Tuesday, 30 August 2011

WILLIE & GEORGE MUSE – The Men From Mars

muse 755967 WILLIE & GEORGE MUSE – The Men From MarsThe Muse brothers had an incredible career. The story of the two black albino brothers from Roanoke, Virginia is unique even in the bizarre world of sideshow. They were initially exploited and then later hailed for their unintentional role in civil rights.
Born in the 1890’s the pair were scouted by sideshow agents and kidnapped in 1899 by bounty hunters working in the employ of an unknown sideshow promoter. Black albinos, being extremely rare, would have been an extremely lucrative attraction. They were falsely told that their mother was dead, and that they would never be returning home.
The brothers began to tour. To accentuate their already unusual appearance, their handler had the brothers grow out their hair into long white dreadlocks. In 1922 showman Al G. Barnes began showcasing the brothers in his circus as White Ecuadorian cannibals Eko and Iko. When that gimmick failed to attract crowds the brothers were rechristened the ‘Sheep-Headed Men’ and later, in 1923, the ‘Ambassadors from Mars’.
As the ‘Men from Mars’ the two traveled extensively with the Barnes circus. Unfortunately, while they were being fed, housed and trained in playing the mandolin, they were not being paid.
In the mid 1920’s the Muse brothers toured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1927, while visiting their hometown, their mother finally tracked them down. She fought to free her sons, some 20 years after their disappearance. She threatened to sue and the Muse brothers were freed.
The brothers filed a lawsuit for the wages they earned but were never paid. They initially demanded a lump-sum payment of 100,000. However, as time passed the Muse brothers missed the crowds, the attention and the opportunities sideshow provided. Their lawyer got them a smaller lump-sum payment and a substantial contract with a flat monthly wage. The pair returned to show business in 1928.
During their first season back they played Madison Square Garden and drew over 10,000 spectators during each of their performances. They made spectacular money as their new contract allowed them to sell their own merchandise and keep all the profits for themselves. In the 1930’s they toured Europe, Asia and Australia. They performed for royals and dignitaries including the Queen of England. In 1937 they returned to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for several years and finally ended their career in 1961 with the Clyde Beatty Circus.
The brothers returned to their hometown and lived together in a house they originally purchased for their mother. Neither brother married, though they were well known for their many extravagant courtships.
George Muse died in 1971 and many expected Willie to quickly follow his brother. Those people were wrong as Willie continued to play his mandolin and enjoy the company friends and family until his death on Good Friday of 2001.
He was 108 years old.

Monday, 29 August 2011


jojojpgmr9 728429 FEDOR JEFTICHEIVE   Jo Jo The Dog Faced Boy
In 1873, Europe became acquainted with a wolf man. A 55 year old Russian man named Adrian Jefticheiev, covered in hair, began to appear at various exhibitions. He was accompanied by his equally hairy illegitimate son. The ‘Wild Man from the Kostroma Forest’ was billed as being the product of an affair between a bear and a Russian peasant woman. In reality he was a man afflicted with hypertrichosis very much like his predecessor Petrus Gonzales. However, while Gonzales was a gentle civilized soul trapped within an animalistic body Adrian lived up to his wild appearance. Early in his life, Adrian fled his village and became something of a forest hermit. His taste for alcohol spiraled out of control and he was, by all accounts, a cruel drunk. Many visitors to his exhibition were disgusted by his unkempt and debauched appearance. His appearance was in stark contrast to that of his toddler son, Fedor. The young boy, his features not yet obscured by a thick growth of hair, charmed audiences with his impish attitude and inquisitive nature. He relished speaking to audiences in their native languages.
As quickly as they appeared, the pair disappeared. Nearly a decade later a young man billed as Theodore Petroff appeared and began a long career in sideshow.European audiences were told that hunters found young Theodore in the wild, captured him, taught him to be civilized and set him on to tour the world. In reality he was Fedor Jefticheive. His father, after returning from his 1873 European tour, promptly drank himself to death with his earnings.
In 1884 the wolf boy met one of P. T. Barnum’s many talent agents during a tour of Liverpool. He saw great profit in joining Barnum in America and did so that same year. It was there that he was given the name Jo-Jo ‘The Dog-Faced Boy’. During his time with Barnum he was billed as ‘The most prodigious paragon of all prodigies secured by P. T. Barnum in over 50 years’. At his first public unveiling he was met with audible gasps from the assembled media. His animalistic looks contrasted the neatly pressed and ornate Russian cavalry uniform he wore. Barnum fielded questions and, after members of the press were affirmed that Jo-Jo did not bite, they lined up and took turns tugging on his facial hair.
At times Jo-Jo lived up to his namesake by growling and snapping and members of the audience. A bite from Jo-Jo would have been nothing serious as his form of hypertrichosis robbed him of all but two teeth. At other times he was quiet and dignified. He was known to be a gentle and generous man. He was described by the New York Herald as being as playful as a puppy with his audiences and ‘the most absorbingly interesting curiosity to ever reach these shores’. He was an avid reader and spoke as many as five languages. Following his stint with Barnum he continued to tour the world. He briefly returned to the United States to join up with the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.
In 1904, during a tour of Greece, Jo-Jo contracted pneumonia. He died shortly thereafter at the age of 35 with no heirs or romances of note. However, when new of his passing reached the United States he was mourned by sideshow performers and enthusiast everywhere.
image: Jo-Jo during his time with Barnum and Bailey.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

