows and forbade them from socializing. Fortunately, they were able to escape from her claws when a lawyer helped them.
From then on, they went on to star in movies and circus freak shows where they made a high earning showbiz career for themselves.
Born in Tennessee in 1870, Ella Harper, nicknamed the camel girl, had the ability to walk on all fours because her legs and knees were abnormally bent backward. Harper suffered from a condition which was very rare known as congenital deformity or genu recurvatum which caused hyperextension of her knee joints causing them to bend backward in a bizarre way.
Though she was a complete delight when she eventually made her way into W.H Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus and became a star and earned herself a lot of money. Unfortunately, the Circus world and fame was not in her cards, she aimed to quit the show business and go to school and live a normal life.
Later on in life, she disappeared from the show business and story goes that she indeed did get her wish. Good for her.
Pauline Musters was the shortest full grown woman of all time, standing at a full grown height of 1 foot and 11 inches, she earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest fully grown woman in the world.
She was particularly famous for her dance routine which she performed with grace and mastery in a myriad of circus shows absolutely wowing the crowd. She later became a professional and toured Europe showcasing her excellent talent eventually establishing a successful career for herself.
Lucia Zarate is a woman who had the ability to draw a large crowd of people at the circus show. She was born at a weight of 8 ounces and a height of 7 inches. She was quite light and even weighed lighter than a cat. She was quite a sight to see in fact it made people take a closer glance at her whenever she appeared on stage.
She was born in Mexico but performed in America where she later became the highest paid dwarf in her career
Myrtle Corbin was a healthy baby girl at birth but with multiple limbs. She was diagnosed with a medical condition known as a congenital deformity which had caused her to absorb the legs of her twin which had failed to develop in the womb. As such, she had 4 legs and two small pelvises which had been fused together.
She started her performing years when she was only 13 years old and went on to work for famous people like P.T Barnum and the likes and wow the crowd with some innovative and creative antics. She was described as a gentle woman and had many scientific journals and articles written about her since birth.
Have you probably heard of General Tom Thumb, right? His reputation indeed precedes him. He is known as one of the most popular midgets in history. Charles Stratton, started his performance in the Circus Organization when he was only 5 years old under the stage name – General Thumb. He was only nearly 3 feet as a grown man and unemployable.
He toured the world in the late 1700s with his cousin P.T Barnum performing as a singer, dancer and playing dress up to impersonate famous people. Though he was a midget, he awed the ladies by being a complete gentleman as well as his complex acts and hilarious antics through his life.
Juan was a man who stood in an amazement of the man human body. He had two functioning penises and three legs. Yes, you read that right. His two penises were right beside each other and he had three scrota.
His extra leg was actually two legs fused to become one, with 8 toes and two heels. His extra leg didn’t hinder him from doing anything, in fact, he could walk, run and ride horses with his extra leg strapped around his thigh.
When he was an adult, he was quite sexually adventurous, word goes around that he took full advantage of his two penises and when he would finish with one, he could continue with the other. Juan famously had a love affair with Blanche Dumas a renown French entertainer who also had three legs and an extra set of genitalia.
Fedor Jeftichew nicknamed the ‘Dog Faced Boy’ performed in sideshows making money while some of the people in society shunned him for his physical appearance.
Fedor Jeftichew had a condition known as hypertrichosis where his face had a lot of hair, he had canines with his face taking a close resemblance to a dog. Fedor went on in his life to training as a dog performer, he could bark and growl like a dog on command. When he wasn’t performing, he lived a normal life and could speak Russian, English, and German.
Joseph Merrick nicknamed the Elephant Man was a 19th century Circus performer who suffered from a condition far beyond words.
In his early years of life, he was thought by modern medical practitioners to have had Proteus syndrome, and Neurofibromatosis type I. His skin was tough and thick like an animal hide and had large tumors all over his body with a record of abnormal bone development. To make things worse, he had a terrible fall at the age of 10 which rendered him completely lame.
Joseph lived a sad life that was completely heartbreaking from living with a deformity, being cruelly abused by his stepfather, not able to land a working job and he found it difficult to speak clearly. However, things looked up for him when he eventually settled in London and lived in a Human Curiosity shop where he could be viewed and paid by passing customers.
Julia Pastrana was a Mexican woman whose memory was preserved amounting to her circus condition.
She suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition which made her physical features more of a replica of a gorilla with close resemblance to a dog; her ears and nose were especially enormous, her face was covered with hair plus she had a double pair of teeth which protruded from her mouth.
She was married to a husband named Theodor Lent who had at first bought her and trained her as a performer.
Are you picturing a Lobster Boy, well we mean that figuratively? Gary Stiles was a 6th Generation ectrodactyly. An ectrodactyly is a condition where one’s hands and feet fuse together forming a claw shaped.
Grady Stiles was a renown performer back in the day and he used his disability to the best of his ability to entertain people and make a living in the process.
Back in the day, ‘Pinheads’ were an especially big draw in the circus shows. Schiltzie was one of the most renowned pinhead entertainers in history. He featured in a couple of shows such as in the film ‘Freaks’ in 1932 as a female character. In fact, he appeared on stage mostly as a female character.
Simon Meltz had a condition known as microcephaly, a developmental disorder which caused his cranium not to develop. Hence, he had a baby’s head that sat on a grown man’s shoulders. Be as it may, he did not let his disability be his inability, he could count to ten, sing and dance and was a great entertainer.
Susi was one of the Circus Freaks born in Berlin in 1909. She suffered from a condition known as ichthyosis; this disease caused her skin to crack and turn gray and then commenced to physically take after the skin of an elephant hence her stage name ‘The Elephant Skin Girl’.
Though she was actually in physical pain, she got bullied a lot for her condition. Susi, later on, ended up coming to the United States in 1972 with the mission to serve as part of a troupe and working with for the Ringling brothers.
Yes, am talking about a real human here and not a Human Centipede. However, Prince Randian did dress like a Human Caterpillar, he had no limbs to rely on and wore a sleeveless stock outfit leaving only the head and the torso to be seen.
He had mastered quite some impressive skills that he could entertain his audience with, one of them being he could light up a cigarette with just his mouth. What’s more is that he did not let his disability stop him from living, he had a wife and kid none of who shared his tribulation.
Prince Randian is featured in the movie Freaks where he performs his mighty cigarette trick with ease.
These were Italian twins who made their debut in the 16th century by pioneering the idea of the “Freak Show”. They made their living touring Europe back in the day.
Their main act of entertainment was the most effortless way imaginable: standing there and being awed at. Sadly, the image of this two brothers was that they were all ‘not there’. ‘Joannes Baptista’ the smaller of the brothers was a mere protrusion of his bigger brother Lazarus Colloredo in the chest.
Joannes could not act freely or even speak. However, rumor had it that when he in the breast, he could squirm and shake his hands.
These conjoined brothers were among the first circus freaks who conjured the idea of the ‘freak show’ a conceptualization from which a myriad of other individuals suffering from medical conditions or born with deformities would later on-base their career.
Some human marvels are born not made. As you can see, there are a lot of conditions in the world that are unexplainable but the biggest lesson I would think of is that disability is not inability. Though circus freak shows are long gone, the above 16 Circus Freaks remind us that there are still unexplainable things in the world. So, what do you think, is being a Circus Freak a good or bad thing?