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A freak show is an exhibition of biological oddities. Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as the extremely large or the very small or those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics or people with other extraordinary diseases and conditions. The performances were expected to be shocking to the viewers. Often, Heavily tattooed or pierced people have sometimes been seen in freak shows, as have attention-getting physical performers such as sword-swallowing acts or macabre demonstrations like biting and swallowing the head from a live chicken.

Incidentally, this is also the story arc for this season of American Horror Story! Notice any similarities in the cast of characters?
Enjoy this gallery of vintage performers!

Edward Drake was a 19th century man who suffered from Diprosopus, or cranial duplication. While there is some dispute to the veracity of his story, according to the 1990 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine he was purported to have a second face on the back of his head that could only laugh and cry. He claimed the face spoke to him at night, and was so distressed that he killed himself at age 23

Schlitzie was a man with microcephaly, a condition that causes a sloping head and smaller brain. In addition to being featured in the cult film Freaks, Schlitzie was enormously successful in sideshows, working in all the biggest circuses of the day. Reportedly, Schlitzie loved performing, which he did up until his death at age 70.

Daisy and Violet Hilton were conjoined twins active in side shows during the 1930s. They endured lifelong abuse at the hands of shady managers, and were eventually abandoned North Carolina after a show. With no income and no means of transportation, they sought work in a grocery store.

The Doll Family were German dwarf siblings who performed in circuses and side shows. They were extremely successful and worked extensively in film. Two of the siblings, Harry and Daisy, starred in the cult classic Freaks, and all four were featured in The Wizard of Oz as munchkins.

Robert Huddleston and Ella Harper, AKA Pony Boy and Camel Girl, were sideshow performers with unusual posture who found success in the sideshow circuit, albeit 50 years apart.
Robert grew up on a farm before spending decades in the circus, and eventually retired to California where he spent his later years restoring cars and raising rabbits. He died in 1970.

In 1512 reports spread of a monster born in Ravenna with bat wings for arms and a single horn upon its head. Dozens of woodcuts and drawings exist, and Pope Julius II ordered the creature to be starved to death.

Mignon (which means “cute” in French) was a woman born with phocomelia in the early 1900’s. She married twice in her life, first to an average sized man, and had a child without deformities. Later she married a retired acrobat named Earl Davis, and they performed together for the next several years. They retired, and the remainder of their lives are mystery.

Bill Durks was born in 1913 with frontonasal dysplasia, a condition where the two halves of the face fail to meet. Bill was shy, had trouble speaking, and was denied an education because of his appearance. As a result, he was illiterate.

Fanny Mills was born in 1860 with a condition known as Milroy’s Disease, which causes extreme swelling of the lower extremities. During her time in the circus, a reward of five thousand dollars was offered to any man willing to marry Fanny.

Myrtle Corbin was born in 1868 with a parasitic twin dangling from her midsection. She could move the legs of her twin, but they were malformed with only three toes. She earned $450 a week, an astronomical salary in the day. She had five children and passed away at age 60.
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