THE GREAT WALDO – The Regurgitating Geek

the great waldo 87x300 THE GREAT WALDO   The Regurgitating Geek
Did you know that the word ‘geek’ has its historic foundation in sideshow? Historically, a geek was a sideshow performer who ate bizarre or unexpected things. Waldo’s talent was unique, certainly unique enough to be called ‘Great’.
Waldo was not the typical geek as he didn’t really eat the items he swallowed. Instead he would swallow and regurgitate the items, including live animals. In the image above, Waldo is performing his signature regurgitation, swallowing a white mouse and then bringing it back up alive and unharmed after a few moments. In the middle image, Waldo is puffing on a cigarette and smiling at your disgust before regurgitating the mouse. What a showman! Waldo’s act was very real, he did swallow the rodent and his act was no illusion.
Waldo was born in 1920 in Germany and as a child he loved the circus and its sideshow. He would visit each time the circus was in town and he marveled at the human marvels he saw there. He yearned to join them but he was, unfortunately, born completely average. Not content to live his live as a regular man, he trained his stomach muscles to regurgitate items he swallowed. At first the objects were inanimate: pocket change, watches, rings and keys. In the late 1930’s he began to swallow and regurgitate living animals. He began with fish, moved on to frogs, then mice and eventually he was able to swallow rats.
In 1938, when Hitler invaded Austria, the Jewish Waldo fled to Switzerland. While performing in a nightclub there he was discovered by an American sideshow talent agent and quickly brought to the United States.
Waldo always dressed as a distinguished gentleman. This appearance was in direct contrast to the look of geeks previous. The majority of those geeks were usually dressed as savages and their acts consisted of tearing live animals apart with their teeth. Waldo was elegant and gentle. When swallowing fish and frogs he would first swallow copious amounts of water so the animals would have a water to swim in.
His muscular control was so absolute that Waldo was able to swallow several different colored balls and regurgitate them in whichever sequence the audience demanded. He was able to swallow a locked padlock, then the key, and unlock the padlock. When a member of the audience doubted the authenticity of his act he would invite them onstage, swallow their watch and invite them to listen to the ticking emanating from his belly.
During his career The Great Waldo worked many shows including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey as well as Hubert’s museum in New York. The legendary Anatomical Wonder, Melvin Burkhart, once called Waldo’s act the ‘most amazing’ act he had ever seen.
Unfortunately his unusual talent made finding romance a nearly impossible task. Waldo committed suicide, by gassing himself, in his home after a particular infatuation went sour and unfulfilled.
Little actual film of Waldo exists today and all is currently under copyrite. There have been few acts like Waldo’s. His modern equivalent is Stevie ‘The Regurgitator’ Starr. Starr recently did away with his trademark sequenced costuming and adopted attire more in tune to that worn by The Great Waldo, perhaps as a tribute to Waldo. Mr. Starr’s act consists mostly of inanimate objects; however his finale has always included a live goldfish.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


feejeemermaid 798614 THE FEEJEE MERMAID   The Famous Fake
 The history of The Feejee Mermaid was, and continues to be, one of the most unique and enduring of all sideshow frauds.
As the picture above illustrates, The Feejee (Fiji) Mermaid did not represent the popular ideal of the mermaid of folklore. Far from being a beautiful fish maiden, The Feejee Mermaid was essentially a disgusting abomination of taxidermy often described as a ‘salmon with sagging breasts’. The face, while moderately human in appearance, carried an indescribable look of horror that terrified many an observer.
The great P. T. Barnum is often credited as being the originator of The Feejee (Fiji) mermaid. The creature was not entirely his creation but he was responsible for popularizing the sapien-fish during the crux of Darwinism.
The first man to exhibit the mermaid was an American sea captain named Samuel Barret Eades. The mermaid was first brought to his attention by a merchant in the Dutch West Indies territory and it was purported to have be caught off the coast of Japan. The merchant demanded such a high price for his bizarre discovery that Captain Eades actually sold his ship to raise the funds needed to purchase it.
His venture to exhibit the mermaid never really got off the ground. First, after booking passage back to England with his purchase in tow, the mermaid was confiscated by customs. When it was returned to him he ran several ads in local papers purporting his mermaid as the most important discovery ever made. The ads drew a great deal of attention, including the attention of the man who purchased his ship and financed the procurement of the mermaid. The buyer was dissatisfied with the vessel he bought from Eades and he sued for the return of his money. Eades was, of course, completely broke at this time. To add insult, the ads also drew the attention of naturalists who determined that the mermaid was a fraud.
The ‘human’ portion of the mermaid was determined to be the body of an orangutan and the bottom belonged to a large salmon. While the taxidermy appeared to be quite gruesome, it was actually masterfully done and no seams were visible to the naked eye.
Despite this revelation, Eades continued to show the creature as real. However, the public was not very interested. His exhibit ran from 1823 to 1825 before closing and Eades spent the rest of his life trying to pay of his large debt and legal fees.
In 1842 Moses Kimball, curator of the Boston Museum, was contacted by an unknown Englishman who had inherited an unusual item from his father. When Kimball saw the specimen he bought it for a very small sum. He then contacted his good friend P. T. Barnum.
Barnum leased the creature, the Eades Mermaid, from Kimball and went into publicity mode.
Barnum named the creature The Feejee Mermaid and created a story involving its capture in the Fiji Islands. The reason for the spelling of Feejee is unknown, but is assumed to be due to a misprint in a various newspaper articles. In what would be a very famous publicity stunt, Barnum visited every newspaper in the area and presented each with a woodcut of a beautiful and bare-breasted mermaid. He told each paper that the image was exclusive and that it depicted his mermaid discovery. Each paper, believing that they had an exclusive story ran the image and article on the same day. Thus, all of New York was a buzz with news of the discovery, a discovery so legitimate that every paper in the city found it necessary to make mention of it.
When the exhibit opened, to huge crowds, the mermaid was accompanied by Dr. J. Griffin a naturalist and member of the British Lyceum of Natural History. Dr. Griffin proclaimed the mermaid to be authentic. In reality, Dr. Griffin was really a man named Levi Lyman and he was in the employ of Barnum. There was no such society as the British Lyceum of Natural History. Lyman was not even English.
Despite being a huge initial success, the novelty of the exhibition quickly wore of and New Yorkers became indifferent to the mermaid exhibition. Barnum eventually moved on to other fantastic displays. For the next twenty years the mermaid split its time between Barnum’s museum in New York and Kimball’s museum in Boston. It did have one unsuccessful tour of the south and one tour or London which also proved uneventful.
Today, The Feejee Mermaid is lost. No one is quite sure as to its whereabouts. Its last documented location was in Kimball’s museum in 1859. Common theory supposes that the mermaid was destroyed when Barnum’s museum burned down in 1865 or when Kimball’s did the same in 1880. There are several sideshows and private collectors claiming possession of the original mermaid most notably Canada’s Carnival Diablo’s World of Wonders Freakshow and Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
The term ‘Feejee Mermaid’ now essentially refers to any gaffed mermaid, of which there are now many.

