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A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular culture as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual
humans Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A speci ...
, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with intersex variations, those with extraordinary diseases and conditions, and others with performances expected to be shocking to viewers. Heavily
tattoo A tattoo is a form of body modification Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy The human body is the structure of a human being. It is composed of many different types of cells that to ...

tattoo
ed or
pierced Body piercing, which is a form of body modification, is the practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewelry may be worn, or where an Implant (medicine), implant could be inserted. The word ''pierc ...
people have sometimes been seen in freak shows (more common in modern times as a
sideshow In North America, a sideshow is an extra, secondary production associated with a circus A circus is a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment shows that may include clown A clown is a person who wears a unique makeup ...
act), as have attention-getting physical performers such as fire-eating and
sword-swallowing
sword-swallowing
acts. Since at least the
Medieval period In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
, deformed people have often been treated as objects of interest and entertainment, and crowds have flocked to see them exhibited. A famous
early modern The early modern period of modern history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of 's past. It is understood through , , , and , and since the , from and s. Humanity's written history was preceded by its , beginning with ...
example was the exhibition at the court of
King Charles I of the King of the Romans (variant used in the early modern period) File:Nezahualpiltzintli.jpg, Aztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen re ...

King Charles I
of
Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo Image:Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo.jpg, 200px, Lazarus and his brother Joannes Baptista in a contemporary etching. Lazarus Colloredo and Joannes Baptista Colloredo (1617 – after 1646) were Italy, Italian conjoined twins who toured frea ...

Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo
, two conjoined brothers born in
Genoa Genoa ( ; it, Genova ; locally ; lij, Zêna ; English, historically, and la, Genua) is the capital of the Regions of Italy, Italian region of Liguria and the List of cities in Italy, sixth-largest city in Italy. In 2015, 594,733 people lived ...

Genoa
,
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest ...

Italy
. While Lazarus appeared to be otherwise ordinary, the underdeveloped body of his brother dangled from his chest. When Lazarus was not exhibiting himself, he covered his brother with his cloak to avoid unnecessary attention. As well as exhibitions, freak shows were popular in the
tavern A tavern is a place of business where people gather to drink alcoholic beverage An alcoholic drink is a drink A drink (or beverage) is a liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuu ...

tavern
s and fairgrounds where the freaks were often combined with talent displays. For example, in the 18th century,
Matthias Buchinger Matthias Buchinger (; June 2, 1674 January 17, 1740), sometimes called Matthew Buckinger in English, was a German Mouth and foot painting, artist, Magic (illusion), magician, Calligraphy, calligrapher, and performer who was born without hands or f ...
, born without arms or lower legs, entertained crowds with astonishing displays of magic and musical ability, both in England and later,
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Great Britain and Ireland), North Channel, the Irish Sea ...

Ireland
. It was in the 19th century, both in the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
and
Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of scienc ...

Europe
, where freak shows finally reached maturity as successful commercially run enterprises. During the late 19th century and the early 20th century freak shows were at their height of popularity; the period 1840s through to the 1940s saw the organized for-profit exhibition of people with physical,
mental Mental may refer to: * of or relating to the mind Films * Mental (2012 film), ''Mental'' (2012 film), an Australian comedy-drama * Mental (2016 film), ''Mental'' (2016 film), a Bangladeshi romantic-action movie * ''Mental'', a 2008 documentary by ...
or behavioral rarities. Although not all abnormalities were real, some being alleged, the exploitation for profit was seen as an accepted part of American culture. The attractiveness of freak shows led to the spread of the shows that were commonly seen at amusement parks, circuses, dime museums and
vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or b ...
. The amusement park industry flourished in the United States by the expanding middle class who benefited from short work weeks and a larger income. There was also a shift in American culture which influenced people to see leisure activities as a necessary and beneficial equivalent to working, thus leading to the popularity of the freak show. The
showmen Showman can have a variety of meanings, usually by context and depending on the country. Australia Travelling Funfair, showmen are people who run amusement and side show equipment at regional shows, state capital shows, events and festivals ...

showmen
and promoters exhibited all types of freaks. People who appeared non-white or who had a disability were often exhibited as unknown races and cultures. These “unknown” races and disabled whites were advertised as being undiscovered humans to attract viewers. For example, those with
microcephaly Microcephaly (from New Latin New Latin (also called Neo-Latin or modern Latin) is the revival of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally sp ...

