HomeCultureThe Sad Stories Of The Ringling Brothers’ “Freak Show” Acts

The Sad Stories Of The Ringling Brothers’ “Freak Show” Acts

Annie Jones (“The Bearded Lady”)

Bearded women have been a sideshow staple since the beginning of the circus, often billed at the top of any list of circus “freaks.” And Annie Jones, the “Bearded Lady” of P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth,” was one of the most successful bearded ladies of all time. Yet that didn’t stop her life from being marked by tragedy. Although Jones owed all of her fame and fortune to being billed as a Barnum “freak,” it was at this point in her career that she campaigned against the use of the word to describe sideshow performers. However, she passed away of tuberculosis at age 37 on a visit to her mother, having “known no other life than that of a freak.”

Jack Earle (“The World’s Tallest Man”)

Myrtle Corbin (“The Four-Legged Girl from Texas”)

Myrtle Corbin entered the freak show circuit at the age of 13 and was billed as the “Four-Legged Girl from Texas.” Born with two separate pelvises situated side by side, Corbin’s four individual legs made her a very popular “oddity:” She had the ability to move her two inner legs, but they were too weak to sustain her weight or be used for walking. Corbin’s fame in the circus directly led to several phony four-legged acts popping up in other freak shows worldwide. After her successful circus career, Myrtle married James Clinton Bicknell at the age of 19 and went on to birth four daughters and a son. Corbin died six days short of her 60th birthday, in 1928.

Fedor Jeftichew (“Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy”)

Chang and Eng Bunker (“The Siamese Twins”)

In 1829, a Scottish merchant named Robert Hunter saw a strange sight in the water while visiting the Kingdom of Siam — what is now called Thailand: two boys, conjoined at the sternum, were taking a swim together. Hunter saw an opportunity to a make a profit. He tracked down their parents, and paid them to exhibit their children as a curiosity on a tour of the world as “The Siamese Twins.” The brothers toured for three years, doing backflips and playing badminton for adoring audiences. When they turned 21, the brothers ended their contract with Hunter, determined to live a normal life. They bought a plantation in North Carolina, married a pair of sisters, and became American citizens. Between the two of them, they fathered 21 children. In 1874, Chang suffered a stroke and died in his sleep. Eng awoke the next morning to find his brother dead. By the time a doctor arrived to perform an emergency separation, Eng had passed away as well.


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