Friday, 26 August 2011

GEORGE LIPPERT – Three Legs, Two Hearts

lippert 707012 GEORGE LIPPERT   Three Legs, Two Hearts
George Lippert was born in Germany in 1844. In addition to being born with three legs, he was also born with two functioning hearts although that condition was unknown until is autopsy in 1906.
His third leg was fully formed and even possessed an extra toe, giving Lippert a total of sixteen. The leg was not functional. Lippert claimed that his leg had been fully functional until it sustained a fracture. Whether this is a fact or not remains a mystery, but during his career the leg hung motionless.
Early in his career George was billed as the ‘only Three Legged Man on Earth’ and he proved to be quite an attraction. Lippert even worked an exhibit with P. T. Barnum. However evidence indicates that he may not have been the easiest person to do business with. No photographs exist of George Lippert. The pitch card above shows only a painting of Lippert and remains the only pitch card ever used by Lippert. Considering that his career spanned decades and coincided with a great boom in sideshow photography, this is highly unusual and raises several red flags.
Furthermore, when another three legged man appeared in 1898, Lippert was quickly pushed aside and the new prodigy rose to great fame. The Three Legged Man was replaced. By 1899 Lippert was penniless and homeless. He eventually found a benefactor in a florist named Mary Riggs and Lippert cohabitated with Riggs in Salem, Oregon for seven years.
In the summer of 1906 George Lippert died of tuberculosis at the age 62. The autopsy revealed his two hearts and also showed that one heart died two to three weeks before his eventual death. Doctors declared that if Lippert had not had tuberculosis he could have easy lived on for many years. He would have been sustained by his secondary heart.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

FRANCESCO LENTINI – The Three- Legged Man

Lentini 779196 FRANCESCO LENTINI   The Three  Legged ManLentini was born in 1889 in Rosolini in the province of Sirocusa, Sicily as one of twelve children. Technically, he was one of 12 and a half children. His twin brother, who consisted of a leg and a set of genitals, was born attached to Francesco’s spine. While he was billed as ‘The Man With Three Legs’, Lentini actually had four feet as a small malformed secondary foot protruded from his third leg. Thus in total he had three legs, four feet, sixteen toes and two sets of functioning male genitals. Furthermore, to complicate his life further, all of Francesco’s legs were of different lengths.
As a child, Lentini hated his extra limbs and appendages. Doctors determined that because of their proximity to his spine, removal could have resulted in paralysis. Lentini was raised by his aunt after his parents refused to acknowledge him and she, meaning well, enrolled the young Lentini into a home for disabled children. While there he saw children far worse off than he. He saw children who could not walk at all and he gained a new appreciation for life. Lentini not only learned to walk, he also ran, jumped rope, rode a bicycle and even ice skate. His time at the home for disabled children was an experience he quoted for many years as his major motivation.
In 1898, at the age of eight, Lentini arrived in America and became an instant sensation. He charmed crowds with his keen wit and sense of humor. He wowed audiences with his unusual agility as well. He had amazing control over his extra appendage. During performances Lentini was well known for kicking a soccer ball about with the strange limb. As he grew older, Lentini’s performances focused on his charming character.
He would conduct interviews while propped up on his extra limb, using it as a stool. He fielded questions ranging from his innocent hobbies to the particulars of his sex life. He was also often asked about his shoes. People wondered if it was difficult to buy shoes in a set of three. Showing his mental sharpness, he always revealed that he bought two pairs and gave the extra one to a one-legged friend.
His charm did not go unnoticed and a young lady named Theresa Murray soon took a liking to Lentini. The pair soon wed and together they had four healthy children. Lentini continued touring until he died at the age of seventy-eight in 1966. His career spanned over forty years and he worked with every major circus and sideshow including Barnum & Bailey and Coney Island. Lentini was so respected among his peers that he was often simply called ‘The King’.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

ANNA SWAN – The Giantess of Nova Scotia

annaswan 780435 ANNA SWAN   The Giantess of Nova Scotia
Anna Swan was born in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia on August 6th, 1846. She was a large baby. She began her life at eighteen pounds and simply continued to grow. By the age of four she was almost five feet tall. By the time she was sixteen, Anna towered over her parents and 12 siblings. When she was done growing Anna stood a staggering seven feet, eleven and a half inches tall.
She began her exhibition career shortly after her seventeenth birthday. She started at the very top, working with P. T. Barnum in his New York Museum. Anna was often paired with the famous midget Tom Thumb, to better accentuate both of their statures.
Anna made a great deal of money under the management of Barnum. Unfortunately, her career with the famous promoter was rife with disaster. The original Barnum Museum caught fire while Anna was on exhibit there and she barely escaped with her life. Trapped on an upper floor, Firemen were unable to carry her to safety. Instead, an outside wall was demolished and a crane was called to facilitate the rescue. When Barnum rebuilt his museum, Anna returned only to lose all of her possessions in a second museum fire. Anna quit the business for a time and returned to Nova Scotia. However, in 1869, Barnum invited her on a tour of the United States.
While on tour Anna met a Kentucky gentleman named Martin Van Buren Bates. Bates had been a Confederate Captain during the Civil War. He was charming, soft spoken and eloquent. He also happened to be nearly eight feet tall. The pair fell in love and married on June 17th, 1871. The pair, billed as the ‘World’s Tallest Couple’ were showered with wedding gifts. Queen Victoria herself provided the gown and diamond ring.
The Gigantic couple settled in Seville, Ohio and used their vast career earnings to build a colossal home. The ceilings were fourteen feet high, every door was at over eight feet in height and every piece of furniture was custom build for their frames. The pair continued to tour, but only sparingly.
In 1872 Anna gave birth to her first child. The little girl weighted eighteen pounds, just like her mother had, but unfortunately did not survive long after birth. In 1879 the couple had another child, this time a twenty-two pound boy. Sadly, he too did not survive past infancy.
Despite these tragedies, the two titans lived together in their custom home quite happily in love. In 1888, one day before her forty-second birthday, Anna passed away unexpectedly. Her husband, Martin, erected a great funeral monument to his wife.
Atop her grave towers a fifteen foot statue of a Greek Goddess.
Although Martin later remarried he insisted that, upon his death, he be laid to rest next to his beloved Anna and their children. He request was granted and today they rest together.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