microcephaly
, a condition linked to intellectual disabilities and characterized by a very small, pointed head and small overall structure, were considered or characterized as “missing links” or as atavistic specimens of an extinct race. Hypopituitary dwarfs who tend to be well proportioned were advertised as lofty.
Achondroplastic Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder whose primary feature is dwarfism. In those with the condition, the arms and legs are short, while the torso is typically of normal length. Those affected have an average adult height of for males and for fe ...
dwarfs, whose head and limbs tend to be out of proportion to their trunks, were characterized as exotic mode. Those who were armless, legless, or limbless were also characterized in the exotic mode as animal-people, such as “The Snake-Man”, and “The Seal Man”. There were four ways freak shows were produced and marketed. The first was the oral spiel or lecture. This featured a showman or professor who managed the presentation of the people or “freaks”. The second was a printed advertisement usually using long pamphlets and broadside or newspaper advertisement of the freak show. The third step included costuming, choreography, performance, and space used to display the show, designed to emphasize the things that were considered abnormal about each performer. The final stage was a collectable drawing or photograph that portrayed the group of freaks on stage for viewers to take home. The collectable printed souvenirs were accompanied by recordings of the showmen's pitch, the lecturer's yarn, and the professor's exaggerated accounts of what was witnessed at the show. Exhibits were authenticated by doctors who used medical terms that many could not comprehend but which added an air of authenticity to the proceedings. Freak show culture normalized a specific way of thinking about gender, race, sexual aberrance, ethnicity, and disability. Scholars believe that freak shows contributed significantly to the way American culture views nonconforming bodies. Freak shows were a space for the general public to scrutinize bodies different from their own, from dark-skinned people, to victims of war and diseases, to ambiguously sexed bodies. People felt that paying to view these “freaks” gave them permission to compare themselves favorably to the freaks. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the popularity of the freak show was starting to dwindle. In their prime, freak shows had been the main attraction of the midway, but by 1940 they were starting to lose their audience, with credible people turning their backs on the show. In the nineteenth century, science supported and legitimized the growth of freak shows, but by the twentieth century, the medicalization of human abnormalities contributed to the end of the exhibits' mystery and appeal.


P.T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum Phineas Taylor Barnum (; July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, businessman, and politician, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and founding the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Barnum & Bailey Circus (1871 ...
was considered the father of modern-day advertising, and one of the most famous showmen/managers of the freak show industry. In the United States he was a major figure in popularizing the entertainment. However, it was very common for Barnum's acts to be schemes and not altogether true. Barnum was fully aware of the improper ethics behind his business as he said, "I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them." During the 1840s Barnum began his museum, which had a constantly rotating acts schedule, which included The Fat Lady,
midget Midget (from ''midge'', a tiny biting insect) is a term for a person of unusually short stature that is considered by some to be pejorative. While not a Medical terminology, medical term, it has been applied to persons of unusually short statur ...

midget
s, giants, and other people deemed to be freaks. The museum drew in about 400,000 visitors a year.Zachary Crockett
"The Rise and Fall of Circus Freakshows"
"Priceonomics", June 28, 2016
P.T.
Barnum's American Museum Barnum's American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway (Manhattan), Broadway, Park Row (Manhattan), Park Row, and Ann Street (Manhattan), Ann Street in what is now the Financial District, Manhattan, Financial District of Manhattan, New Y ...
was one of the most popular museums in New York City to exhibit freaks. In 1841 Barnum purchased The American Museum, which made freaks the major attraction, following mainstream America at the mid-19th century. Barnum was known to advertise aggressively and make up outlandish stories about his exhibits. The façade of the museum was decorated with bright banners showcasing his attractions and included a band that performed outside. Barnum's American Museum also offered multiple attractions that not only entertained but tried to educate and uplift its working-class visitors. Barnum offered one ticket that guaranteed admission to his lectures, theatrical performances, an animal menagerie, and a glimpse at curiosities both living and dead. One of Barnum's exhibits centered around Charles Sherwood Stratton, the dwarf billed as "
General Tom Thumb Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), better known by his stage name "General Tom Thumb", was an American Dwarfism, dwarf, and chocolatier, Chocolatier who achieved great fame as a performer under circus pioneer P. T. Barn ...
" who was then 4 years of age but was stated to be 11. Charles had stopped growing after the first 6 months of his life, at which point he was 25 inches (64 cm) tall and weighed 15 pounds (6.8 kg). With heavy coaching and natural talent, the boy was taught to imitate people from
Hercules Hercules (, ) is the Roman equivalent of the Greek divine Divinity or the divine are things that are either related to, devoted to, or proceeding from a deity A deity or god is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed p ...

Hercules
to
Napoleon Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General o ...

