The Quick 10: 10 Famous Circus Performers

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I'm sure you have all noticed by now that I have a love of the strange and the bizarre. So when I came across this fascinating post about strongmen throughout history at Listverse, I was immediately inspired for today's Quick 10. I know strongmen aren't always circus sideshow attractions, but they are definitely unusual people"¦ so that's where my brain went. And by the way, if you have something to get done this afternoon, don't click on the Listverse link. It's a highly addictive site that will suck you in for hours.

Have a good weekend!

1. Jane Barnell, AKA Lady Olga Roderick, was in sideshows from a very young age - her own mother sold her to the Great Orient Family Circus when she was just a girl. Over the course of her career, she toured with several different circuses and eventually ended up with Ringling. Her great appeal? She had a 13-inch long beard. She was in biffenTod Browning's movie Freaks from 1932 (which I still have yet to see, although it's on my list), but wasn't happy with the way sideshow performers were portrayed in the movie. She died in 1951.

2. If you're a fan of Charles Dickens, the name Sarah Biffen might sound familiar to you. She was a woman who was born with no arms. She had legs, but they didn't function. However, she had no problems writing, painting or doing needlework because she learned to use her mouth. Charles Dickens was so impressed that he wrote her into both Martin Chuzzlewit and Nicholas Nickelby. Sarah toured with a man named Mr. Dukes, who took her to various fairs and circus, charging people to watch her draw and sew. She even sold her work for three guineas each.

bibrowski3. Stephan Bibrowski, AKA Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, had hypertrichosis (we think "“ it wasn't diagnosable at the time). You can probably guess by his clever sideshow name that he was covered in long hair "“ the only parts that weren't were his palms and the soles of his feet. He traveled with Barnum & Bailey's during the first part of the 20th century, but by 1920 he settled down in New York City so he could exhibit himself at Coney Island. By 1930, he was out of the sideshow life altogether.

4. Myrtle Corbin was a dipygus "“ she had two pelvises side-by-side, which gave her four legs. The inner two of them were too small and too weak to do much with, though. She toured with sideshows for a while, but ended up marrying a doctor in 1887 (she was 19). They had four kids "“ supposedly, three from one pelvis and one from the other.

5. Minnie Woolsey, AKA Koo Koo, the Bird Girl. She had Virchow-Seckel syndrome, which resulted in a very small head and a narrow, bird-like face, including a long nose and very large eyes. She was also bald, lacking any teeth, and had very little to no sight. She was also in the movie Freaks, where she wore a bird outfit and danced during one of the scenes.

6. William Hutchings was known as the Boy Lightning Calculator (marketed by P.T. Barnum, of course). He could perform complex equations and add, subtract and multiply extremely large numbers without the aid of so much as a pencil. When his sideshow days were over, he went on to write a book about how you can do the same thing yourself: The Lightning Calculator: A Guide to Rapid and Accurate Calculation by Professor Hutchings.

marriage7. Of course, General Tom Thumb is one of the most (if not the most) well-known circus performers of all time. His real name was Charles Stratton, and he only grew to a maximum height of about 40 inches tall. He started touring with Barnum in 1843, when he was only five. He married a girl who was about his height, and together they were incredibly popular "“ the Brangelina of the 1860s.

8. Lavinia Warren was Tom's wife. She and her sister both had proportionate dwarfism (meaning all of their features were proportionately small). She worked as a teacher for a while, but when she heard of Tom Thumb's success, she assumed there was no reason she couldn't do the same. And she did. In fact, even though Commodore Nutt, a fellow dwarf, was pursuing her, she was in love with Tom Thumb and ended up marring him in 1863. Their wedding was a huge event "“ P.T. Barnum charged people $75 to attend the reception.

9. Frank Richards, better known as Cannonball. His whole act consisted of taking painful objects to the gut, including a sledgehammer, two-by-fours, a punch from heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, and, yes, cannonballs. You guys might know him from the Van Halen III album cover. You can see him doing his thing below:

10. Anna Haining Bates was, like a lot of these performers, discovered by P.T. Barnum. She was already four and a half feet tall by the time she was four, and about 6'1" at the age of 10. Her adult height was right around 7'5". She married Martin Van Buren Bates, another super tall person (Guinness lists him at 7'9".)

November 21, 2008 - 12:06pm
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