GRADY STILES JR. – The Murderous Lobster Man

lobsterboy 796257 GRADY STILES JR.   The Murderous Lobster ManGrady Stiles Jr. is a rarity in the world of Human Marvels. By many accounts, this teratological terror was every bit the monster he appeared to be.
The Stiles family has been afflicted for over a century with ectrodactyly, a condition commonly known as ‘Lobster Claw’ syndrome. It is a rare congenital deformity of the hand where the middle digit is missing and the hand is cleft where the metacarpal of the finger should be. This split often gives the hands the appearance of lobster claws although cases range in severity. Often this condition occurs in both the hands and the feet and, while it is an inherited condition, it can skip a generation. While the term ectrodactyly sounds medically sterile when compared to ‘Lobster Claw Syndrome’.
William Stiles was apparently the first in the family to display the condition in 1805. He was followed by Jacob Stiles, Elisha Stiles and Grady Stiles Sr. Grady Sr. was a sideshow attraction and when Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr., ‘The Lobster Boy’, was born in Pittsburgh on July 18, 1937 his father added him to the show at a young age.
Grady’s condition was severe and he was unable to walk. He learned to use his hands and arms for locomotion and, as a result, developed incredible upper body strength. He married twice and had four children. Two of those children, a girl, Cathy, and a boy, Grady III, were born with variations of ectrodactyly. Although the siblings were from different mothers, they sometimes toured together as The Lobster Family.
Grady had a dark side. He was known to be a highly abusive drunk. He often used his frightening strength to beat his wives and his children. When his oldest daughter Donna fell in love and became engaged with a young man in 1978, Grady didn’t approve with her choice. Perhaps the young man stuck up for Donna, perhaps he confronted Grady. The night before the pair was to be married; Grady picked up a shotgun and murdered the young groom in cold blood.
The trial was a media circus. In court Grady openly confessed to his crime and showed little remorse. However, he did not serve any time for the murder. He used his condition to his advantage. It was stated that since the prison system was not equipped to deal with his ‘disability’, confining him to such an institution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Grady was let off on 15 years probation.
Following these events, Grady felt invincible. When he resumed beating his family one of his favourite taunts was ‘I killed before and got away with it, I can do it again’. Amazingly, during this time Stiles remarried his first wife Maria. She left her new husband, a sideshow dwarf, to remarry Grady and almost instantly regretted the choice.
Eventually, the family had had enough. On November 29, 1993 Grady was gunned down by a hired assassin. The hitman was then 19 year old sideshow performer Chris Wyant, a neighbor to the Stiles family. He was paid $1500 in cash by Maria and her stepson Harry, to put three bullets into the skull of Grady Stiles Jr.
Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-seven years. Harry was considered the mastermind behind the plot. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
In her defense, Maria stated ‘My husband was going to kill my family. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry this happened, but my family is safe now’.
The family has carried on. Grady III has a daughter, Sara, who does not have ectrodactyly. Cathy is married and has a lobster-clawed daughter named Misty. The three of them still perform on occasion. Cathy has taken up acting and has appeared in the series Carnivale and in the Tim Burton film Big Fi

Monday, 22 August 2011


nikolaikobelkoff 773727 NIKOLAI KOBELKOFF   The Human TrunkBorn on July 22, 1851 in Siberia, Russia, Nikolai Wassiljewittsch Kobelkoff was the fourteenth child of normal parents. He was born without limbs, as a living torso.
Despite the murmured superstitions surrounding the young Nikolai, he was eventually befriended by a kind schoolmaster and he was able to obtain a proper education. Having no hands to grip a pencil, Nikolai adapted and was soon able to write by holding a pencil under his chin. His right stump proved useful due the fact that it was rather bony. Eventually his technique proved to be quite accurate. He eventually even took up painting.
In 1871 Nikolai began his exhibition career in St. Petersburg. He his initial venue lasted two years. Like many limbless marvels, his exhibition consisted of mundane tasks accomplished via extraordinary dexterity. His most notable feat was threading needles before awed audiences. In later exhibitions, Nikolai would simply paint. This was likely a rare instance where watching paint dry was entertaining. He also sometimes ate a full meal in front of the audience, even pouring the wine himself.
During his exhibitions, he would also display his means of locomotion, which was much more dynamic then many other limbless marvels. While he would sometimes crawl about like the later Prince Randian, he was incredibly limber. He would often leap on and off of chairs and even hop down flights of stairs. On occasion, Nikolai would also perform a headstand.
Nikolai was also a powerfully built man, despite the lack of limbs. On rare occasions, he would demonstrate his strength by perching an audience member on his stump and lifting them.
His great success in St. Petersburg warranted a tour. Eventually, Nikolai performed in every major European country and for many notable nobles. While performing in Austria in 1875, he met a Viennese woman named Anna Wilfert and the two were married the same year in Budapest. The couple had their first child in June of 1876. Ten more would follow and all were average in appearance.
Nikolai died in January 1933 as a wealthy and accomplished man. In 1898 Nikolai produced the short film Kobelkoff which documented his act. He published a memoir. His nude photo still elicits conversations. He was even able to buy his own amusement park which his descendants continue to run.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