Napoleon
. By 5, he was drinking wine, and by 7 smoking cigars for the public's amusement. During 1844–45, Barnum toured with Tom Thumb in Europe and met
Queen Victoria Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of En ...

Queen Victoria
, who was amused and saddened by the little man, and the event was a publicity coup. Barnum paid Stratton handsomely – about $150.00 a week. When Stratton retired, he lived in the most esteemed neighborhood of New York, he owned a yacht, and dressed in the nicest clothing he could buy. In 1860, The American Museum had listed and archived thirteen human curiosities in the museum, including an albino family, The Living Aztecs, three dwarfs, a black mother with two albino children, The Swiss Bearded Lady, The Highland Fat Boys, and What Is It? (Henry Johnson, a mentally disabled black man). Barnum introduced the "man-monkey" William Henry Johnson, a microcephalic black dwarf who spoke a mysterious language created by Barnum and was known as
Zip the Pinhead William Henry Johnson (c. 1857 – April 9, 1926), known as Zip the Pinhead, was an American freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008. A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular cultur ...
. In 1862, he discovered the giantess
Anna Swan Anna Haining Bates (née Swan; August 6, 1846 – August 5, 1888), was a Canadians, Canadian woman famed for her great stature of . Her parents were of average height and were Scottish people, Scottish immigrants. Biography Anna Swan was born at ...
and
Commodore Nutt George Washington Morrison Nutt (April 1, 1848 – May 25, 1881), better known by his stage name Commodore Nutt, was an American Dwarfism#Classification, dwarf and an entertainer associated with P. T. Barnum. In 1861, Nutt was touring New England ...
, a new Tom Thumb, with whom Barnum visited President
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of governme ...

Abraham Lincoln
at the White House. During the
Civil War A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine publis ...
, Barnum's museum drew large audiences seeking diversion from the conflict. Barnum's most popular and highest grossing act was the Tattooed Man, George Costentenus. He claimed to be a Greek-Albanian prince raised in a Turkish harem. He had 338 tattoos covering his body. Each one was ornate and told a story. His story was that he was on a military expedition but was captured by native people, who gave him the choice of either being chopped up into little pieces or receive full body tattoos. This process supposedly took three months and Costentenus was the only hostage who survived. He produced a 23-page book, which detailed every aspect of his experience and drew a large crowd. When Costentenus partnered with Barnum, he began to earn more than $1,000 a week. His wealth became so staggering that the New York Times wrote, "He wears very handsome diamond rings and other jewelry, valued altogether at about $3,000 71,500 in 2014 dollarsand usually goes armed to protect himself from persons who might attempt to rob him." Though Costentenus was very fortunate, other freaks were not. Upon his death in 1891, he donated about half of his life earnings to other freaks who did not make as much money as he did. One of Barnum's most famous hoaxes was early in his career. He hired a blind and paralyzed former slave for $1,000. He claimed this woman was 160 years old, but she was actually only 80 years old. This lie helped Barnum make a weekly profit of nearly $1,000. This hoax was one of the first, but one of the more convincing. Barnum retired in 1865 when his museum burnt to the ground. Though Barnum was and still is criticized for exploitation, he paid the performers fairly handsome sums of money. Some of the acts made the equivalent of what some sports stars make today.


Tom Norman

Barnum's English counterpart was
Tom Norman Tom Norman, born Thomas Noakes, (7 May 1860 – 24 August 1930), was an English businessman, showman Showman can have a variety of meanings, usually by context and depending on the country. Australia Travelling Funfair, showmen are pe ...
, a renowned Victorian
showman Showman can have a variety of meanings, usually by context and depending on the country. Australia Travelling showmen Showman can have a variety of meanings, usually by context and depending on the country. Australia Travelling Funfai ...

showman
, whose traveling exhibitions featured Eliza Jenkins, the "Skeleton Woman", a "Balloon Headed Baby" and a woman who bit off the heads of live rats—the "most gruesome" act Norman claimed to have seen. Other acts included fleas, fat ladies, giants, dwarfs and retired white seamen, painted black and speaking in an invented language, billed "savage Zulus". Howell & Ford (1992), p. 69 He displayed a "family of
midget Midget (from ''midge'', a tiny biting insect) is a term for a person of unusually short stature that is considered by some to be pejorative. While not a Medical terminology, medical term, it has been applied to persons of unusually short statur ...

midget
s" which in reality was composed of two men and a borrowed baby. Howell & Ford (1992), p. 70 He operated a number of shops in London and
Nottingham Nottingham ( or locally ) is a city status in the United Kingdom, city and Unitary authorities of England, unitary authority area in Nottinghamshire, England. Part of the East Midlands region, it is north of London, south of Sheffield, north ...

