Our world is full of many weird things. Luckily, for those that love the odd, there are sideshow freaks. People with an appearance that will make the average person turn their head a few times. Their desire to amaze and entertain is just part of what makes them so successful in their field.
In our last article Human Freaks From The Past, we talked about the lives of freaks that lived within the last five centuries. However, in this post, we will talk about sideshow freaks from the past and present . We will also talk about some odd creatures and objects that can be seen in sideshows.
To learn about one of the greatest sideshow acts of all time, visit our post called Lobster Boy.
The Four Main Types Of Classic Sideshow Attractions
Sideshows are small shows that occur at exhibitions, fairs and circuses. There are several different types. However, the four main types of classic attractions are the Ten-in-One, Single-O, Museum Show and Girl Show. We will discuss all four of the attractions and will also share many images to show you some examples. Many, but not all of the pictures are from actual sideshow attractions.
Sideshow Freaks: Ten-in-One
In a Ten-in-One show, the viewer gets to see ten sequential acts performed under just one tent. There are a variety of different acts. Typically, you will see a freak show with people who have rare types of abnormalities. Some get their unusual conditions from birth. However, others have either acquired them later in their lives or tailored their bodies to look like freaks. These people are made freaks that you will often find at a Ten-in-One. You will also find other types of entertainment such as crazy daredevil stunts and other unusual acts. In the earlier days of the show, there would often be a final act that was regarded as being too wrong for the women and children in attendance.
The Ten-in-One would often end the night where the visitors were able to see an extra act (known as a “blowoff” or “ding”), but only for an additional fee. It was somewhat of a surprise as it was not even advertised on the outside. A common act would often involve pickled punks. Pickled punks were usually human fetuses preserved in jars. The fetuses had some form of a rare anatomical abnormality such as polycephaly (having more than one head). However, some performers would also use imitation pickled punks (known as bouncers) that were made from either wax or rubber.
Human Oddities And Born Freaks
Chang and Eng
Chang and Eng Bunker were conjoined twins and sideshow stars. They were born on May 11, 1811. Their birthplace and extremely rare condition became the basis for the “Siamese twins” term. Their birthplace was Siam, which is now Thailand. The brothers were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. Although their livers were fused, they were independently complete.
The Bunker’s were discovered as a curiosity in 1829 by a British merchant named Robert Hunter. Hunter had paid their family so they can go on a world tour. After terminating their contract with the merchant, they chose to go into the business alone and later appeared in many sideshows.
Unfortunately, the sideshow star brothers had past away in the year 1874. They died within just hours of each other. After falling from a carriage, Chang was injured and eventually suffered from a severe case of bronchitis. He passed away in his sleep on January 17, 1874. Just three hours after Eng had woke up and noticed his brother was dead, he also had died. According to an autopsy, Eng had died from a cerebral blood clot. However, the actual cause of his death still remains uncertain.
Isaac W Sprague: The Living Skeleton
Isaac W. Sprague was a circus sideshow freak. He was born on May 21, 1841 and died on January 5, 1887. Sprague was normal for the majority of his childhood. However, he had began losing weight at the age of 12. When he reached the age of 44, he was 5 feet and 6 inches tall with a very thin weight of just 43 pounds. Although he was extremely thin, he had three vigorous sons.
After joining the sideshow world in the year1865, Sprague became known as “the Living Skeleton” or “the Original Thin Man“. The following year, he was hired by to work at the Barnum American Museum. Unfortunately, the building had burned down. However, the loss of the museum didn’t stop Sprague from touring throughout the country. Spargue passed away from asphyxia in 1887.
The Seven Sutherland Sisters
The Seven Sutherland Sisters were a group of women who performed in sideshows. They were known for their extremely long hair that totaled 36 1/2 feet (all of their hair combined). Their ages ranged from 18 to 36 years old. Their act called the Seven Sutherland Sisters first took the stage in 1882 at the Barnum and Bailey Circus. They amazed spectators from 1882 to 1907. In their group photos, they were placed to make all seven sisters look like they had hair that reached the floor.
A Woman With A Severe Disease
Man And Child With Hypertrichosis
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Above is a video showing a scene from the popular FX series American Horror Story: Freakshow.
