Unfortunately, not everyone is destined to be born beautiful and healthy. Bizarre combinations of genes can lead to rare diseases. They doom people to torment, distorting the physical forms of the body. Today, society as a whole is tolerant of the sick – they are helped, studied, treated, and their life is arranged. But it was not always so.
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Usually people mocked the unfortunate, ridiculing them or driving them away, considering them messengers of the devil. And in England in the 16th century, a kind of fun appeared – the circus of freaks. For the amusement of the public, people with frank physical disabilities were exhibited. Entrepreneurial businessmen even organized tours of such a show program.
This phenomenon experienced a rebirth already in the 19th century, thanks to the famous showman Phineas Barnum. He looked for people with the most obvious shortcomings and gathered a bright, interesting, but in some ways even scary troupe. By the 1890s, the British had noticeably lost interest in this entertainment, because science convinced everyone that the freaks had nothing to do with demons, they were just sick and unhappy people. It seemed inhumane to pay for such entertainment. But in America, the demand has been preserved – all in the name of the show! In 1932, director Tod Browning even made the film Freaks, a mixture of tragicomedy and melodrama. But censorship cut the tape in half, and the shocked audience was not ready to accept such a spectacle. I must say that the commercial exploitation of the appearance of unfortunate people helped many – the artists received good money under contracts, which helped them secure their lives and start families. We will talk about the most famous representatives of this strange but vibrant genre, whose fates have not been forgotten at all.
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Johnny Eck. 1911-1991
The American artist, who, it would seem, fate had prepared only a career in the freak show, showed all the versatility of his personality. And if filming a movie can still be explained by the physical characteristics of a man, then the talents of an artist, saxophonist, photographer, gymnast, race car driver and businessman were certainly realized “against” the possibilities.
The boy was born with caudal regression syndrome, which manifested itself in an underdeveloped lower body. Johnny had to learn to walk on his hands, he did it even before his normal twin brother could walk. Physical defects did not interfere with the development of Johnny’s intellectual abilities – he was an ordinary schoolboy. But from the age of 12, the boy began his career as an artist, presenting himself as a man without the lower half of the body. He had to hide his legs under his clothes. Johnny’s brother Robert performed at the circus. A man without half of his body performed in a tuxedo, demonstrated a one-arm stand, climbed stairs, and participated in staging tricks. And after the decline in the popularity of freak performances, the brothers found themselves in ordinary life.
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Jane Barnell 1871-1951
The Englishwoman became famous as a “bearded woman”, although her stage name was much more elegant – Lady Olga. The fate of a girl with such an appearance could hardly be happy in those years. Her mother sold Jane to a circus, from which an unusual but ill artist was simply kicked out on tour in Berlin. A new return to the circus took place, thanks to a familiar strong man. Barnell changed several pseudonyms, eventually settling on the loud “Lady Olga Roderick.” At that time, the woman’s beard grew by 30 centimeters.
Lady Olga spent her whole life on tour with various circuses, participated in exhibitions and even managed to act in films. True, Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) greatly shocked the audience, and the characters themselves were dissatisfied with the way they were shown. The beard did not prevent the woman from arranging her personal life – she was married four times. Her last husband was a former clown and street barker, who became the manager of an unusual actress.
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Annie Jones. 1865-1902
And this artist became famous for her beard. Even when Annie was 9 months old, her parents signed a contract with the famous showman Barnum. He paid the mother of an unusual child a salary of $ 150 a week. The family lived in New York preparing Annie for a career in the circus. At the age of five, the girl grew a mustache and sideburns, she became famous.
Throughout her career, Annie Jones has traveled extensively, collaborating with various troupes and exhibitions. In addition to the beard, the woman also let go of long hair. But she was known not only for the hair on her head – Annie turned out to be a good musician. Twice the artist was married, and died of tuberculosis. So it remains unknown what caused the unusual condition of her face – a genetic disease or excessive growth of terminal hair (hirsutism).
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And although this actor was called “the last of the Aztecs” at the performances, he was most likely born not in Mexico, but in New York. At least that’s what it says on his grave. The boy was born with microcephaly. This defect made his brain small and his head excessively large. Schlitzie grew up to only 122 centimeters, was short-sighted and mentally retarded. It is believed that the intellect of the artist has remained at the level of a three-year-old child. Schlitzi could not fully take care of himself and in conversation managed with simple words and a couple of phrases. At the same time, he performed the required actions, understood what they were saying to him and perfectly imitated. Everyone loved Schlitz, seeing him as a lively and sweet person.
The boy got into the circus, being sold by his parents, which was the norm for that time. Employers acted as guardians, Schlitzi changed a lot of them. In the show, he was presented either as the last Aztec, or as a monkey girl, or simply as an unknown creature. Schlitzie often paired with other microcephalians. In the 1920s and 1930s, the actor became famous, having managed to star in Freaks. He performed in famous troupes, including those of Barnum and Bailey. Schlitzi never left the stage, even performing on the streets. They buried him in an unmarked grave, and only in 2009 did they install a tombstone.