Nottingham
, and exhibited travelling shows throughout the country. Most famously, in 1884, Norman came into contact with
Joseph Merrick Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890), often erroneously called John Merrick, was an English man known for having severe deformities. He was first exhibited at a freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008 ...
, sometimes called "the Elephant Man", a young man from Leicester who suffered from extreme deformities. Merrick arrived in London and into Norman's care. Norman, initially shocked by Merrick's appearance and reluctant to display him, nonetheless exhibited him at his penny gaff shop at 123
Whitechapel Road Whitechapel Road is a major arterial road in Whitechapel, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Tower Hamlets, in the East End of London. It is named after a small chapel of ease dedicated to St Mary and connects Whitechapel High Street to the west ...
, directly across the road from the
London Hospital The Royal London Hospital is a large teaching hospital in Whitechapel in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is part of Barts Health NHS Trust. The Royal London provides district general hospital services for the City of London, City and Lo ...
. Howell & Ford (1992), p. 72 Because of its proximity to the hospital, the shop received medical students and doctors as visitors. Howell & Ford (1992), p. 5 One of these was a young surgeon named Frederick Treves who arranged to have Merrick brought to the hospital to be examined. Howell & Ford (1992), p. 77 The exhibition of the Elephant Man was reasonably successful, particularly with the added income from a printed pamphlet about Merrick's life and condition. At this time, however, public opinion about freak shows was starting to change and the display of human novelties was beginning to be viewed as distasteful. After only a few weeks with Norman, the Elephant Man exhibition was shut down by the police, and Norman and Merrick parted ways. Howell & Ford (1992), p. 30 Treves later arranged for Merrick to live at the London Hospital until his death in 1890. In Treves' 1923 memoir, ''The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences'' made Norman infamous as a drunk who cruelly exploited Merrick. Norman counteracted these claims in a letter in the ''World's Fair'' newspaper that year, as well as his own autobiography. Norman's opinion was that he provided Merrick (and his other exhibits) a way of making a living and remaining independent, but that on entering the London Hospital, Merrick remained a freak on display, only with no control over how or when he was viewed. Durbach (2009), p. 34


Dime Museum

A different way to display a freak show was in a
dime museum Dime museums were institutions that were popular at the end of the 19th century in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, pr ...
. In a Dime Museum, freak show performers were exhibited as an educational display of people with different disabilities. For a cheap admission viewers were awed with its dioramas, panoramas, georamas, cosmoramas, paintings, relics, freaks, stuffed animals, menageries, waxworks, and theatrical performances. No other type of entertainment appealed to such diverse audiences before. In the 1870s dimes grew and grew, hitting their peak in the 1880s and 1890s, being available for all from coast to coast. New York City was the dime museum capital with an entertainment district that included German beer gardens, theaters, vendors, photography, studios, and a variety of other amusement institutions. New York also had more dime museums than any place in the world. Freak shows were the main attraction of most dime museums during 1870—1900 with the human oddity as the king of museum entertainment. There were five types of human abnormalities on display in dime museums: natural freaks, those born with physical or mental abnormalities, such as midgets and “pinheads”; self-made freaks, those who cultivated freakdom, for example tattooed people; novelty artists which were considered freaks because of their “freakish” performances such as snake charmers, mesmerists, hypnotists, and fire-eaters; non-western freaks, people who were promoted as exotic curiosities, for example savages and cannibals, usually promoted as being from Africa. Most dime museums had no seats in the curio halls. Visitors were directed from platform to platform by a lecturer, whose role was to be the master of ceremonies. During his performance, the lecturer, also known as the “Professor,” held the audience's attention by describing the freaks displayed on the various stages. The lecturer needed to have both charisma and persuasiveness in addition to a loud voice. His rhetorical style usually was styled after the traditional distorted spiel of carnival barkers, filled with classical and biblical suggestions. Dime museum freak shows also provided audiences with medical testimonials provided by “doctors”, psychologists and other behavioral “experts” who were there to help the audience understand a particular problem and to validate a show's subject. As the nineteenth century ended and the twentieth began there was a shift in popularity of the dime museum and it began its downward turn. Audiences now had a wide variety of different types of popular entertainment to choose from. Circuses, street fairs, world's fairs, carnivals, and urban amusement parks, all of which exhibited freaks, began to take business away from the dime museums.


