Saturday, July 6, 2019

25 Amazing Photos Of “Freak Shows” From The Past

The idea of a spectacle that exploits people with severe physical deformities and
abnormalities, better known as a "freak show," has existed for centuries. However, these
shows only really started to take off as the traveling shows that most of us now recognize
in the 1800s, when they traveled to towns with lurid banners advertising examples of
nature gone wrong.

After paying their money, spectators would be taken inside dimly-lit tents to gawk in
horror and amusement at people suffering from all sorts of rare abnormalities. Conjoined
twins and those with deformed limbs or no limbs at all were put on display and labeled as

By the time these people came to be freak show performers, most of them had already had
terribly difficult lives as they suffered rejection from family members and peers. In many
cases, they were sent to the freak shows as children by their parents to earn the family
extra money and because public schools wouldn't have them.

For others, the freak show was the only employment option available and became a home
where they could find some kind of acceptance among others suffering from similar

Moreover, freak shows were big business, especially during their heyday in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries when the likes of P.T. Barnum promoted these spectacles. Barnum,
who was actually known to pay a fair wage, would comb the globe looking for new people to
join his growing show.

But it wasn't long before the trend stopped growing. By the 1940s, the appeal of the freak
show had begun to decline with the medicalization of human abnormalities pulling the
curtain back on some of the mystery that lent the show its appeal.

Today, while you can still find the occasional freak show, the performers are generally
ones who with extreme body modifications (such as tattoos and piercings) or those that can
execute astonishing physical performances like fire-eating and sword-swallowing — all of
which represents a welcome departure from the insensitive days of yore.

Known to many as "The Bearded Woman," Annie Jones toured with P.T. Barnum, becoming 
the country's top "bearded lady" and acting as a spokesperson for Barnum's "Congress of 
Freaks." Date unspecified

Born in Thailand in 1811, Chang and Eng Bunker toured as a curiosity act for three 
years before settling down in North Carolina. 

They married a pair of sisters and fathered 21 children.


Known as “The Ohio Big Foot Girl,” Fannie Mills suffered from Milroy disease, which 
caused her legs and feet to become gigantic. 1890

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome allowed Felix Wehrle to stretch his skin to great length and 
take on the name "Elastic Man." 1902

Russian performer Fedor Jeftichew went by the name "Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy" and 
became a star performer in P.T. Barnum's sideshow.

Years later, he was an influence on the physical characteristics of Chewbacca in Star 
Wars. 1888

Billed as the "Living Human Skeleton," Isaac Sprague began irreversibly losing weight 
at age 12 for reasons that remain unclear. 

The weight loss continued throughout adulthood until his untimely death. 1866

Grady Stiles Jr. a.k.a. "Lobster Boy" came from a long line of family members who 
suffered from the same birth defect that lent him his stage name. 

As an adult, he was an alcoholic and would eventually murder his daughter's fiancee. 1948

Better known as the "elephant man," Joseph Merrick lived a tragic life. 

Rejected by his parents, he was left to join a touring freak show act. 1889

Madam Gustika, who was billed as being from the "Duckbill tribe," is seen here 
smoking a pipe through the large plates in her lip. 1930

Mirin Dajo became famous for astounding the medical community by piercing his body 
with all kinds of objects seemingly without injury. 

However, this would ultimately prove to be his downfall when he died from swallowing a 
needle. Circa 1940s

Born with a very rare orthopedic condition that caused her knees to bend backward, 
Ella Harper a.k.a. "Camel Girl," received a $200 per week salary as the star of a touring 
freak show act.Date unspecified.

Dubbed the "Four-Legged Girl From Texas," Myrtle Corbin was born with a severe 
congenital deformity that caused her to have two separate pelvises and a smaller set of 
legs. 1882

Martin Laurello, the "Human Owl," could turn his neck a full 180 degrees. He appeared 
in Sam Wagner’s freak show on Coney Island. 1938

 Daisy and Violet Hilton were fused at the hip and put into a circus freak show at the 
age of three. Circa 1927

George and Willie Muse were black albino identical twin brothers who had the 
misfortune of being born in the Jim Crow American South. 

They were kidnapped, told to grow out their hair and forced into the circus freak show 
life as "Men From Mars." 1920s

Frank Lentini was born with a parasitic twin, ultimately leaving him with a third leg.
When his family moved to the United States from Italy, Lentini entered showbiz as "The 
Great Lentini," joining the Ringling Brothers Circus. 1914

The Jaramillo sisters, Natalia and Aurora, were from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It 
remains unclear how exactly they first got into show business. 1908

Born without the lower half of his torso, Johnny Eck is seen here with Angelo 
Rossitto in the film Freaks. 

He would also make several appearances as a bird creature in Tarzan movies. 1932

Minnie Woolsey, known as "Koo-Koo the Bird Girl," suffered from Seckel syndrome, 
giving her both physical and mental disabilities. 

She lacked both teeth and hair and worked at a Coney Island sideshow until her death.
Date unspecified

Born into slavery, conjoined twins Millie and Christine McCoy would later be sold to 
the circus and travel the world for 30 years as a singing novelty act. 1871

Pasqual Pinon toured the United States as the "Two-Headed Mexican," decorating the 
tumor growing out of his head with a wax face. 1917

Charles Sherwood Stratton was paid $3 a week as a member of Barnum's touring act 
under the name Tom Thumb. 

He would eventually marry in 1863 (pictured), before dying at the age of 45 two decades 

Born with the rare Hypertrichosis or "werewolf syndrome," Alice Doherty was put in a 
freak show by her mother at just two years old under the stage name "Wooly Girl." 1902

Due to acromegalic gigantism, Jack Earle grew to 7'7" tall. 
He traveled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 14 years before becoming a 
salesman. 1930

Members of The Ringling Brothers' "Congress of Freaks" lineup for a group portrait. 


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