Come one, come all to the strangest show this side of the Internet! We've got freaks, we've got sites to behold, we've got grotesque displays that are sure to turn heads and stomachs, we've got nightmarish creations that you don't want your kids to see! This installment is giving you a look at what awaits behind the curtain with the Top 10 Weirdest Circus Sideshows and Freaks! It should be noted, that these people aren't "freaks" in the sense of the word, but rather, they born with abnormalities. These people should be treated as just that, people.
During the Spiritualist movement, mediums were known for producing ectoplasmic human limbs from their orifices. Myrtle Corbin needed no trickery for the two extra legs that sprouted from her body, though. This Four-Legged Lady joined none other than the advantageous P.T. Barnum for the showman’s freakshow, earning upwards of $450 a week during the late 1800’s. Myrtle didn’t really have four legs, though, as the two smaller pair belonged to her parasitic twin. She could control the two additional appendages, but due to their size, was unable to walk on them. In fact, only one of Myrtle’s legs was fully usable, as her right leg sported a clubbed foot.
The Living Skeleton
Modern beauty standards may have a different view of The Living Skeleton, but back in the 1800s, Isaac W. Sprague was nothing more than a freak of nature. Isaac was a normal boy when his body started to randomly lose weight and, no matter what he ate or did, his weight continued to decrease. When it got to a point where he could no longer sustain enough energy to work, he donned the name “The Living Skeleton” and joined a local carnival. Before long, Sprague was performing in P.T. Barnum’s show until Barnum’s American Museum burned to the ground. Sprague tried to live a normal life, but was forced back into show business for Barnum. Despite The Living Skeleton’s fame, Sprague died in 1887 with barely a penny to his name.
General Tom Thumb
Born on January 4th, 1838, Charles Sherwood Stratton suffered from a disorder that would stunt and stop his growth not long into his life. At the age of five years old, he was only 25 inches or 63 centimeters tall and weighed 15 pounds or 7 kilograms. As they say, we all have our lot in life, and famed showman Phineas T. Barnum was sure to have the perfect spot for Stratton. Barnum took quick advantage of the character Tom Thumb, throwing “General” in front of it to be a bit showier, and claimed the boy was 11 and was brought in from Europe. Though General Tom Thumb would grow in his teens, topping off at roughly over 3.3 feet or 102 centimeters in height and weighing in at 71 pounds or 32 kilograms. General Tom Thumb became a staple of P.T. Barnum’s show, performing musical numbers and skits internationally for mobs of onlookers.
The Camel Girl
From the Mule Faced Woman to the Bear Woman, animals typically play a large role in naming sideshow attractions, so it was only a matter of time for a “Camel Girl” to make a debut. From the waist up, Ella Harper looked like a normal girl from Hendersonville, Tennessee; but one look at her legs would lead on that not everything was normal. Harper’s knees were bent backwards due to an advanced form of congenital genu recurvatum. Around the age of 16, Harper joined W. H. Harris’ Nickel Plate Circus under the moniker, The Camel Girl, as she walked on all fours. Harper’s time in the sideshow business was short lived, though, and she went on to live a rather normal life until her death in 1921, which was attributed to colon cancer.
The Elephant Man
Joseph Carey Merrick is likely one of the most famous men in the history of the world, but chances are you don’t recognize his name one bit. That’s because to most, he was known as “The Elephant Man”. Born in 1862 in Leicester, England, Merrick led a tough early life due to sever deformities all over his body, including a bony mass on his forehead, enlarged hands and feet, and rough and patchy skin. When life wouldn’t throw him a bone, Merrick contacted Sam Torr, a showman that Merrick thought could exhibit him – and exhibit him he did. Merrick started his career as a sideshow oddity in August of 1884, adopting the name “The Elephant Man”. To travel in public, Merrick wore a black cloak, a brown cap, and a burlap sack to cover his face, to ensure the mystery of “The Elephant Man” remained behind the curtain’s of the show. 6 years after his career in show business began, Merrick passed away, allegedly from asphyxia or a dislocated neck.
The Mule-Faced Woman
Grace McDaniels was a woman like any other, save for one very distinct feature – her face. Surge-Weber Syndrome caused a birthmark on Grace’s face to thicken and distort her skin, causing her face to become, as some would say, unbearable to look at over time. Surge-Weber was degenerative, so as Grace got older, her face became more and more distorted, almost to the point where speaking was an impossibility. Though McDaniels joined the world of freaks and sideshows, she initially despised being considered the “World’s Ugliest Woman”. At first, she would cover her ears to avoid hearing the introduction, but as time grew on she was able to accept herself for who she was – the world’s very own “Mule Faced Woman”.
The Misnomered Bear Woman
We’ve all heard of the bearded lady and, these days, are likely less shocked by the notion of a woman with facial hair; but come across the likes of Julia Pastrana, and you’re likely to let out a gasp. Pastrana was born with hypertrichosifs, which accounts for an abnormal amount of hair growth, but that was the least of the woman’s problems. Pastrana also suffered from Gingival hyperplasia, which caused her lips and gums to be thicker than normal, and also had an irregular double set of teeth on in her upper and lower jaw. The woman joined the sideshow circuit, taking on such names as “The Misnomered Bear Woman” and was even once believed to have been the product of human and ape copulation. Post-mortem, Pastrana’s legacy lived on as her body was embalmed and displayed in collections all across the globe.
The Man with Two Faces
Nowadays, when someone thinks of Two Face, they are likely to remember that great Batman villain; but back in 1920, a real man of two faces came into the world. Upon his birth, Melvin was known to have issues, but no diagnosis was initially made. As Melvin aged, his face became deformed, creating what would look like two different faces. The deformity was due in part to neurofibromatosis, a disorder that can lead to the growth of fibrous tumors. Rather than sulk over what others would consider a misfortune, Melvin cashed in on his deformity and, in 1949, joined the Coney Island Sideshow to become “The Man with Two Faces”. Included in his performance career, Melvin joined the casts of “Sisters and The Sentinel”. Melvin lived a long, successful 75 years before passing away in November of 1995.
The Last of the Aztecs
So the name may not be entirely true, as it’s believed good ‘ole Schlitze Surtees was born in the Bronx, but the moniker certainly did work for the sideshow act. During the early 1900s, Schlitzie held a career in the sideshow circuit due to his “pinhead” look, which, of course, made him look like a freak of nature. Schlitzie was no freak, though, but suffered from microcephaly, a neurodevelopment disorder that left him with a small skull and brain. On the road, Schlitzie’s 3-year-old cognizance made him easy to manage, and such performances such as “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey”, “Clyde Beatty Circus”, and the “Tom Max Circus” made a killing off of the “missing link.” Schlitzie also played a small roll in the 1932 horror film, Freaks. Despite the disorder, Schlitzie survived 70 years, dying from bronchial pneumonia.
The Human Unicorn
You may not see Wang the Human Unicorn listed in any sideshow gallery, but that wasn’t from a lack of people trying to enlist him. During the 1930s, a Russian banker stumbled across a unique Chinese farmer from Manchukuo, a man with a long horn sprouting from the back of his head. The Russian snapped a photo and shipped it off Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. The odd-show attract was so intrigued by Wang that they offered a cash reward to anyone that could present The Human Unicorn for the Odditorium. Though Wang sported a 14-inch horn that would be difficult to miss, he was never seen or heard from again. Wang’s case was likely due to a condition known as cornu cutaneum, which is known to cause the growth of tumors. What makes the condition so unique today is rarity, thanks in part to modern medicine and treatments.