Circus

In the circus world, freak shows, also called sideshows, were an essential part of the circus. The largest sideshow was attached to the most prestigious circus, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, known as the “big one”. It was a symbol of the peak of the practice and its acceptance in American society. It was at this time that single human oddities started joining traveling circuses during the early 1800s, but these shows were not organized into anything like the sideshows we know until the midcentury. During the 1870s it was common to see most circuses having freak shows, eventually making the circus a major place for the display of human oddities. Most of the museums and side shows that had traveled with major circuses were owned during most of 1876. By 1880 human phenomena were now combined with a variety of entertainment acts from the sideshows. By 1890 tent size and the number of sideshow attractions began to increase, with most sideshows in large circuses with twelve to fifteen exhibits plus a band. Bands typically were made up of black musicians, blackface minstrel bands, and troupes of dancers dressed as Hawaiians. These entertainers were used to attract crowds and provide a festive atmosphere inside the show tent. By the 1920s the circus was declining as a major form of amusement, due to competition such as amusement parks; movie houses and burlesque tours; and the rise of the radio. Circuses also saw a large decline in audience during the depression as economic hard times and union demands were making the circus less and less affordable and valuable.


Disability

Freak shows were viewed as a normal part of American culture in the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The shows were viewed as a valuable form of amusement for middle-class people and were quite profitable for the showmen, who exploited freak show performers' disabilities for profit. Changing attitudes about physical differences led to the decline of the freak show as a form of entertainment towards the end of the 19th century. As previously mysterious anomalies were scientifically explained as
genetic mutations In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechan ...
or
diseases A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function (biology), function of all or part of an organism, and that is not due to any immediate external injury. Diseases are often known to be medical ...
, freaks became the objects of sympathy rather than fear or disdain. Laws were passed restricting freak shows for these reasons. For example,
Michigan Michigan () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Michigan
law forbids the "exhibition any deformed human being or human monstrosity, except as used for scientific purposes". During the start of the 20th century, movies and television began to satisfy audiences' thirst to be entertained. People could see similar types of acts and abnormalities from the comfort of their own homes or a nice theater, they no longer needed to pay to see freaks. Though movies and television played a big part in the decline of the freak show, the rise of disability rights was the true cause of death. It was finally viewed as wrong to profit from others' misfortune: the days of manipulation were done. Though paid well, the freaks of the 19th century did not always enjoy the quality of life that this idea led to. Frank Lentini, the three-legged man, was quoted saying, "My limb does not bother me as much as the curious, critical gaze." Although freak shows were viewed as a place for entertainment, they were also a place of employment for those who could advertise, manage, and perform in its attractions. In an era before there was welfare or worker's compensation, severely disabled people often found that placing themselves on exhibition was their only choice and opportunity for making a living. Despite current values of the wrongness of exploitation of those with disabilities, during the nineteenth century performing in an organized freak show was a relatively respectable way to earn a living. Many freak show performers were lucky and gifted enough to earn a livelihood and have a good life through exhibitions, some becoming celebrities, commanding high salaries and earning far more than acrobats, novelty performers, and actors. The salaries of dime museum freaks usually varied from twenty-five to five hundred dollars a week, making a lot more money than lecture-room variety performers. Freaks were seen to have profitable traits, with an opportunity to become celebrities obtaining fame and fortune. At the height of freak shows' popularity, they were the only job for dwarfs. Many scholars have argued that freak show performers were being exploited by the showmen and managers for profit because of their disabilities. Many freaks were paid generously but had to deal with museum managers who were often insensitive about the performers' schedules, working them long hours just to make a profit. This was particularly hard for top performers since the more shows these freaks were in, the more tickets were sold. A lot of entertainers were abused by small-time museum operators, kept to grueling schedules, and given only a small percentage of their total earnings. Individual exhibits were hired for about one to six weeks by dime museums. The average performer had a schedule that included ten to fifteen shows a day and was shuttled back and forth week after week from one museum to another. When a popular freak show performer came to a dime museum in New York he was overworked and exploited to make the museum money. For example:
Fedor Jeftichew Fedor Adrianovich Jeftichew (Russian: Фёдор Адрианович Евтищев, ''Fyodor Yevtishchev'', 1868 - January 31, 1904), better known as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy (later ''Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Man''), was a famous Russian sideshow perf ...
, (known as "Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy") appeared at the Globe Museum in New York, his manager arranged to have him perform twenty-three shows during a twelve to fourteen hour day.


Historical timeline

The exhibition of human oddities has a long history: ;1630s: , and his conjoined twin brother, Joannes Baptista, who was attached at Lazarus' sternum, tour Europe. ;1704–1718:
Peter the Great Peter the Great ( rus, Пётр Вели́кий, Pyotr Velíkiy, ˈpʲɵtr vʲɪˈlʲikʲɪj), Peter I ( rus, Пётр Первый, Pyotr Pyervyy, ˈpʲɵtr ˈpʲɛrvɨj) or Pyotr Alekséyevich ( rus, Пётр Алексе́евич, p=ˈp ...