Made Freak: Sideshow Performer
Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow
The Sideshow And Freak Show Performer: Space Cowboy
Blue Monkey Sideshow
Trapped With Deadly Scorpions
Trapped In Deadly Rat Tomb
Houdini’s Water Torture
Circus Girl Doing Dangerous Acrobatics
Getting Smashed On A Bed Of Nails
Hooked By Delicate Flesh
After The Freak Show
The Man With The Stretchiest Skin On The Planet
Learn a lot more about this unusual man on our interesting article called 5 Weird World Records.
A Live Ten-In-One Freak Show
In a Single-O sideshow attraction, there is a single curiosity for patrons to see. This curiosity can be a variety of things. It may be anything from a convincing, but fake “What Is It?” (such as a mythical Merman creature). There may also be a geek show. Single-O shows are often operated at the same time as Museum Shows (next section) so that people are able to see both attractions at their leisure.
What Is It?
A Fiji mermaid was a strange object that had the head and torso of a juvenile monkey. The head was sewn to the back half of a fish. This weird-looking creature was a common distinctive item seen in Single-O sideshows. It was presented as the mummified body of a half mammal and half fish (mermaid). The original object was displayed at the Barnum American Museum from 1842 until the building was destroyed by a fire in the mid-1860s. The image above shows a Fiji mermaid that looks similar to the original version. Like the original, it has hair, fish scales and dangling breasts.
A merman is a legendary creature (counterparts of mermaids) who has the form of a human male from the waist up. Instead of having legs like a human, from the waist down, they are like a fish with their scaly fish tails. This is another bizarre object you may run into at a Single-O sideshow.
Interestingly, people have been presenting mythical mermaids at shows for centuries. The above image shows a mythical Merman on display at the Indian Trading Post located in Banff, Alberta.
The Giant Rat
A coypu (also known as the river rat or nutria) was often used as an attraction for a “Giant Rat.”
In early America, geek show acts took place at circuses and traveling carnivals. They were often used as openers for freak shows. Occasionally, geeks were drug addicts or alcoholics. They were often paid with liquor or even narcotics for their work. Of course, this would help many of them want to come back to work again. To get their next fix, they would just have to eat chicken heads.
Typically, a geek show would consist of one brave geek that stood in center ring to chase after chickens that were alive. The geek would eventually put an end to the show by biting their heads off. As if it didn’t get any more gross. After biting off their heads, they would then swallow them.
In a Museum Show, there are typically inanimate objects for the patrons to view. These lifeless objects may include a car that was said to be used by a famous murder or even photographs of the attractions. However, you may also find unusual alive animals in cages or stuffed freak animals.
A Freak Animal For Its Time
Jumbo was once the biggest elephant in captivity. He lived from December 25, 1860 – September 15, 1885. He was actually the first African elephant that reached modern Europe alive. In 1962, he was captured by hunters and then later sold to dealers. He was eventually traded to the London Zoological Gardens for a rhinoceros and had lived in the London Zoo for approximately 16 years.
In 1882, Jumbo was purchased for $10,000 by Phineas Taylor Barnum (the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus). Jumbo was then shipped to the United States. This purchase was profitable for Barnum because it not only was a great addition to his circus, but it also started a new trend. People were wanting all things to be Jumbo. They would even have Jumbo jewelry and neckties.
Jumbo had toured with Barnum’s circus for three years. Unfortunately, his life ended in September of 1885. He died from a railway accident in Ontario, Canada and had left the world in tears. However, even though he was dead, he wasn’t all the way gone. This is because his bones were preserved. They were displayed at both Barnum’s circus and later at museums. For many years, they were displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. However, the skeleton was eventually put away because over time, people forgot who this huge elephant was.
Some of the odd-looking animals shown on the above video are examples of what you may find at a Single-O sideshow attraction. Of course, most of them would more than likely be kept in a cage.
Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen
The image above shows the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle used by the famous murderer Ted Bundy. This is the car he had reportedly used for the majority of his murders. Bundy was executed by the electric chair. This particular vehicle is located at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment.
In a typical Girl Show, it is women that are the main attraction. The types of acts will include a fully clothed performer in a decorated costume. It may also be a nude (sometimes partially) stripper.
From Fully Clothed To Nude
Strange And Dangerous Performances For Entertainment
Full Body Tattoos
Glad we can share the four classic types of sideshows people have been enjoying for many years. All of the attractions have brought plenty of fun and entertainment to men, women and children.
Have you heard of any of the sideshow freaks mentioned in this post? Of course, there are many more performers from the past and present. There will be many new freaks in the years to come.