NORA HILDEBRANDT – The First Tattooed Lady

Nora Hildebrandt 787260 NORA HILDEBRANDT   The First Tattooed LadyNora Hildebrandt was America’s first professional tattooed lady. Her place in history is due mostly to the fact that her father, German born Martin Hildebrandt, was America’s first professional tattoo artist. Nora stood in as a canvas for her father when he was not tattooing sailors and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War.
Martin set up shop in New York in 1846 and Nora was born sometime in the 1850’s. Nora began to exhibit herself in 1882. By that time, she was covered in tattoo ink, neck to toe, with a reported 365 tattooed designs. She toured primarily with Barnum & Bailey Circus throughout the 1890’s. Initially, she borrowed heavily from the embellished origins laid out by the tattooed men of years past like John Rutherford and Captain Constentenus. In her fictional biography, Nora stated that she and her father were originally forcibly tattooed by American Indians. According to her story, she was tattooed daily for an entire year, while tied to a tree. At one point, she even claimed that Sitting Bull was involved in her torture. Nora’s fabricated tale proved to entertain audiences but she eventually discounted it and regaled audiences instead with the details of the work done by her father while displaying her body for all to see.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

LEN AND ERNIE – Two Boys, One Head

Ernie Lenn 732281 LEN AND ERNIE   Two Boys, One Head

On July 7th, 1931 in Winnipeg, Manitoba Ernie Defort was born with a parasitic twin attached at to his sternum.
Ernie’s brother consisted of a headless rudimentary body with two arms and two legs. As such, Erie was billed as being ‘Two Boys with One Head’. Ernie’s twin was even given a name, and together they were often billed as ‘Len and Ernie’ or sometimes ‘Lester and Ernie’. The body was actually quite well formed with two arms and legs as well as two livers and a set of kidneys.
Ernie’s short career was mostly limited to Canadian appearances with Conklin Shows. In 1942 Ernie’s health began to be an issue due to the continued growth of his brother.
At the age of 12, the decision was made to amputate Len. Ernie was not pleased with the idea as he was very emotionally attached to his brother. He once was even quoted as saying then when spanked, he would prefer the bottom of his brother take the brunt.
He was taken to the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester in December of 1943 where ‘Len’ was amputated by renown surgeon and sarcoma specialist Dr. Henry Meyerding, known more for his cancer research then parasitic twin separation.
Dr. Meyerding observed that Ernie was an ‘unusually strong and intelligent boy’ stating that his intelligence at 12 was more on par with a 19 year old. Furthermore, the Dr. claimed that Ernie would be ready to return to school ‘in four to six weeks’.
Ernie physically survived the more than two hour operation and reportedly suffered depression and some psychological problems after the loss of the parasitic twin he regarded as a brother. However he eventually came to terms with his loss and went on to live a full and well adjusted life, without the companionship of his ‘little brother’.
Frank Conklin believes that Ernie was married later in life and would sometimes return to the Carnival later in life with his family.

Friday, 19 August 2011

THE TOCCI TWINS – The Blended Brothers

tocci 788791 THE TOCCI TWINS   The Blended Brothers
Giacomo and Giovanni Batista Tocci are something of a strange enigma. Despite being enormously popular with both the public and the medical community during their career, little is actually know about the joined siblings. Furthermore, what is known is often confused and contradicted by various sources.
What is certain is that the brothers were born in Locana, Italy. However sources cannot agree on the date of their birth. It is safe to assume that the boys were born in early October, with the fourth being the general consensus, in 1877. Their mother was only 19 at the time of their birth, her first child (children) but the boys were tiny and the birth was apparently an easy one. Reports indicate that the Tocci family welcomed a total of nine children, all average but the twins.
The only other thing certain about the brothers is that they were dicephalus twins joined at the sixth rib. Their abdomen consisted of separate hearts and organs and each of the brothers had two functional arms. However the two were as one below the point of fusion and shared intestines, a pair of legs and one set of genitalia.
The brothers had great difficulty walking. Each brother controlled one leg and many believe they lacked the co-ordination required to walk. Again, some believe that this was not the reason for their difficulty as subsequent dicephalus twins have mastered bipedal walking. Giacomo had a clubfoot and many attribute this to their lack of mobility. Regardless of the reason, instead of walking the brothers used their arms for locomotion. Their mode of transport was once described as ‘spider-like’.
From birth the brothers were exhibited around Europe, with their father as manager, which eventually led to a very influential tour of the United States in 1891. During their visit, author Mark Twain was so inspired by their appearance that he used them as the basis for his short story ‘Those Extraordinary Twins’. It was also in the United States that the brother adopted their most famous moniker, ‘The Blended Brothers’. In 1892 the twins performed in New York and in a bit of showmanship their billing claimed that one boy spoke only German and the other only French. For the performance, which was preceded that evening by Jo-Jo ‘The Dog-Faced Boy’, they obliged.
The brothers spoke several European languages.
Throughout their life, the twins were the subject of intense medical examination. Their first complete exam was performed one month after their birth. They first appeared in medical literature, Lyon Medical Magazine, following an 1878 examination in Paris. While touring Vienna in 1881 they were touted by the medical community as ‘The Greatest Wonder in the World’. The twins were subject to illustration and photography, including a nude set.
The intelligence of the boys continues to be the subject of much debate as many articles refer to Giacomo being ‘somewhat idiotic’ when compared to his brother. However, those observations were made during infancy and later reports make no mention of any discernable intellectual deficiency. In fact, later reports hail Giacomo as being the more artistically creative of the two.
In 1897, at the age of 20, the boys decided to retire. Together, they had made a great fortune for themselves and their family. During their peak, they made more that $1000 a week. But the boys never really cared for the fame thrust upon them. They purchased a high walled villa near Venice. In 1904 appeared in the media and caused a great controversy by getting married to two separate women. The knowledge of their shared genitalia was public knowledge and their wives were labeled as vulgar.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