Peter the Great
collected human oddities at the
Kunstkammer , whose tusk, as a Unicorn horn, was a common piece in cabinets. Cabinets of curiosities (also known in German language, German loanwords as Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer; also Cabinets of Wonder, and wonder-rooms) were collections of ...

Kunstkammer
in what is now St. Petersburg, Russia. ;1738: The exhibition of a creature who "was taken in a wook at Guinea; 'tis a female about four feet high in every part like a woman excepting her head which nearly resembles the ape." ;1739: Peter the Great's niece Anna Ioannovna had a parade of circus freaks escort Mikhail Alekseyevich Galitzine and his bride Avdotya Ivanovna Buzheninova to a mock palace made of ice. ;1810–1815:
Sarah Baartman Sarah Baartman (; also spelled Sara, sometimes in the diminutive form Saartje (), or Saartjie and Bartman, Bartmann; c.1775 – 29 December 1815) was the best known of at least two South African Khoikhoi women who, due to the European objectifi ...
(aka "Hottentot Venus"), a
Khoekhoe Khoekhoen (singular Khoekhoe) (or Khoikhoi in the former orthography; formerly also '' Hottentots''"Hottentot, n. and adj." ''OED Online'', Oxford University Press, March 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/88829. Accessed 13 May 2018. Citing G. S. ...
woman, was exhibited in Europe. ;1829–1870:“The Original Siamese twins”
Chang and Eng Bunker Chang Bunker and Eng Bunker (May 11, 1811 – January 17, 1874) were Siamese-American conjoined twin Conjoined twins are identical twins joined '' in uterus''. A very rare phenomenon, the occurrence is estimated to range from 1 in 49,000 birth ...
were conjoined twin brothers who started performing in 1829. They stopped performing in 1870 due to Chang suffering a stroke. ;1842–1883: In 1842 Charles Sherwood Stratton was presented on the freak show platform as "
General Tom Thumb Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), better known by his stage name "General Tom Thumb", was an American Dwarfism, dwarf, and chocolatier, Chocolatier who achieved great fame as a performer under circus pioneer P. T. Barn ...
". Charles was suffering from Hypopituitary dwarfism; he stopped performing in 1883 due to a stroke that led to his death. ;1849–1867: In 1849 started performing in freak shows as “The Last of the Ancient Aztecs of Mexico”. Both performers had microcephaly and stopped performing in 1867 after they were married to each other. ;1860–1905: Hiram and Barney Davis were presented as the “wild men” from Borneo. Both brothers were mentally disabled. They stopped performing in 1905 after Hiram's death. ;1884:
Joseph Merrick Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890), often erroneously called John Merrick, was an English man known for having severe deformities. He was first exhibited at a freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008 ...
, exhibited as "The Elephant Man" by
Tom Norman Tom Norman, born Thomas Noakes, (7 May 1860 – 24 August 1930), was an English businessman, showman Showman can have a variety of meanings, usually by context and depending on the country. Australia Travelling Funfair, showmen are pe ...
in
London's East End The East End of London, often referred to within the London area simply as the East End, is the historic core of wider East London, east of the Roman and medieval walls of the City of London and north of the River Thames. It does not have univ ...
. ;1912–1935:
Daisy and Violet Hilton Daisy and Violet Hilton (5 February 1908 – early January 1969) were English people, English entertainers, who were conjoined twins. They were exhibited in Europe as children, and toured the United States sideshow, vaudeville and American burle ...
, conjoined twin sisters who started performing at the age of four in 1912. They grew in popularity during the 1920s to the 1930s performing dance routines and playing instruments. Stopped performing in 1935 due to financial troubles. ;1932:
Tod Browning Tod Browning (born Charles Albert Browning Jr.; July 12, 1880 – October 6, 1962) was an American film director, film actor, screenwriter, vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was ...
's
Pre-Code '' (1931) were able to feature criminal, anti-hero protagonists. File:LegsTurntab42ndStTrailer.jpg, upright=1.5, ''42nd Street (film), 42nd Street'' (1933) made concessions to the Hays Code in its dialogue but still featured sexualized imag ...
-
era An era is a span of time defined for the purposes of chronology Chronology (from Latin ''chronologia'', from Ancient Greek , ''chrónos'', "time"; and , ''wikt:-logia, -logia'') is the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence ...

era
film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pigmented liquid, liquefiable, ...

film
'' Freaks'' tells the story of a traveling freakshow. The use of real freaks in the film provoked public outcries, and the film was relegated to obscurity until its re-release at the 1962
Cannes Film Festival The Cannes Festival (; french: link=no, Festival de Cannes), until 2003 called the International Film Festival (') and known in English as the Cannes Film Festival, is an annual film festival A film festival is an organized, extended presen ...

