The people listed below made their living as human exhibits in sideshows. Many of them were afflicted by disfiguring physical disorders and were left with no other option to support themselves. Let us start the list of sideshow freaks with the most famous of them all, the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.
Famous Sideshow Freaks Of All Time
1.Joseph Merrick – The Elephant Man:
The life history of Joseph Merrick alias the Elephant Man has been the theme for films, books and theater. Therefore the Elephant Man is without a shadow of doubt the most famous human side-show freak that ever lived. His story attracted Victorian England’s sympathy and even after the passage of hundred years, his story still remains inspiring and heart wrenching.
Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man was born August 6, 1863 in Leicester to Joseph Merrick and Mary Merrick. He had a younger sister and brother and was totally normal till the age of 4. In an autobiographical account which was printed on the reverse of his side-show advertisement, Joseph Merrick noted that the physical deformity initially manifested as small bumps on the right side of his body.
By age 12, his mother passed away and Joseph Merrick’s deformities became severe. When his father re-married, his step mother chased him from the home and a young Joseph Merrick struggled to cope up not only with his deformity but against homelessness and starvation as well.
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For some time, Merrick tried to earn his livelihood by being a door to door salesman. In spite of hiding his disfigured face behind a mask, Joseph Merrick had to endure the incessant harassment of adults and children. His attempts to sell were of no use and he ultimately ended up at Leicester Union work house.
2. Tom Thumb, World Famous Midget:
Charles Stratton was born to a cold-hearted carpenter at Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 5, 1840 and would live on to become a famous midget in the world’s history. When he was identified at the age of 5 by Barnum, Charles Stratton was just 25 inches tall and weighed a mere 20 pounds.
His father embarrassed by the extremely short stature of his son gladly agreed to sign up his son for 1 month trial as an attraction in Barnum’s museum in New York. The mutually agreed pay was $4 as well as boarding and lodging, a modest arrangement financially but Stratton senior was content enough to see his short stature son put to good use.
At New York, Barnum re-named his latest find after Arthurian legend, Sir Tom and in agreement with famous midget Sir Jeffery Hudson, Barnum chose to name Tom Thumb as a general. He was touted as hailing from the European continent and Barnum devoted substantial time to teach and train the young protégé dance, etiquette, keen wit and song.
Decked in military uniform, General Tom embraced the stage like a second home and the public absolutely loved his smart quips, charisma and showmanship. Under the able guidance of Barnum, General Tom Thumb became famous and wealthy. At the peak of his career, he owned wardrobes full of custom tailored clothes, a tailor-made house in a fashionable section of New York and even a yacht.
So huge was Tom Thumb’s popularity that when Barnum faced bankruptcy, General Tom Thumb toured Europe for the sake of his friend and mentor. While he was there, he got a royal invitation to perform in front of the Queen herself.
3. Jo Jo, Dog Faced Boy:
Adrian early into his life fled his hometown and became something of a forest recluse. His craving for alcohol went out of control and he was a cruel drunk by public opinion. Several visitors to the exhibition were appalled by his debauched and unkempt appearance. His appearance was in direct contrast to that of his son, Fedor.
The young lad his features obscured by voluminous hair growth charmed audiences with his inquisitive nature and impish attitude. He enjoyed interacting with audiences in their native tongue.
In 1885, the dog faced boy met one of Barnum’s many talent recognition agents during the tour of Liver pool. He made a huge profit by joining Barnum in the United States and stayed with him that year. It was in the States with Barnum that he was given the side-show name Jo Jo the dog faced boy. During this time with Barnum, he was praised as the most prodigious talent secured by Barnum in over 06 years.
At his first public side-show, he was greeted by audible gasps from the gathered public and media persons. His hairy appearance was in direct contrast with the ornate and neatly pressed Russian uniform he sported. Barnum answered questions and after members of press were assured that Jo Jo is not dangerous, they queued up for taking photographs with him pulling on his hair.
4. Human Unicorn, Wang:
In 1935, an obscure farmer from Manchukuo, China had been discovered by a banker from Russia. The Russian took a picture of the man and sent the photograph to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Known as Wang or sometimes called as Weng, the individual was normal in almost every aspect except for the fact that he had a 14 inch horn growing out from the back of the head.
Ripley offered a big cash reward to anyone who could bring Weng for a public appearance in the auditorium. However Weng disappeared from public view eye in early 1940′s to be never heard of again.
5. Bearded lady, Grace Gilbert:
The red-haired Grace Gilbert had been born in February 1875 on the small farm in the vicinity of Lake Nettle, Ohio. Grace Gilbert was the youngest of 4 kids and the only child in her family to be born fully covered by a layer of silk colored hair. By the age of 19, she had been exhibited on a full-time basis as the famous bearded lady.
She signed up the first contract with Ringling Circus in 1902. At that time the length of her beard measured over 19 inches, which was many inches longer than the closest competitor and much longer than the existing record. Before long, Bailey and Barnum separated Grace away from the Ringling Circus to replace Annie Jones and this arrangement turned out to be quite lucrative for Barnum and Bailey.
Although she was a red-head, Grace Gilbert was known to regularly bleach her beard. She was known as the girl with golden whiskers, but the effort and time to maintain that look proved to be quite a hassle and she reverted soon to her original appearance. Grace Gilbert also exhibited with Hagenback Wallace and the Mc Caddon’s circus and toured France and England also.
6. Ella Harper, Camel Girl :
Ella Harper had been born at Henderson Ville, Tennessee around 1875, though there are few contradictory reports. However something which is not a matter of argument is the fact that Ella Harper was born with an unusual and rare orthopedic medical condition resulting in her knees bending back ward.
The prevalence such a rare and unusual medical affliction is extremely rare and comparatively unknown, though modern medical experts will classify her medical condition as an advanced type of genu recurvatum congenital, also called as back ward knee deformity. Her strangely bended knees together with her preference of walking on all 4 limbs earned her the nickname the camel girl.
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In 1887, Ella was a star of Nickel Harris’s circus quite often accompanied by a camel when exhibited to the audience and she was regular headlines in newspapers of each and every town the side-show visited. The newspapers billed Ella Harper as the most wondrous side-show freak of nature since the world’s creation and that a counterpart never existed.
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