OLIVER – The Humanzee

humanzee 720186 OLIVER   The HumanzeeA Human Marvel, perhaps?
Oliver was different from all other apes, very different.
During his initial run in the freak shows of the 1970’s Oliver was billed as a missing link, as a hybrid of man and chimpanzee, a ‘humanzee’. This claim was substantiated with a bold medical statement claiming that Oliver possessed 47 chromosomes, one more than man and one less than a typical chimpanzee.
Forgoing the medical claims, the sheer appearance and demeanor of Oliver set him apart from other primates. His peculiar human-like facial features, light eye color, pattern baldness and soft voice were often enough to convince spectators of his unusual pedigree. His mannerisms were extremely human and the fact that Oliver was bipedal, that he walked upright unlike other chimps and apes, certainly furthered all claims. He was not trained to walk upright; it was simply his natural and favored means of movement.
When he was first brought over from the Congo by Frank and Janet Burger, famous animal trainers often featured on the Ed Sullivan Show, his uniqueness was quickly identified. The Burger family claimed that their other chimps wanted nothing to do with Oliver, that he was shunned by their society. Surprisingly, Oliver was fine with the arrangement as he preferred the company of his human handlers. He proved to be a great asset to them as he spontaneously began doing their chores. He would often feed the animals and even used tools, like a wheelbarrow, when loads were too much to handle. His intelligence and ability to learn was astounding. As he grew older, Oliver acquired the human habits of morning coffee drinking and evening cocktails, often mixing his own drinks. His behavior was not just mimicry either as Oliver demonstrated on numerous occasions his ability to overcome obstacles and extrapolate solutions using his logic or previously learned behavior and concepts.
Oliver was sexually attracted to human females as well and, due to his strength, was considered a danger to handlers and spectators. He was passed around between various promoters and animal handlers for a number of years, all of them unable to cope with his unusual habits and personality. In 1986 Oliver was sold to a lab. Amazingly, Oliver was spared from typically torturous and fatal laboratory experimentation due to his unique characteristics. He was simply not considered a viable specimen because there were too many variables in his genetics when compared to other chimps in the lab. Any experimentation performed on him would have been tainted in the eyes of researchers. Instead, Oliver spent seven years in a tiny five by seven cage.
In 1996 Oliver was rescued and lived the remainder of his days in a chimpanzee retirement villa. While there formal tests performed by the University of Chicago revealed that Oliver had the same number of chromosomes as all other chimps. It was noted during testing, however, that something in his genetic code was indeed different.
Is a human/ape hybrid possible? Many think so. In 1929 Soviet biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was allegedly very close to creating such a creature. Frightening those in power, he was exiled to the Kazakh SSR during the Great Purge where he died two years later.
In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg, which genetically is the ape furthest from humans.
Was Oliver a hybrid? Likely not, but at the very least, he was most certainly a extraordinary mutant.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

CARL UNTHAN – The Armless Fiddler

01engcoverhx7 733882 CARL UNTHAN   The Armless FiddlerCarl Herman Unthan was born on April 5th, 1848 in Sommerfield, East Prussia. Some stories claim that he was very nearly smothered by the delivering midwife, a popular narrative in the birth accounts of many marvels, and that he was rescued by his father before the evil deed was done.
It was his father who pushed young Carl to use his feet as one would use hands. Before long, the boy was able to grasp objects and write legibly. In his early 20’s, Unthan began to learn the violin and quickly became very adept at playing the instrument with his feet. In addition to touring the globe, he was also invited to play before Strauss in Vienna.
Early in his career as a vaudevillian performer his performance was similar to other limbless marvels. Often he would perform various mundane tasks like shuffling cards and smoking cigarettes and he made these tasks amazing by using only his feet. However, Unthan’s ability with music soon took precedent and he was recognized more as a legitimate musician than odd exhibit.
During WWI, Carl was served with the German Army in a moral role. He would visit hospitals and demonstrate his abilities to recent amputees affirming that their lives were not over due to the loss of limbs. He even stared in a film which showcased his lack of physical limitations.
In 1928, at the age of 80, Carl Unthan passed away a fulfilled and wealthy man. In 1935 his autobiography ‘The Armless Fiddler’ was published and world remount for a second time.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

PERUMAL – The Other Happy Hindoo

perumal 755848 PERUMAL   The Other Happy HindooPerumal was born in Madras, India in 1888 and his images are often mistaken for fellow multi-limbed Indian Laloo. Perumal began his exhibition career at a very young age and often appeared in photographs with an companion Indian dwarf named Soopromanien, who was sometime mistakenly called Sami. Sami was Perumal’s family name.
He toured primarily in Europe, but did tour briefly with the Ringling Bros. circus. While in America he gained a reputation for being a difficult and a perfectionist and displaying a strong dislike for western culture. He often refused to eat ‘American food’ and eventually employed his own Indian cooks to prepare his meals.
Just like Laloo and other marvels with parasitic twin, Perumal’s twin was billed as being female and was dressed accordingly. That was, of course impossibility and all parasitic twins are same-sexed.

Monday, 15 August 2011

LIONEL – The Lion-Faced Boy

lionel 734148 LIONEL   The Lion Faced Boy
Stefan Bibrowski was born in 1890 in Warsaw. He was discovered by a unknown German showman at the age of four and, with the permission of his parents, he began his exhibition career in 1895. He was given the name Lionel The Lion-Faced Boy and a back story involving his mother witnessing his father being eaten by a lion was added to his biography. This was cited as the cause of his four inch long fur and the concept – know as imprinting – was a commonly held belief in the 1800′s.
He did indeed have hypertrichosis and by all accounts was a very intelligent man who spoke at least five languages and had aspirations of being a dentist. Physically he was not an imposing figure as his official height was only five feet, three inches. Also, as is common with many forms of hypertrichosis, Lionel only had a couple of teeth in his mouth.
Lionel toured mostly in Europe but he did do several American tours – almost always with Barnum & Bailey Shows and once with Coney Island Dreamland Circus in New Jersey. He actually truly enjoyed the opportunities provided by his unusual hairiness. In fact, in 1904 in New York, the hotel he was staying at caught fire and Lionel was the very first man out. He was terrified of having his furry faced singed. He was quoted as stating if that happened he ‘would just be an ordinary man’.
Shortly after becoming a German citizen in 1932, Lionel passed away. He had no wife and or children on record. According to some reports he died in Italy and according to others, he died in a Nazi concentration camp – despite being a Catholic.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