Cannes Film Festival
. Two stars of the film were Daisy and Violet Hilton: conjoined sisters who had been raised being exhibited in freak shows. ;1960: Albert Karas, Albert-Alberta Karas (two siblings, each half man, half woman) exhibits with Bobby Reynolds on sideshow tour. ;1991:
Jim Rose Circus The Jim Rose Circus is a modern-day version of a circus sideshow. It was founded in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, ...
plays the
Lollapalooza Lollapalooza (Lolla) is an annual four-day music festival Image:Novarock1.jpg, Music festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria, picturing both the main stage and the camping grounds on the farm behind The music festival emerged in England in the 18t ...
Festival, starting a new wave of performers and resurgence of interest in the genre. ;1992:
Grady Stiles Grady Franklin Stiles Jr. (June 26, 1937 – November 29, 1992) was an American freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008. A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular culture as "freaks of nat ...
( the lobster boy) is shot in his home in Gibsonton, Florida. ;1996: Chicago shock-jock
Mancow Muller Matthew Erich "Mancow" Muller (born June 21, 1966) is an American radio and television personality, actor, and former child model. Considered a shock jock A shock jock is a type of radio Radio is the technology of signaling and telecommunic ...
presented Mancow's Freak Show at the United Center in the middle of 1996, to a crowd of 30,000. The show included Kathy Stiles and her brother Grady III as the Lobster Twins. ;2000–2010: Ken Harck's Brothers Grim Sideshow debuted at the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee run included a fat lady and bearded lady Melinda Maxi, as well as self made freaks The Enigma and Katzen. In later years the show has included Half-boy Jesse Stitcher and Jesus "Chuy" Aceves the Mexican Werewolf Boy and Stalking Cat. Brothers Grim toured with the Ozz Fest music festival in 2006, 2007 and 2010. ;2005: "999 Eyes Freakshow" was founded, touting itself as the "last genuine traveling freakshow in the United States." 999 Eyes portrays freaks in a very positive light, insisting that "what is different is beautiful." Freaks include Black Scorpion. ;2007: brought together several sideshow performers to " The L.A. Circus Congress of Freaks and Exotics," to photograph sideshow folks for "
Cirque Du Soleil#REDIRECT Cirque du Soleil Cirque du Soleil (, ; "Circus of the Sun" or "Sun Circus") is a Montreal Montreal ( ; officially Montréal, , Tio'tia:ke in Mohawk language, Mohawk) is the List of the 100 largest municipalities in Canada by populati ...

Cirque Du Soleil
– Circus of the Sun." In attendance were: Bill Quinn, the halfman; Percilla, the fat lady; Mighty Mike Murga the Mighty Dwarf; Dieguito El Negrito, a wildman; Christopher Landry; fireeaters; sword swallowers, and more.


Modern freak shows

The entertainment appeal of the traditional "freak shows" is arguably echoed in numerous programmes made for television. '' Extraordinary People'' on the British television channel Five or BodyShock show the lives of severely disabled or deformed people, and can be seen as the modern equivalent of circus freak shows. To cater to current cultural expectations of disability narratives, the subjects are usually portrayed as heroic and attention is given to their family and friends and the way they help them overcome their disabilities. On ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
'', Chris Shaw however comments that "one man's freak show is another man's portrayal of heroic triumph over medical adversity" and carries on with "call me prejudiced but I suspect your typical twentysomething watched this show with their jaw on the floor rather than a tear in their eye".


