People have been going to the circus for as long as they can remember. While they are not so popular now, they were all the hype back in the 19th and 20th centuries. Animals were trained to perform tricks that the audience just loved and people with incredible talents would join the circus and charm the viewers. A lot of the time, this circus would feature bizarre acts and creepy talents, like sword swallowing or breathing fire while there were times when they would also feature people with physical deformities who performed comedy acts or had interesting talents. These photos depict the best of the best! They were truly dedicated to their practices in the circus and delivered incredible acts of entertainment despite the obvious exploitation of some of the performer’s abnormalities.
Koo-Koo (1879 – 1960)
Koo Koo, the Bird Girl, was born in 1880 and reportedly rescued from a mental asylum to enter the circus world. She was diagnosed with a rare congenital growth skeletal disorder called Virchow-Seckel syndrome. This explains her short stature, small head, and narrow bird-like face. She also had a receding jaw, large ears, and mild intellectual disability.
The Human Owl (1886 – 1955)
Martin Joe Laurello spent three years rotating his head for the sole purpose of spinning it to 180 degrees. This practice, along with a few dislocated vertebrae, gave him the role of The Human Owl in many popular sideshows.
Frank ‘Cannonball’ Richards (1887 – 1969)
Meet Frank “Cannonball” Richards, an American carnival and vaudeville performer whose act involved taking heavy blows to his stomach. Richards began by letting people punch him in the gut. Dempsey hit him in the stomach a reported total of seventy-five times.
The Human Caterpillar (1871 – 1934)
Prince Randian was born in 1871 and spent most of his life in the sideshow career. He had tetra-amelia syndrome which explains his lack of limbs. His sideshow act was very popular, as he usually wrapped himself in fabric and crawled around like a caterpillar. He was best known for being able to roll a cigarette with his lips.
The Human Pincushion (1912 – 1948)
Mirin Dajo is known as being the human pincushion. He would stand in front of an audience, bare-chested, and have his assistant ram pointed objects through his abdomen. Eventually, medical teams caught on and brought him in for an examination. He was indeed getting pierced all the way through but somehow not getting harmed. Many believe he learned how to ignore the pain.
Lobster Boy (1866 – ?)
Fred Wilson was born with ectrodactyly fingers and backward feet. It was a familial trait that has been carried down the line for 300 years. There isn’t much information on him other than he was one of the most popular sideshow performers of his era!
Fanny Mills (1860 – 1892)
Fanny Mills suffered from Lymphedema. The illness caused intense swelling in her limbs that were incurable. She began her career in the medical realm and eventually joined a circus after they offered her $5,000 a year. She was reported to wear size 30 shoes.
World’s Smallest Woman (1864 – 1890)
Lucia Zárate is the smallest and lightest person ever recorded. Her tiny stature and small beauty brought in crowds all around the world. When she was 18, she only weighed four pounds. She died tragically from hypothermia when her circus train got stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Headless Chicken
A chicken survived for 18 months after his head was chopped off. A local circus ended up taking him in as an attraction and named him Mike.
The Four-Legged Woman (1868 – 1928)
A young Myrtle Corbin joined the circus circuit at only 13 years old. She was born a dipygus, meaning that her body axis split as she was developing in the womb. She had two separate pelves’ and could move the inner legs. She was such a favorite that many other circuses’ faked their own acts similar to Myrtle’s. She ended up retiring, getting married, and having five children.