Monday, May 20, 2013

Oddities Week: Carnival Freaks

The 1932 film "Freaks"

"Freak shows" were designed to showcase biological mishaps and oddities.  They actually became popular in the mid 1500s in Europe.  Their popularity reach its pinnacle in the 1800s in America and Europe.  People with diseases and birth defects were showcased in an atmosphere that took advantage of them at ironically also gave them a potential income they might not have been able to make in those times. PT Barnum made a name in the business of exhibiting these citizens.

The most famous "freak" was General Tom Thumb.

General Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton): (1838-1883) 
2-feet 11-inches. 
A relative taught him to dance, sing and do impersonations and he became famous working for PT Barnum.
He eventually became a freemason.  He married another little person.  When he passed away suddenly, 20,000 people attended his funeral as he was buried at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Freak Shows still happen around the world, even when they are no longer politically correct. There is a deep curiosity in humans to see "oddities" from the "norm" because we wonder ourselves what it would be like to exist with an extra limb, a hair-covered body, or other disease that causes disfigurement. Interestingly, many of the conditions that landed people in side shows can now be treated, like removal of extra limbs, separation of conjoined twins, and medication for herpes growths, as well as laser hair removal and stomach stapling surgery.

I look at this vintage photos and realize that was not a kind time to be riddled with condtions that might have come with a host of health issues that could not be treated. These people realized they were going to be looked at anyway, so why not make some money with their "assets" and others realized they would never fit into their villages or marry or breed among their close-knit community. They got to see the world, get some attention, and have a living at the same time.


  1. Let's not forget ROBERT HUDDLESTON – The Pony Boy

  2. When my mother was a very little girl, she met a sideshow freak, who was known as "Princess Ubangi", at a carnival in Australia. She performed as a "Pygmy Princess" but she was really just a little person who worked the sideshow circuit internationally. My mother, who was tiny, couldn't believe there was a woman as small as her. :)

    On the one hand, the freak show phenomenon is discomforting, but as you say, these people often made a good living and had a quality of life that would otherwise have been denied them without the sideshows.



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