The term ‘circus’ has a history of over 150 years. Philip Astley launched the first circus in 1768 in England. The traditional circus has a team of highly trained acrobats, clowns and animals working together to entertain the crowd. It’s also a bit weird to be honest. Where else would you find such obedient wild animals, or watch girls spiraling in mid-air, or clowns performing ridiculous acts in plain view!
Most vintage circuses prided themselves on their range of exotic animals and wonderful side-shows. However, in its illustrious history spanning centuries, the circus has undergone a sea-change in terms of its performances and scale.
Here are some of the most iconic and shocking performers from the best of vintage circus freak acts.
10. The three-legged man
Francesco Lentini, also known as ‘The King’ was born in Sicily, Italy with three legs. He shifted base to the USA at the tender age of eight. Over the next forty years, he had an illustrious career in several major circuses including Ringling Brothers. He is well respected in the vintage circus fraternity.(source)
9. The dog-faced boy
Fedor Jeftichew, popularly known as Jo-Jo was Russian. He suffered from hypertrichosis, a rare disease that led to abnormal hair growth. Barnum picked him up in 1884 and called him the Human Skye Terrier. Jo-Jo died an early death from pneumonia at the age of 36 during a tour.(source)
8. The snake man
Prince Randian (as he was called) suffered from tetra-amelia syndrome. He lost all his limbs to this rare disease. He was launched in 1889 by Barnum. He also acted in the 1932 film Freaks.(source)
7. Minnesota Woolly Girl
Alice Elizabeth Doherty was suffering from rare medical condition hypertrichosis lanuginosa, which resulted in a mane of fine and silky blonde hair.(source)
6. Koo Koo The Bird Girl
Minnie Woolsey was born in 1880. There is very little information about her early life, she suffered from a rare medical disorder called Virchow-Seckel syndrome, which caused her to have a very short stature, a small head, a narrow bird-like face with a beak-like nose, large eyes with an antimongoloid.(source)