STANLEY BERENT – Sealo the Seal Boy

sealo 736869 STANLEY BERENT   Sealo the Seal Boy
Stanislaus Berent was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 24, 1901. ‘Stanley’s’ stunted arms, a condition known as phocomelia, were due to a genetic fault and likely not due to chemical exposure. Phocomelia is a common defect associated with exposure to the drug thalidomide. Over 10,000 children were born with severe malformations due to prescription of the drug during the 50’s and 60’s.
According to many accounts, Stanley was discovered selling newspapers. He went on to appear in every major sideshow and dime museum in the United States. Calling himself ‘Sealo’, as phocomelia literally translates to ‘seal arms’, his performance consisted of completing mundane tasks without the use of full limbs. An ingenious stick and hock device often allowed Sealo to complete nearly any task. Furthermore, what truly set him apart from the other limbless marvels was his spectacular personality. He was loved by everyone, from colleagues, to spectators and even members of the animal kingdom. While touring with Ward Hall, Sealo befriended a young chimpanzee. When spectators mocked or teased Sealo, the chimpanzee was known to attack.Perhaps due to orthopedic issues, or just a matter of comfort, Sealo often stayed in hotels rather than camp on the fairgrounds like many other performers. This practice, which may have seemed elitist, was simply accepted by his peers and no issue was ever made of it. Again, his character likely got him off the hook.
In 1972 Ward Hall’s show came under attack from a political correctness group who believed the workers were being exploited. An obscure 1921 Florida law that banned the exhibition of the ‘handicapped’ was cited. Sealo, Ward Hall and a band of performers sued the State of Florida and the law was eventually repealed.
In 1976, Sealo retired to Gibsonton and eventually returned to Pittsburgh when his health began to falter. He passed away in 1980. His career spanned over 30 years.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Wang the Human Unicorn

wangthehumanunicorn 204x300 HORNED HUMANS   Wang the Human Unicorn

Horned humans have a rich background in myth. Also, from the horns of Alexander to the horns of Moses many important figures have been purported to possess horns. While in these cases the horns were a matter of misinterpretation or illusion, many notable naturalists and medical scholars have recorded occurrences of genuine horned humans. While technically not horns, human beings have been known to sprout horn-like outgrowths and many of these outgrowths have been located on the head. The earliest reliable account can be found in the report of German surgeon Fabricius Hildanus. In the late 1500’s he encountered a man with horns protruding from his forehead. Several other cases have been well documented by noted naturalists and medical experts. In his book Anatomicae Institutiones Corporis Humani Dutch naturalist Bartholinus mentions a patient with a horn measuring 12 inches and in 1696 there was a well know case involving an old woman in France who had her amputated 12 inch horn presented to the King. There is also an account from around the same time regarding the extirpation of a horn nearly ten inches in length from the forehead of a woman of eighty-two. Finally, in 1886 the famous dermatologist Jean Baptiste Emile Vidal presented before the Academie de Medecine a twisted horn from the head of a woman. That horn was ten inches long. Several surgeons and naturalist recorded similar events and many went on to remove and actually collect the horns. There is one human horn 11 inches long and 2 1/2 in circumference currently in the collection of a London museum.
All told, before 1900, there were over one hundred confirmed cases of horned human beings. A correlation between ages and gender became apparent with elderly female cases being more common. Surprisingly, the horns would often begin growing back after being removed, this occurred in the Vidal patent, and there is one case in which the condition seemed genetic, with both a father and son displaying the condition.
Perhaps the most famous of all the horned marvels was Ripley’s ‘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 causes for human horns are varied. Most often it is attributed to benign calvarial tumours, such as osteomas, and an aggressive variant of a condition known as cornu cutaneum. It is important to note that ‘horns’ can grow anywhere on the human body but that the condition manifesting on the head only is a rarity. Today, horned human beings are practically non existent. There have been very few cases in the last one hundred years with modern medicine likely diagnosing and eliminating the situation before it grows into a real problem. Still, the occasional case does crop up.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


ravenna 740258 THE MONSTER OF RAVENNAIn March of 1512 a well respected Florentine apothecary named Lucca Landucci made quite a startling entry into his diary. He described a monster born in Ravenna. He described The Monster as having a single horn upon its head, two bat-like wings, and markings upon its chest, a serpentine and hermaphrodic lower body, a single eye set in its knee and an eagle like claw for a foot.
While Landucci had only seen a painting of the marvel, the creature likely did exist. Records indicate that Pope Julius II ordered the child starved to death. The account of Landucci is one of the earliest reliable recordings of a prodigy at the dawn of a new era of recognition and understanding. It also documents the first definable instance of real prodigious birth elevated to mythic proportions.
The rumor of The Monster spread across Europe aided and accompanied by dozens of woodcuts and engravings. With each telling and illustration the monsters became more and more bizarre. When it left Florence, the Monster had two serpentine legs; by Paris it had a single claw. Depending on the story that accompanied The Monster, its wings were either bat like or angelic. Sometime the Monster was a Saint, and at other times The Devil itself.
While no one is certain as to what the monster really was but it was almost certainly a child born with a severe and unusual genetic disorder. Upon its birth, people could not stop taking about The Monster. People simply had to see the illustrations. They had to hear the stories. Even now, hundreds of years after the original event, people are still talking.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

SENEB – A Dwarf in Egypt

seneb SENEB   A Dwarf in Egypt
Seneb was a 4th or early 5th Dynasty dwarf and was chief of the royal wardrobe and priest of the funerary cults of Khufu. A statue still exists of him and it depicts him with his family – including his wife who was of normal stature. Also, the Egyptian gods Bes and Ptah were often depicted as dwarves. To say that dwarves were accepted and often revered members of ancient Egyptian society would be an understatement.

