The Twisted History of Freak Shows

Here are the note's from today's show:

Ringling Bros. “Congress of Freaks” circa 1924. 

The American Museum P. T. Barnum 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, midgets, giants, and other people deemed to be freaks. The museum drew in about 400,000 visitors a year. 

P.T. Barnum's American Museum 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" 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 to 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, 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 man). Barnum introduced the "man-monkey" William Henry Johnson, a microcephalic dwarf who spoke a mysterious language created by Barnum and was known as Zip the Pinhead. 

In 1862, he discovered the giantess Anna Swan and Commodore Nutt, a new Tom Thumb, with whom Barnum visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. During the Civil War, 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 Contentenus 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 dollars] and 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 sport stars make today. 

Fedor Jeftichew - In 1868, “Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy” was a famed freak show performer from Russia, brought to the U.S. at age 16 by P.T. Barnum. Jeftichew was born with hereditary hypertrichosis (also known as werewolf syndrome), which causes an excessive amount of hair growth over the entire body. Inspiration for the character Chewbacca. 

Ella Harper - I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation. "Camel Girl,"received a $200 a week as the star of a touring freak show act. 

Myrtle Corbin - Born a dipygus. This referred to the fact that she had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down, as a result of her body axis splitting as it developed. Each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs. She was said to be able to move her inner legs, but they were too weak for walking. 

Fanny Mills AKA "The Ohio Big Foot Girl," - She had a disease called Milroy Disease which caused her legs and feet to become gigantic. Born in Sussex, England and had two sisters. Both other sisters were born normally. She was married to William Brown. She had a baby in August of 1887, but the baby died. Fannie's feet got to be 17 inches long. She died in 1899 at age 39. 

Frank Lentini - Born in 1889 in Sicily, Italy, Frank Lentini was born with three legs, four feet, 16 fingers, and two sets of genitals. His extra leg sprouted from the side of his right hip with a fourth foot protruding from his knee. His condition was the result of a second embryo that began to develop in the womb but ultimately could not separate from its twin. Thus one twin came to dominate the other. 

Alice Elizabeth Doherty - Only known person with hypertrichosis lanuginosa born in the U.S. Doherty was born with approximately two-inch long blonde hair all over her body. None of her relatives are known to have had a similar condition. She had blue eyes. Alice was exhibited by her parents as a sideshow attraction from as early as two years old. Later she was presented commercially by her mother and Professor Weller’s One-Man Band throughout the Midwestern United States. She was consistently shown as a stand alone exhibit in store front exhibitions. By the time she was five years old, her hair grew to about 5 inches, eventually increasing to about 9 inches by the time she was a teenager. Doherty was never interested in entertainment, but continued to perform to support her family, anxiously awaiting retirement. 

Isaac W. Sprague - Born on May 21, 1841, in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Although normal for most of his childhood, Sprague began irreversibly losing weight at age 12 after feeling ill after swimming. The weight loss continued throughout his life despite having a healthy appetite. His condition has been described by historians as extreme progressive muscular atrophy. This ultimately led to his death. 

Stephan Bibrowski - Known as Lionel the Lion-faced Man, was a famous sideshow performer. His whole body was covered with long hair that gave him the appearance of a lion; this was likely due to a rare condition called hypertrichosis. Bibrowski was born in 1890 in Bielsk near Płock in Congress Poland with one-inch hair covering his body. His mother blamed the condition on the mauling of his father by a lion, which she witnessed while pregnant with Stephan. She considered Stephan an abomination and gave him up to a German impresario named Sedlmayer when he was four years old. Sedlmayer gave him his stage name and started exhibiting him around Europe. 

Koo-Koo the Bird Girl Woolsey - Was born in 1880 in Rabun County, Georgia. Little is known about her early life, only that she was "rescued" from a mental asylum in Georgia by a traveling showman and was commonly billed as Minnie Ha Ha (a play on Minnehaha) in her sideshow entertainment career. She had a rare congenital growth skeletal 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, a receding jaw, large ears and mild intellectual disability. In addition, Woolsey was bald, toothless, and either completely blind or very short-sighted. 

