More Famous Sideshow Performers

You met some of history’s most famous sideshow performers in our earlier post. Our Strangling Brothers, fear-loving fans loved the post so much, we thought we could round up a few more for a sequel.

Read about six more sideshow performers from the past who would be at home in any Salt Lake haunted house.

The Camel Girl, Ella Harper

Many four-legged animals have knees that bend forward (take a look at your dog or cat if you can’t picture it). We humans don’t have this condition, of course—at least most of us.

Ella Harper, a young girl from Tennessee, did, and she put her uniquely hinged body on display at the Nickel Plate Circus, walking around on all fours and being the star of the show. Harper apparently left the circus at the age of 16 to go to school, and seems to have retired from the business—probably as a result of the $200 weekly wage she earned in the circus, a tidy sum for the 1880s.

Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, Stephan Bibrowski

Uncontrollable hair growth has been a go-to condition for sideshow performers for centuries. Bibrowski’s thick hair, which grew over his face to make him resemble a lion, upset his mother so much that she gave him away to a German circus.

Bibrowski seemed to take his circus work in stride. Much of his act was spent just talking with the curious people who had come to see him. The Lion-Faced Man spoke five languages and was known to be a kind and intelligent fellow.

The Bearded Lady, Annie Jones

Similar to the Lion-Faced Man, one of the mainstays of sideshows has been the bearded lady. One of the most famous was Annie Jones, who was in P.T. Barnum’s circus. She reportedly had a mustache by age 5, making her one of Barnum’s top attractions. She also used her stature to discourage people from referring to her and her fellow performers as “freaks,” a term that persists to this day.

The Human Skeleton, Isaac Sprague

No haunted house would be complete without a skeleton. Isaac Sprague fit the bill for multiple circuses in his time. He had an undiagnosed condition that reduced all his muscle mass to almost zero, making him (literally) skin and bones.
His popularity led to many similar performers being featured in acts around the country. Unfortunately, Sprague’s condition led to his death at age 46; he weighed less than 50 pounds despite being 5 ½ feet tall.

The Living Torso, Prince Randian

Randian was born in South America in the 1870s without arms or legs. While his act—slithering on stage as a “human snake”—might have been in questionable taste, Randian was an inspirational man: he was self-sufficient and spoke multiple languages (and could roll his own cigarettes).

The Invulnerable Man, Mirin Dajo

Dajo’s claim to fame was his ability to stick swords all the way through his body without getting hurt. Eventually, he proved to be vulnerable. He swallowed a steel needle, and after surgery to remove it, died from an aortic rupture.

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