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Daisy and Violet Hilton (Daisy and Violet Hilton). 1908-1969
Siamese twins were also an integral part of traveling circuses at the beginning of the 20th century. The girls were born in England in the family of an unmarried barmaid. The girls turned out to be fused in the thighs and buttocks, they had a common blood circulation, but the vital organs were not connected. The unusual children were immediately bought out by the Hilton spouses, who began to teach the sisters to dance and sing, but at the same time did not shy away from violence. Siamese twins were under the supervision of doctors, for England it was a rare case. No one dared to operate – it was believed that this would definitely lead to the death of one of the girls.
Even in childhood, the sisters began to be shown in the circus, tours took place around the world. But all earnings went to enterprising guardians and their children. Daisy and Violetta moved to America in the 1920s, where they became friends with star actor Bob Hope and Harry Houdini. And only in 1931, the sisters got rid of obsessive guardianship, even receiving financial compensation. The girls became participants in various shows, vaudeville, wore different outfits and dyed their hair in different ways, trying to prove their individuality. The personal life of the Hilton sisters did not work out, despite numerous novels and even short marriages. And former celebrities lived out in the wilderness, moonlighting in the store. After Daisy died from the Hong Kong flu, Violetta could only last a couple of days.
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Prince Randian. 1871-1934
Of course, this man was not a prince, that was his stage name. Randian, an Indian by origin, was born in British Guiana without arms and legs, the reason for this was the congenital tetraamelia syndrome. Phineas Barnum brought an unusual man to America, launching his circus career. Randian was called the snake man, the living torso, the caterpillar man. He impressed with his ability to roll cigarettes with his lips alone.
During the performances, the actor was dressed up in one-piece tight-fitting clothes, which gave him the appearance of a snake with a human face. With the help of his shoulders and hips, Randian moved around the stage. But obvious physical limitations did not stop the actor’s attempts to realize himself in other areas. He knew how to draw and write, learned to shave with the help of a special device. Randian became a husband and father of five children, spoke four languages. And even the actor kept his props in a box, according to rumors, he personally built, painted and locked.
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Joseph Merrick. 1862-1890
Congenital diseases have become the reason for the transformation of this person into a member of the “circus of freaks.” Proteus Syndrome and neurofibramatosis severely disfigured Joseph’s body, which is how he became the Elephant Man. A boy was born in the family of a London weaver, Joseph’s mother and his sister were disabled. Deformity began to develop at the age of five. The deformation of the body eventually became so strong that the boy was kicked out into the street, but he could not even work anywhere. The only way out for the people who became the object of ridicule was the circus.
And there, Joseph was treated well and assigned a solid salary. In 1884, Merrick met the physiologist Frederick Treves, who introduced the actor to the scientific community. And after the ban on freak shows in England, the elephant man was forced to leave the country for a while, but eventually returned to his homeland. The press began to write about Mr. Merrick, even aristocrats showed interest in the unfortunate. Joseph received an education, began to attend theaters, write prose and poetry. Despite the apparent dementia due to the constant expression on his face, the man turned out to be intelligent and romantic. Merrick’s death was clearly premature – in a dream, a heavy head passed over his neck.
The story of Joseph Merrick turned out to be so vivid that a Broadway play was staged on its basis, in which even David Bowie participated. And David Lynch’s The Elephant Man received 8 Oscar nominations. Merrick’s personality is repeatedly mentioned in films, TV shows, songs, and advertisements. The story of a smart, but rejected by society and misunderstood romantic, does not leave indifferent even today.
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Minnie Woolsey. 1880-1960
The girl was born in Georgia with Seckel syndrome, which makes people dwarfed and bird-headed, with a deformed lower jaw, hairless and practically blind. The child was obviously not needed by anyone – he was saved from a psychiatric hospital by the owner of the circus of freaks. The girl was dressed in an Indian costume, announced as “Minnie Ha-ha” and forced to amuse the audience. She had one feather on her head. Gradually, Minnie got used to everyone’s attention and even fell in love with dancing, bursting into a stream of incomprehensible words.
And after filming in the film “Freaks” in 1932, the artist became famous, she was called the Bird Girl or Ku-ku. Minnie appeared in many scenes. Interestingly, this was not the first female bird in the film, so was also called Elizabeth Green with the pseudonyms Stork and Bird. Until her death, Minnie worked in a circus. But even today, references to the “Ku-Ku Bird Girl” are periodically found in pop culture.