Martin Laurello Known as the Human Owl and Bobby the Boy with the Revolving Head, was a German-American sideshow performer and biological rarity who could turn his head 180 degrees. 

Schlitzie Possibly born Simon Metz and legally Schlitze Surtees, was an American sideshow performer. He also appeared in a few films, and is best known for his role in the 1932 movie Freaks. His lifelong career on the outdoor entertainment circuit as a major sideshow attraction with Barnum & Bailey, among others, made him a popular cultural icon. Schlitzie’s true birth date, name, location and parents are unknown; the information on his death certificate and gravesite indicate that he was born on September 10, 1901, in The Bronx, New York, though some sources have claimed that he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Claims that he was born in Yucatán, Mexico, are mistaken reflections of Schlitzie's occasional fanciful billing as "Maggie, last of the Aztec Children". Information about Schlitzie's identity at birth may never be known, the information having been lost as he was handed off to various carnivals in a long line of mostly informal guardianships throughout his career. 

Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that left him with an unusually small brain and skull, a small stature (he stood about four feet tall [122 cm]), myopia, and severe intellectual disability. 

It is possible that these features were caused by Seckel syndrome. It was said Schlitzie had the cognition of a three-year-old: he was unable to care fully for himself and could speak only in monosyllabic words and form a few simple phrases. Schlitzie was described as an affectionate, exuberant, sociable person who loved dancing, singing, and being the center of attention, performing for anyone he could stop and talk with. 

The giant who was displayed in a storefront window after his death 

Edouard Beaupré was the first of 20 children born to Gaspard & Florestine Beaupré. 

At the time of his death, he was one of the five tallest men in the world due to his 8' 3" frame. He died at the age of 23 from a pulmonary hemorrhage during a show at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis. Beaupré's cause of death is fairly common, but the events that took place after his death are truly disturbing. 

His corpse was sent to funeral directors Eberle and Keyes to be embalmed and prepared for interment. The remains were to be then returned to Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan by William Burke, the circus manager, but he balked at the effort and shipping costs required. Burke instead convinced the Beaupré family to bury Edouard honorably in St. Louis—in order to spare everyone the expenses involved. The family agreed and believed that the funeral took place, but instead Burke simply skipped town and left the cadaver unclaimed and the funeral director unpaid. To make up for the financial loss, the funeral home put Edouard's lifeless body on display in a storefront window with hopes of making a profit. 

The body caused so much pedestrian traffic that the municipal authorities eventually demanded that it be removed. Beaupré's body would be sold two more times, and on one occasion, it was put on display at the Eden Museum of Quebec. In 1907, his corpse was found in a shed in Montreal, stored there after a circus that had purchased it had gone bankrupt. Beaupre's body then fell into the hands of a respectable doctor by the name of Louis Napoléon Delorme at the University of Montreal. While his title may have been respectable, his demeanor wasn't. He mummified Edouard and placed him on display for the Faculty of Medicine. Edouard remained there for 85 years. 

In 1975, Edouard Beaupre's nephew, Ovila Lespérance, petitioned the university to release the remains to his descendants. In 1989, the university finally agreed to cremate the remains and on July 7, 1990, the "Willow Bunch Giant" was finally buried with the dignity that he deserved. A life-sized statue was created in honor and celebration of his life. 

Rumor Has It... 

Louis Vuitton, a Human Zoo Supporter? 

It has recently been rumored that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Louis Vuitton sponsored "human zoos" in which black people were put on display like exotic circus animals. 

However, there has never been any proof. One person from the LVMH foundation made reference that Louis Vuitton showcased products at several world’s fairs and at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, at which, the article says, “human zoos” were exhibited. 

But the article doesn’t claim that the company (Louis Vuitton was long deceased by 1931) actually played any part in such zoos. 

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