Top 10 Human Sideshow Freaks
These are people who made a living as side-show freaks. Most had physical disorders and had no alternative way of making a living. A list of this type would not be complete without the most famous attraction of all: The Elephant Man. NOTE: Click the images for a larger view.
The Elephant Man
Born in 1862, Joseph Merrick developed a physical disorder that caused his limbs to grow extremely large when he was five years old. He joined a side-show attraction in 1884 where he was treated well and earnt a large sum of money. A visiting doctor saw him there and made arrangements for him to live a better life. It now believed that Joseph Merrick actually suffered from Proteus Syndrome and not elephantiasis as is commonly thought. Merrick died at the age of 27 from suffocation while he slept.
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9Juan Baptista dos Santos
The Man With Two Penises
Jean (or Juan) Baptista dos Santos is said to have been a “Gipsey”, born in Faro, Portugal around 1843, to normal parents with two other normal children. His career as an exhibitionist seems to have been confined strictly to medical circles; in 1865 turned down a sum of 200,000 francs to appear for two years with a French circus. He possessed two functioning penes and three scrota, the outer two of which each contained a single testis. Dos Santos claimed that the central scrotum had also contained a pair of fully-formed testes, but that these had retreated into his abdomen when he was ten years old.
The Four Legged Lady
Josephine Myrtle Corbin was born in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1868. She was born a dipygus, meaning that she had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down. The extra legs were part of a twin that did not split correctly, like Frank Lentini with his third leg. Each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs. She was said to be able to move her inner legs, but they were too weak for walking. She had four daughters and a son.
The Half Lady
Born in Basle, Switzerland, in 1884, Gabrielle Fuller first joined the circus at the Paris Exposition in 1900. She travelled with the Ringling Brothers Circus and appeared at Coney Island’s Dreamland sideshow. She was married at least twice, once to a man named John de Fuller. She had a perfectly formed upper body which ended smoothly just below the waist.
6Mary Ann Bevan
The Ugliest Woman
Mary Ann Webster was born in London, England in 1874, one of eight children. As a young woman she worked as a nurse and in 1903 married a greengrocer named Thomas Bevan. Shortly after getting married, Mary Ann began exhibiting symptoms of acromegaly, a form progressive giantism that causes abnormal growth and distortion of the facial features, as well as headaches, failing eyesight and joint and muscle pain. The Bevans had four children before Thomas’ death in 1914.
The Human Owl
The man who we have come to know as Martin Laurello was born Martin Emmerling in Nuremburg, Germany around 1886. He began to perform his act in Europe when in his 20’s and brought it over to America in 1921. He appeared several times at Coney Island and worked also for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey’s sideshow. He also worked for Dick Best’s Royal American Shows and as late as 1945 was appearing with Ripley’s shows along with “Popeye Perry” and “Junior Stiles”, 7-year old Lobster Boy.
The Bearded Lady of Geneva
Madame Clofullia was born Josephine Boisdechene in Switzerland. She was born hairy and reputedly had a two-inch beard at the age of eight. At the age of fourteen she began to tour Europe, first accompanied by her father and an agent and then with her father alone. In Paris she met painter Fortune Clofullia and eventually married him. She also gained extra fame when she fashioned her beard in the imitation of that of Napoleon III. In return, the ruler gave her a large diamond.
The Human Unicorn
In 1930, a Chinese farmer from Manchukuo was discovered by an expat Russian banker. The Russian was able to take a picture of the man and he sent the snapshot off to Robert Ripley of ‘Believe It Or Not!’ fame. Known only as Wang, or sometimes referred to as Weng, the farmer was normal in every respect except fot the fact that he possessed a fourteen-inch spire-like horn growing from the back of his head. Ripley offered a huge cash reward to anyone who could produce Wang for an appearance in his Odditorium. However Wang disappeared from the public eye in the early 1930’s and was never heard from again.
The Lion Faced Boy
Stephan Bibrowsky was born in Poland in 1890 to normal parents. He suffered from hypertrichosis, a rare genetic disease that covers the entire bodies of the subjects with a thick coat of fur. Only about 50 cases of the disorder have been documented since the Middle Ages. In the case of Lionel, six-inch-long hair covered his body. He was discovered by a German man named Meyer when he was four years old and became famous throughout Europe where he gained the nickname of Lionel the Lion-Faced Man. Far from being exhibited as a beast, he wore often the best clothes to show that under his hairs he was a literate and enjoyable person that spoke five languages.
The Camel Girl
This is the text from Ella Harper’s pitch card. A pitch card was an advertising flyer for attractions at a sideshow.
“I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerbly in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation.”
I have actually seen a living case of this in Verona, Italy. A woman was kneeling on the road begging but her legs were bent in front of her at the knee rather than behind.
Most photographs in this article are from The Human Marvels.