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Ella Harper. 1870-1921
The American remained in the history of the circus as a camel girl. She was distinguished by a congenital pathology – recurvation of the knee joints. Because of this, a person can only move on all fours. At the age of 12, Ella begins her circus career, touring with the Harris’ Nickel Plate show, earning a respectable $200 a week. The public was lured with the promise of showing an attractive young lady who was given the gait and body parts of a camel. Ella could only walk on her hands and feet at the same time, as her knees were twisted to the other side.
And in 1886, Ella took part in a photo shoot, thanks to which we can see exactly how she looked. Then the girl decided to leave show business and take up education. In 1903, Ella Harper moved to Nashville, where she soon married. But the couple failed to save the child, and the girl later adopted also died.
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Josephine Myrtle Corbin 1868-1928
The girl was not lucky enough to be born with a double pelvis, and two more small legs grew on the second. Each “inner” leg was paired with a normal one. Josephine herself claimed that she could move all four lower limbs, but the internal ones were too weak for walking. In fact, a physical defect predetermined the future – she had to work as an actress in traveling circuses, moreover, doctors actively studied the woman.
The doctors also studied the girl’s parents. Outwardly, they turned out to be similar – with red hair, fair skin and blue eyes. It seemed that the father and mother could have a blood relationship. After the birth, the family and doctors did not advertise the fact of the defect, protecting the child from public attention. Josephine grew up healthy and did well. And at the age of 13, the girl began to participate in the show, and on the posters she was described as tender and happy. The popularity of Corbin was so high that the owners of other traveling circuses even began to show fake four-legged women to the public. At the age of 19, Josephine got married and gave birth to 5 healthy children.
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Josephine Joseph. 1913-1966
It is today that hermaphrodites are a described and understandable phenomenon, but earlier these people had to either hide their essence or use it, demonstrating it for money. This is exactly what the American Josephine Joseph did, half of whose body was male. True, today the opinion is most often expressed that it is worth talking not about a biological phenomenon, but about a successful staging of a drag queen actor.
Josephine’s right side looked really masculine, with short hair and coarse features. The left side of the body was feminine – with breasts, bleached skin, long wavy hair. For the sake of external effect, the actress even dressed up half of her body in different ways. The audience drew attention to a strange man in the film “Freaks”, where Josephine received several scenes and lines.
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Fannie Mills. 1860-1892
The girl was born in Ohio with Milroy’s disease. It causes fluid to build up in the legs. Because of this, the feet greatly increase in size. Shoes for Fanny were made to order, and a pair required three goatskins. Despite the huge legs, the woman weighed only 68 kilograms.
Fanny’s show career began when she was 25 years old. Apparently, until then, the woman unsuccessfully tried to improve her life. Fanny was helped by nurse Mary Brown, because even walking with such feet was very difficult. Being a circus actress, Miss Mills made a good fortune and decided to use it to arrange her personal life. She announced a hefty $5,000 reward for whoever marries her. There was a man who was not afraid of the condition of his bride. But the marriage did not last even a year – Fanny died unexpectedly.
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Stephan Bibrowski. 1891-1932
In circus performances, this German of Polish origin was presented as the “Lion Man”. All because his body was completely covered with hair. The reason for this was the rare disease hypertrichosis. His symptoms in Stefan appeared in infancy. Frightened parents gave the boy to be raised in a circus.
There, a legend was invented for a hairy child – when he was still in his mother’s stomach, his father was torn to pieces by a circus lion. And this is precisely what explains the similarity of the artist with the animal. Stefan received the understandable pseudonym Lionel and began touring with the circus. And in 1901, Bibrovsky moved to America, where he began to collaborate with Barnum’s circus. At that time, the length of the hair on the body was already 10 centimeters. In the arena, the artist demonstrated gymnastic tricks, and he was called the transitional link between man and monkey. Но Бибровский вовсе не был дикарем: много читал и знал, говорил на пяти языках. И этим он тоже привлекал к себе внимание. Со временем немец покинул сцену и вернулся на Родину.
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Исаак Спрэг (Isaac Sprague). 1841-1887
Благодаря своей необычной внешности, этот артист выступал под псевдонимом Живой Скелет. А ведь родился и рос Исаак вполне нормальным. Странности начались, когда мальчику исполнилось 12 лет – он стал стремительно худеть. Аппетит оставался здоровым, но вес терялся на протяжении всей жизни. Исаак носил с собой повсюду фляжку со сладким молоком, подпитываясь, чтобы не терять сознание. Медики описывали его состояние, как крайнюю прогрессирующую мышечную дистрофию. В 44 года мужчина при росте 168 сантиметров весил всего 20 килограмм.
