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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.
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)
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)
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)
Alice Elizabeth Doherty was suffering from rare medical condition hypertrichosis lanuginosa, which resulted in a mane of fine and silky blonde hair.(source)
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)
Mignon was born in the early 1900s with a medical condition called Phocomelia.(source)
4. The camel girl
Ella Harper was affected by a rare orthopedic deformity which led to her knees bending in an abnormal way. Due to her condition, Ella found it easier to walk on all fours. This gave her the name of the ‘Camel girl’. She was the star in W. H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus.(source)
Simon Metz was also famous for his role in the 1932 movie, freaks. He had neurodevelopmental disorder known as microcephaly. Which affected his physical appearance, which resulted leaving him with a small skull.(source)
Englishman Joseph Merrick was inflicted by many severe deformities. While the exact nature of these conditions is unknown, many believe it was a severe version of Elephantiasis. More recent research also suggests it might have been a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome.(source)
Pasqual Pinon, aka ‘The Two-Headed Mexican’, performed during 1990s in circus. he had a large Benign tumor at the top of his head.(source)