Amenemope at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.E. set down laws to protect those born different from the norm:

‘Mock not the blind nor deride the dwarf nor block the cripple’s path; don’t tease a man made ill by a god nor make outcry when he blunders.’

Dwarfism was unusually common in ancient Egypt – in fact, over 150 mummified dwarves and skeletons are currently in museum collections and scenes depicting dwarfs often adorned tomb walls. The reason for this is quite simple. The specific form of dwarfism that was present was achondroplasia – which is one of many forms of dwarfism. But Achondroplasia, which is characterized by abnormal bone growth that results in short stature with disproportionately short arms and legs, a large head, and characteristic facial features, is a dominant genetic mutation – thus there is a 50% chance of passing the trait to offspring. Considering the fact that Egypt was a closed society for quite some time and the total acceptance of dwarfs, the chance for these individuals to procreate without prejudice was favorable.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

ALFRED LANGEVIN – Smokes Thru His Eyes

The name of this gentleman is Alfred Langevin. He resided in Detroit, Michigan but was under the employ of Robert Ripley. Mr. Langevin was featured not only in the Believe-It-Or-Not cartoons of Ripley, but also appeared in Ripley’s renowned Odditorium from 1933 to 1940 and was even featured on the 1933 Odditorium postcard.
Not only could Mr. Langevin use his eye socket to smoke, he could also blow up balloons and play a recorder. It should be noted that Mr. Langevin indeed had two very real and functioning eyes. The medical reason for his unusual ability remains unknown but is likely due to an anomaly in the development of his tear gland. This rare tear gland defect is responsible for the fairly recent Guinness Book category of ‘squirting milk from the eye’. The record is currently held by Mike Moraal of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The record is for distance and Mike managed 8.745 feet in 2001.

rippaulzz6 ALFRED LANGEVIN   Smokes Thru His Eyes
Mr. Langevin demonstrating his unique ability alongside fellow performer ‘Big Mouth’ Paul McWilliams during their run with Ripley.

Monday, 8 August 2011


lourello 725623 MARTIN LAURELLO   The Human Owl
The gentleman depicted is Martin Laurello, born Martin Emmerling, and he hailed from Nuremburg, Germany. He was an anatomical wonder, able to turn his head 180 degrees. How he accomplished this feat is unknown, however this trait has been duplicated. In fact, a  U.S soldier performed the same anatomical stunt to amuse his fellow recruits. In that video, it appears that the stunt is performed by twisting both the neck and the torso – that said, it is still very likely linked to a genetic trait. Without that predisposition, injury and perhaps death is highly likely.
Martin first appeared in the United States in 1921 though he had performed in Europe previously. Initially, he was tied to Dreamland circus but he also did stints with Barnum & Bailey, Ringling Bros. and, perhaps most notably, with Ripley’s Odditorium. His last recorded appearance was in 1945, with Ripley.
It was rumored that Martin was a Nazi sympathizer. His attitude did little to endear him to his fellow performers. It is likely that Martin burnt too many bridges in the sideshow community and opted to retire. No one knows what became of him, but it is rumored that he passed away in the 1950’s.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

MYRTLE CORBIN – The Four-Legged Woman

myrtle 798150 MYRTLE CORBIN   The Four Legged WomanMyrtle Corbin, was known as the Four-Legged Woman – however that moniker was slightly misleading. While at a glance one could plainly see four legs dangling beyond the hem of her dress – only one pair belonged to her, the other set to her dipygus twin sister.
Born in Lincoln County, TN in 1868 and spending most of her childhood in Blount County, AL – where she can be found in the 1880 census – her condition was incredibly rare. The tiny body of her twin was only fully developed from the waist down and even then it was malformed – tiny and possessing only three toes on each foot. Myrtle was able to control the limbs of her sister but was unable to use them for walking and she herself had a difficult time getting around as she was born with a clubbed foot. Technically, the ‘Four-Legged Woman’ only had one good, usable leg.
Myrtle was a popular attraction with P.T. Barnum, and later with Ringling Bros. and Coney Island. Her popularity was likely linked to her showmanship – she would often dress the extra limbs with socks and shoes matching her own and this gave her a truly surreal appearance. Myrtle was so popular that she was able to earn as much as $450 dollars a week.
At the age of 19 Myrtle married a doctor named Clinton Bicknell. It was then that other aspects of her bizarre anatomy became evident. It seems that her twin sister was also fully sexually formed – thus Myrtle possessed two vaginas. She had four daughters and a son and it has been rumored that three of her children were born from one set of organs and two from the other. Whether this is true or not; it is medically possible. In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle it was observed that both vaginas menstruated – thus indicating both were possibly sexually functional.
Myrtle passed on May 6, 1928, surrounded by family and friends.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Lizardman

The Lizardman
Born Erik Sprague
June 21, 1972 (age 39)
Fort Campbell, KY
Residence Austin, Texas
Occupation performer
Known for extensive body modifications

Erik Sprague (born June 12, 1972, Fort Campbell, KY ) better known as The Lizardman, is a freak show and sideshow performer, best known for his body modification, including his sharpened teeth, full-body tattoo of green scales, bifurcated tongue, subdermal implants and recently, green-inked lips. There have been rumors of him hoping to get a tail transplant, however those have been debunked because according to Erik himself, it would be impossible.
The Lizardman makes his living as a freak, performing before audiences all over the world. He also makes numerous paid television and public appearances. He has mastered and regularly performs many classic sideshow acts such as the human blockhead, fire eating and breathing, gavage, sword swallowing, the bed of nails, the Human Dartboard, and the insectivore. He also participates in many public and private flesh hook suspension groups and events, and is highly involved in the body modification community. He also writes articles on the Body Modification E-zine. His rock band, LIZARD SKYNYRD, will release a self-titled album in late 2010.
The Lizardman was a Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany before beginning his transformation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.
The Lizardman also hosts the J├Ągermeister Music Tour, with bands including Disturbed, Slayer, and Slipknot.
The Lizardman currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Meghan and their pet ferrets.