Изначально Исаак и не думал о цирковой карьере – он поменял множество работ в юности, побывав сапожником и бакалейщиком. Но после смерти родителей Спрэг уже не мог обеспечивать себя и оказался безработным. К счастью для него, в 1865 году подоспело приглашение в цирк. А в следующем году Барнум нанял артиста для работы в своем Американском музее. Люди толпами шли туда посмотреть на разные странности. Спрэг получал 80 долларов в неделю, но в 1868 году музей сгорел. Паузу в карьере артист потратил на женитьбу – у него в итоге родилось трое нормальных сыновей. К сожалению, алкоголь и азартные игры сделали Спрэга нищим, а перед смертью он завещал свое тело науке.
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Питер Робинсон (Peter Robinson). 1873-1947
Этот артист тоже был известен, как Живой скелет, но называли его Курильщиком или просто Тонким человеком. И в этом случае похудение началось в подростковом возрасте. На протяжении всей жизни вес тела Питера составлял 25-30 килограмм, что при росте в 160 сантиметров производило пугающее впечатление.
Живой скелет гастролировал по Америке с разными труппами, а в 1916 году он женился на Хелен Смит. Она тоже была актрисой цирка уродов, но с весом в 212 килограмм являлась явной и красочной противоположностью избраннику. Необычная семейная пара сформировала еще один элемент шоу. Публика не оставила это без внимания, и на потеху толпе супруги то разводились, то вновь женились. А все ради яркого зрелища – свадьбы очень худого мужчины на очень толстой женщине. Люди толпами шли посмотреть на такое шоу. В семье родилось двое детей, но доживал жизнь Робинсон со своей сестрой.
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Грейди Стайлз (Grady Stiles). 1937-1992
Знаменитый уличный артист стал известным, благодаря необычному развитию кистей и стоп. Причиной тому стал врожденный порок эктродактилия. Другая сторона славы пришла к Стайлзу из-за его преступления. Правда, совершенное им убийство фактически осталось безнаказанным. Несмотря на признание вины и обвинительный приговор, осудили Стайлза лишь условно – тюрьмы просто не имели возможности содержать такого инвалида.
В роду Стайлзов подобная мутация «рачья клешня» появлялась на протяжении нескольких поколений. И даже отец Грейди тоже работал в цирке, демонстрируя свое уродство. Мальчика же приучили ходить на руках, в 7 лет он вышел на арену цирку под псевдонимом Мальчик-омар. Стайлз стал обеспеченным и знаменитым, женился. Одна из его дочерей тоже появилась на свет с таким пороком. Но социальная изоляция привела к проблемам в семье и к разводу. Карьера артиста разрушилась, Стайлз в конце 1970-х превратился в алкоголика-маргинала. Узнав, что его 15-летняя дочь собралась замуж, Грейди убил ее жениха. Оставшись на свободе Стайлз попытался наладить свою жизнь, снова сошелся с первой женой, но в итоге снова начал пить и был убит родственниками после очередной ссоры.
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Алиса Элизабет Доэрти (Alice Elizabeth Doherty). 1887-1933
Девочка появилась на свет в Миннесоте с пятисантиметровыми светлыми волосами по всему телу. Подобного явления ни у кого из ее родственников отмечено не было. С двухлетнего возраста родители стали выставлять дочку напоказ в коммерческих помещениях в виде своеобразного аттракциона. Публика платила деньги за возможность увидеть необычного ребенка. К пяти годам волосы на теле Алисы достигли длины в 12 сантиметров, а к подростковому возрасту выросли до 22 сантиметров. Голубоглазая девочка была умной, любопытной и игривой.
Ничего не известно об увлечениях Алисы, она просто продолжала выступать ради заработка и обеспечения семьи. Другие артисты с аналогичным редким заболеванием, гипертрихозом, стали куда более известными и богатыми. Но за ними стояли легендарные промоутеры, тогда как карьеру Алисе делала скромная семья. Из индустрии развлечений Доэрти ушла в 1915 году вполне обеспеченной.
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Франческо Лентини (Francesco Lentini). 1889-1966
Уникальность этого артиста в том, что у него было 3 ноги. Франческо стал двенадцатым ребенком в семье. Но его брат-близнец еще в утробе стал «паразитом» — так и не сформировался и привязался к позвоночнику Франческо. У того помимо третьей полноценной ноги была еще и четвертая рудиментарная, отходящая от колена, а также дополнительный половой орган. Врачи не решились на сложную операцию на позвоночнике, которая могла бы оставить Франеческо парализованным. Шокированные родители отказались от сына-урода. Мальчик попал в приют для инвалидов, где смирился с особенностями своего тела, научился кататься на коньках, ездить на велосипеде и играть в футбол.
Еще в детстве Лентини переехал в Америке, где устроился в цирк. Популярным стал номер жонглирования мячом третьей ногой во время ходьбы на двух первых. Лентини не хотел казаться просто уродцем, представая ловким и остроумным молодым человеком. До самой смерти итальянец выступал в цирках, он женился и вырастил четырех детей. Лентини пользовался уважением среди коллег, которые прозвали его «Королем».