In popular culture

Freak shows are a common subject in
Southern Gothic Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction Gothic fiction, sometimes called Gothic horror in the 20th century, is a genre of literature and film that covers horror, death and at times romance. It is said to derive from the English auth ...
literature, including stories such as
Flannery O'Connor Mary Flannery O'Connor (March 25, 1925August 3, 1964) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist. She wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern literature, ...
's ''Temple Of The Holy Ghost'',
Eudora Welty Eudora Alice Welty (April 13, 1909 – July 23, 2001) was an American short story writer, novelist and photographer, who wrote about the American South The Southern United States, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South ...
's ''Petrified Man'' and ''Keela the Outcast Indian Maiden'',
Truman Capote Truman Garcia Capote (; born Truman Streckfus Persons, September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984) was an American novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and actor. Several of his short stories, novels, and plays have been praised as literary classic ...
's '' Tree of Night'', and
Carson McCullers Carson McCullers (February 20, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American novelist, short-story writer, playwright, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, ''The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter ''The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter'' (1940) is the debu ...
's ''
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter ''The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter'' (1940) is the debut novel A debut novel is the first novel a novelist publishes. Debut novels are often the author's first opportunity to make an impact on the publishing industry, and thus the success or fail ...
''. The musical '' Side Show'' centers around Daisy and Violet Hilton and their lives as conjoined twins on exhibition. '' American Horror Story: Freak Show'' also focuses on freak shows. Some of its characters are played by disabled people, rather than all of the disabilities being created through makeup or effects. However, an article in ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
'' criticized the show, saying it perpetuated the term "freak" and the negative view of disability associated with it. In
J. K. Rowling Joanne Rowling ( ;Rowling, J.K. (16 February 2007). Accio Quote (accio-quote.org). Retrieved 28 April 2008. born 31 July 1965), better known by her pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym ( ...
's
Wizarding World The Wizarding World (previously known as J. K. Rowling's Wizarding World) is a fantasy media franchise and shared universe, shared fictional universe centred on a Harry Potter (film series), series of films, based on the ''Harry Potter'' novel ...
creative universe, the Circus Arcanus is a freak show for individuals with rare magical conditions and deformities, as well as a variety of magical animal species and hominids. The characters Nagini and Credence Barebone worked here during the 1920s, one, a Maledictus (a woman with a magical blood disease that leads to the turning of that individual into an animal for the rest of their life,) and the other, an Obscurial (a young person who develops a magical parasite that sometimes envelops and controls their body, caused via the suppression of magical powers). In the
Rockstar Games Rockstar Games, Inc. is an American video game publisher A video game publisher is a company that publishes video game A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joyst ...
video game, ''
Bully Bullying is the use of force, coercion Coercion () is compelling a party to act in an involuntary manner by use of threat A threat is a communication of intent to inflict harm or loss on another person. Intimidation is widely observed ...
'', there is a freak show the player may visit. In ''
The Simpsons ''The Simpsons'' is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical depiction of American life, epitomized by the Simpson family, which consists of Homer Simpson, Homer, Marge Si ...
'' episode "
Homerpalooza "Homerpalooza" is the 24th episode of ''The Simpsons'' The Simpsons (season 7), seventh season. It originally aired on the Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox network in the United States on May 19, 1996. In the episode, Homer Simpson, Homer is shocked t ...
", Homer gets a job as a freak at the
Lollapalooza Lollapalooza (Lolla) is an annual four-day music festival Image:Novarock1.jpg, Music festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria, picturing both the main stage and the camping grounds on the farm behind The music festival emerged in England in the 18t ...
music festival, his act involving being hit in the stomach with a cannon without being injured. The other members of the show are voiced by members of the
Jim Rose Circus The Jim Rose Circus is a modern-day version of a circus sideshow. It was founded in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, ...
.


See also

*
Human zoo Human zoos, also known as ethnological expositions, were public displays of people, usually in an erroneously labeled "natural" or "primitive" state. They were most prominent during the 19th and 20th century. These displays often emphasized the s ...
*
Comprachicos Comprachicos (also Comprapequeños and Cheylas) is a compound Spanish language, Spanish neologism meaning "child-buyers", which was coined by Victor Hugo in his novel ''The Man Who Laughs''. It refers to various groups in folklore who were said to ...
*
Geek show Geek shows were an act in traveling carnival A traveling carnival (US English), usually simply called a carnival, or travelling funfair (UK English), is an amusement show that may be made up of amusement rides, food vendors, merchandise ven ...
* Freak show fight


References


Further reading

* Martin Monestier, ''Human Freaks, Encyclopedic Book on the Human Freaks from the Beginning to Today''. (In French: ''Les Monstres humains: Oubliés de Dieu ou chefs-d'œuvres de la nature'') * Niall Richardson (2010) 'Transgressive Bodies' (Ashgate)


External links


Showhistory.com

Shocked and Amazed
– periodical devoted to sideshow and variety entertainment
Freaks and prodigies
– Section of Monstrous.Com dedicated to freaks and prodigies
Sideshow World
– "Preserving the past... promoting the future"

– freakshow ephemera from the collection of artist James G Mundie
Collection Guide to Human curiosity prints, playbills, broadsides and other printed material, 1695–1937
a
Houghton Library
Harvard University {{Authority control Circuses Sideshows