Circus performers have always been weird and wonderful, but many of their unusual talents are downright horrifying. Some ended up in the circus around the Victorian era due to unusual birth defects, something that we don’t tend to see so much of with modern medicine. At the time these people were seen as so strange that they were showcased and they embraced that. From Lobster Boy to bearded ladies, we’ve got them all.
The Three Legged Man
Born in Rosolini, Sicily in 1889, Francesco A. Lentini was famous for having three legs, four feet and amazingly, two sets of genitals. Lentini was born with a parasitic twin, which in more modern times is often removed at birth. In the case of Lentini, he lived his whole life with his parasitic twin attached to his body until he died at age 77. Unfortunately, none of Francesco’s three legs were the same length and he was known to joke that despite having three legs, he didn’t have a pair.
Ella Harper was born in 1870 with a rare condition that caused her knees to bend backwards. She found it easiest to walk on her hands and feet, giving her the camel like appearance she was famed for. She continued to live a long life after leaving the circus and eventually died of colon cancer in Tennessee, USA.
Chang and Eng Bunker
Born in 1811 near Bangkok, Chang and Eng Bunker were the first well known Siamese twins. Between them, Chang and Eng fathered 21 children. The brothers were fused at the sternum and although their livers were joined, they were functional individually. They lived shockingly normal lives, they were married and settled on a small plantation. In 1874, Chang died in his sleep. When Eng awoke to find his brother dead, he was devastated and although an emergency separation of the twins was being organised, Eng died three hours later.
The Human Pincushion
Arnold Gerrit Henskes, better known as Mirin Dajo, had a remarkable ability. He was able to push extremely sharp things through his body, this included but was not limited to, swords, pencils, and screwdrivers. Although he died at 35, he bewildered the medical community at the time, piercing himself and even swallowing glass or razor blades apparently without apparent injury.
He died in 1948 from aortic rupture after having a needle surgically removed.
Grady Stiles, better known as ‘Lobster Boy’ was a performer who suffered from a condition called ectrodactyly, a genetic condition that causes the digits on the hands and feet to spread and fuse together. Stiles’ father and several of his children also had the condition. Stiles unfortunately went from circus sideshow to murderer in 1988. Stiles was an aggressive and violent man, particularly to his family. He shot and killed his daughter’s fiancé and was sentenced to fifteen years probation. Stiles himself was later murdered by a man who is thought to have been hired by his wife. He died in 1992 at age 55.