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216101.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:32 am Reply with quote

'Pig-faced ladies' were frequently exhibited as attractions at C19th fairs. The technique was revealed in court at a magisterial investigation in Plymouth, following a dispute between a dwarf and the proprietor of a travelling fair: the showman would get a bear drunk, tie it to a chair, shave its head, and dress it up as a woman.

S: Jan Bondeson, lecturer at the University of Wales College of Medicine. See Fortean Times 145: 34-38, FT227: 53 and his book Freaks: The Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square and Other Medical Marvels (Tempus Publications, 2005)

216194.  Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:20 am Reply with quote

Miss Stevens - otherwise known as the Pig-Faced Lady - was the star exhibit at the Hyde Park Fair in the 1830s. "She" was, in fact, a bear with a shaved face and paws and wearing a shawl, bonnet and lace gloves to hide its claws.

Paying visitors would approach the bear and ask a question, to which it would grunt in reply. This trick was performed by a small boy, hidden behind the bear, who would prod it with a stick to respond. Other exhibits included the Lobster Claw Lady, who amused audiences by knitting with her deformed hands.

Source: The QI Column, Daily Telegraph

216864.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:53 pm Reply with quote

Has anyone ever seen the 1932 movie Freaks?

You can watch it on YouTube and there's an article about it on Wikipedia.

216872.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:13 pm Reply with quote

The director, Tod Browining, was an interesting man.

Charles Browning Jr. is born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1880, he ran away to join a travelling circus when he was 16 and worked in carnivals and circuses for many years, including working as a 'living corpse', which involved being buried six feet under with a hidden ventilating tube to keep him alive and being gawked at by punters through a viewing tube.

He eventually found his way to Hollywood, did some acting and then directing, working on the D W Griffith film Intolerance in 1916, and then directing and writing a series of adventures and melodramas for MGM.

A hard-fought battle with the bottle followed, but in In 1931 Browning directed Bela Lugosi in the classic Dracula. This, along with Frankenstein directed by James Whale, created a new popular genre of horror movies, and Freaks, based on a short story, was intended to slot neatly into that.

Browning sought out genuine 'sideshow freaks' for many of the roles. The final cast included Prince Randian, "The Living Torso", a limbless man from British Guiana who rolls and lights a cigarette with his teeth in the film, Pete Robinson, "The Living Skeleton", and Olga Roderick, "The Bearded Lady." The cast also included Martha Morris, "The Armless Beauty", and Joseph/Josephine, the half-man/half-woman. Five microcephalic people appeared in the picture. Others got only brief non-speaking cameos and were treated more like extras, including a boy with long hair who had flipper like appendages instead of arms and is glimpsed only briefly at the start crawling across a log, and at the end advancing through the mud.

Many of the freaks in the film, especially the dwarfs and midgets, had later roles in other movies, including The Wizard of Oz and horror movies.

However, after the film was produced, the revulsion expressed by critics and audiences ensured that it very quickly dropped into cinematic limbo for twenty years. It was resurrected in 1956 by a wealthy San Francisco woman who was preparing for a horror film retrospective and had heard about it. Via the well-known Satanist Anton Szandor LaVey, she was put in touch with a man who still had a print, since when it has become an underground cult classic.

The above abridged from

216884.  Thu Oct 04, 2007 2:30 pm Reply with quote

Curiously enough, a member of the QI club has just made a film about the last freak show in the United States. He's trying to find distribution for it at the moment...

263426.  Tue Jan 22, 2008 7:11 am Reply with quote

Jean (or Juan) Baptista dos Santos is said to have been a “Gipsey”, born in Faro, Portugal around 1843, to normal parents with two other normal children. He possessed two functioning penises and three scrota, the outer two of which each contained a single testis. Dos Santos claimed that the central scrotum had also contained a pair of fully-formed testes, but that these had retreated into his abdomen when he was ten years old. He also had a third leg. Fortunately for dos Santos, at the same time there lived in Paris a women named Blanche Dumas who had four breasts and two vaginas (and also a third leg). Dumas was working as a high class prostitute. Dos Santos travelled to Paris and it is believed that the two had a torrid affair.
post 263396

287455.  Fri Feb 29, 2008 9:04 am Reply with quote

I'm looking at freaks this week, but thought for the time being I'd post this which I mentioned at Wednesday's meeting:

Question: What disease did Joseph Merrick suffer from?

Forfeit: Elephantiasis.

Answer: Proteus Syndrome

In Joseph Merrick's time, leading authorities stated he suffered from elephantiasis - a disorder of the lymphatic system that causes parts of the body to swell to a huge size. However in 1996, Amita Sharma, of the National Institutes of Health (U.S.), examined x-rays and CT scans of Merrick's skeleton and discovered that Merrick had Proteus syndrome, an extremely rare disorder, itself only identified in 1979.

Proteus Syndrome is a condition which involves atypical growth of the bones, skin, head and a variety of other symptoms. The name comes from the greek God Proteus who used to change his shape or form to avoid capture.

287460.  Fri Feb 29, 2008 9:07 am Reply with quote

Or perhaps

What disease did the Elephant Man suffer from?

289797.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 3:43 am Reply with quote

Samuel W. Gumpertz was the king of the Freakshow at Coney Island, in 1904 he built Lilliputia, an entire miniature city scaled for its dwarf and midget inhabitants who were especially invited from around the country. The most famous inhabitant was Countess Magri, the former wife of Tom Thumb.

After Liliputia’s success, Gumpertz spent the next few years scouring the globe for more freaks. He found wild men from Borneo, long necked women from Myanmar and African women with plates in their lips.

His 1911 show included Ursa the bear girl; Bonita - Irish fat midget; Rob Roy - albino wonder; Amy - New York fat girl; Lionel - the dog faced boy (or lion faced man) and Schrief Afendl - human salamander.

Mary Ann Bevan (1874 – 1933) was the self-proclaimed ugliest (homliest) woman in the world. She most likely suffered from acromegaly, a syndrome in which the patient suffers from swelling of the hands, feet, nose, lips and ears; a pronounced brow and jaw and gap-teeth. After her husband died, she was in need of money to feed her four children; so she entered and won an ‘Ugly Woman’ contest. She was soon hired and exhibited by Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus

Hallmark created a birthday card with Bevan’s face on it in 2006, but later withdrew it after complaints by a doctor pointed out that the woman on the card was disfigured because of illness.

Aloisia Wagner, otherwise known as “violetta” was a german woman born with no arms or legs. Guests at Coney Island could watch the "Beautiful Armless and Legless Venus" hop around, sing, and sew or light a cigarette using only her mouth.

Zip the pinhead (1842 – 1926) was born William Henry Johnson, he was exhibited for his tiny head topped by a small tuft of hair, in actual fact he suffered from microcephaly which sadly also means that he was severely mentally disabled (though this has been disputed in recent years). He was billed as “the missing link”.


Jean Carroll, a bearded lady, enjoyed life with the circus. She fell in love with a contortionist who wanted to marry her but couldn’t get past her whiskers, so she had her beard removed by electrolysis – but covered her body in tattoos so she could continue touring as a tattooed lady.

In the USA, one Coney Island side show still remains, partially funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs


Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis which meant that her whole body was covered with hair. After growing up in a Mexican orphanage, she was exhibited as the "Bearded and Hairy Lady" by Theodor Lent, who eventually married her and they had a child. Unfortunately the child had the same syndrome as its mother and both mother and child died in childbirth.

Lent was not to be stopped though, he had both his wife and son mummified and exhibited their bodies. A few years later, Lent found another woman with hypertrichosis and married her; he later went insane.

The bodies of Pastrana and her son went on something of a wild posthumous journey, they were almost destroyed by the Nazis along with a bunch of waxworks and pickled penises, the baby’s body was destroyed by vandals in 1976, and Julia herself was though lost until she turned up at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Oslo in 1990 where she still lies.

Pastrana spoke 3 languages and was an accomplished dancer and singer. Singing arias and dancing the highland fling.

s: IOS 21/12/2003

Frank Cannonball Richards (c. 1930s) had an indestructible belly. He began his act by allowing people (such as Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey) to punch him in the stomach; he then went on to allowing people to jump on his stomach, hit him with a plank of wood, hit him with a sledgehammer, and finally shooting him with a cannonball shot from a spring-loaded cannon. He was later parodied in The Simpsons.

Sidney Behrendt’s (1899 – 1980) stage name was Sealo the Sealboy. He was born with phocomelia, a condition that causes shortened, 'seal-like' limbs. He had a career in the Coney Island freakshows that spanned 40 years, and despite his small hands, he still found ways to hold his rummy-hands and his whiskey glasses and infamously enjoyed the company of many women and his career spanned 40 years.

In 1972, a number of civil-rights activists protested against the freakshows, citing a 1921 Florida law that banned the exhibition of the handicapped. Sealo was one the main players in successfully suing the the state to have the law overturned. Mat Fraser, a thalidomide baby of the late 60s has recently resurrected the memory of Behrendt with his one man show named after the seal-boy. He claims that he is often asked “how do you wank?”

Phocomelia comes from the greek for “seal limbs”

In 1930, a Chinese farmer with a fourteen-inch spire-like horn growing from the back of his head was discovered by a Russian banker who was able to take a picture of the man and he sent the snapshot off to Robert Ripley of ‘Believe It Or Not!’ fame. Ripley offered a huge cash reward to anyone who could produce Wang the human unicorn for an appearance in his Odditorium.

In October 2007, Xiou Ling, a 95 year old woman from Zhanjiang, south China, sprouted a 12 centimetre long horn on her forehead.

Juan Baptista dos Santos was a Portuguese freak who was variously described as “the human tripod” or “The Man With Two Swords”. He had a third leg from a parasitic Siamese twin, and had two penises, which he supposedly urinated from simultaneously (he also was described as having a ravenous sexual appetite and supposedly also used both penises during intercourse. He didn’t tour with freakshows, but opted to exhibit himself to medical authorities and rare ‘special’ exhibitions.

289906.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 5:59 am Reply with quote

According to post 263396 from Outside, Senhor Baptista dos Santos had a relationship with a woman named Blanche Dumas, who was possessed of three legs, four breasts, and two vaginas.

294777.  Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:53 am Reply with quote

Mat just posted about a guy who toured with Ripley's show after surviving a firing squad: post 294770.

304295.  Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:10 pm Reply with quote

Matthias Buchinger – The Little Man of Nuremberg – was a magician with no hands or legs. He was born in Germany in 1674, grew to be 29 inches high and was known affectionately as ‘Flipper’. He would perform tricks with cups and balls and make birds appear from nowhere. He came to England in the retinue of George I but failed to find much favour and so traveled on to Ireland. He was an accomplished artist and engraver and played several musical instruments (Flute, Hautboy (=Oboe), Dulcimer and bagpipes). One appendage clearly worked; he is variously credited with three or four wives and ten to fifteen children. His skeleton was kept for science in a museum in Cork and his descendants now live in Wexford.

(Link to Ireland)

349082.  Sat May 31, 2008 10:46 am Reply with quote

The “Kunstkammer” in St Petersberg was Russia's first museum, it held freaks, dwarves and giants. It was a result of Peter the Great's decree "about delivering born freaks and other curiosities found."



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