People with non-typical anatomy or body features have long been a source of wonder and inspiration as much as a cause for worship and anxiety.

In the past, out-of-the-ordinary bodies were often regarded as evidence of either nature’s abundance or divine wrath.

As understanding of the unusual human body was not yet a study of scientific concern, people’s fascination over the fact gave birth to a once-popular entertainment form known as the “freak show” in which individuals with peculiar appearances, shapes, and behaviors were main attractions in exhibitions of human oddities and biological rarities.

Combined with newfound excitement in traveling during the mid-19th century, freak shows all over the world flourished. Freak shows used to be a staple in circuses, carnivals, world fairs, and even public parks.

It was not until about 100 years later, with the increasingly more robust emergence of medical science, people began to realize that the propriety of freak shows was at best questionable.

Freak shows suffered a significant decline in the 1940s and are not likely to rebound, but not before they brought some of the most bizarre curiosities of nature to the stage.

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10 /10 Schlitzie Surtees - The Pinhead

Records of the true identity of Schlitzie (sometimes credited as Schlitze) Surtees are scarce.

One popular opinion says that Schlitzie was Simon Metz, born in the Bronx on September 10, 1901. Schlitzie was male, but he performed as a female.

He was one of Tod Browning’s 1932 films “Freaks,” where he played a “pinhead” character.

Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition that causes a tiny head circumference and developmental disabilities. On stage, he was often billed as the last of the Mayan or Aztec races.

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9 /10 Chang And Eng Bunker - The Siamese Twins

Born in Siam (present-day Thailand) in 1881, the conjoined twin’s Chang and Eng were probably the first to introduce the condition to the public eye worldwide.

The brothers were conjoined in the chest and didn’t share any organ. They eventually traveled to American and Europe, performing in traveling troupes and sideshows.

Chang and Eng retired in 1938, rich enough to live in a Southern plantation of their own.

They had been so popular that P.T. Barnum brought them back from retirement in 1850 for another tour in Europe. Chang died in his sleep in 1874; Eng died a few hours later.


8 /10 Radica And Doodica - The Indian Siamese Twins

In 1888, twin girls from Orissa (now known as Odisha) in India were also born conjoined in a similar condition to Chang and Eng.

The local religious community took care of the girls as infants. The monks named the sisters Radica and Doodica.

A London showman, Captain Colman, brought them out of India and traveled all across Europe as part of exhibition shows. Colman treated the girls as his adoptive daughters.

Doodica developed tuberculosis in 1902, prompting a separation surgery. Doodica died shortly after the surgery at the age of 14. Radica died a year later from tuberculosis.


7 /10 Samuel Parks - Fearless Frog Boy

Born on October 20, 1874, in Boston, Samuel Parks suffered from a genetic bone disorder known as osteogenesis imperfecta, sometimes referred to as brittle bone disease.

He made his first public appearance at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Due to his condition, Samuel developed common painful fractures. He likely broke just about every bone throughout his life from the day he was born.

In a souvenir pamphlet during his 16th year of public appearance, he claimed to have broken 58 bones. His legs were twisted and bowed, hence the “Frog Boy” moniker.


6 /10 Caroline Crachami - The Sicilian Fairy

Born in Dublin, Ireland, but for financial reason dubbed by the exploitive promoter Dr. Gilligan as the “Sicilian Fairy,” Caroline Foghell – later in exhibition changed to Caroline Crachami – suffered from one of the most extreme cases of dwarfism ever recorded.

At age 3, she was no more than 50cm tall. Dr. Gilligan put the little girl into a grueling exhibition schedule, earning him a lot of money.

When she died, presumably from tuberculosis, Dr. Gilligan sold her body without consent to the Royal College of Surgeons for dissection without permission from her parents.


5 /10 John Coffey - The Living Skeleton Dude

A well-trained barber in Cedar Rapids and a father of seven, John Coffey had a career change in 1881 following a rapid weight loss, transforming him into a 5’7″ man who weighed only less than 70 pounds. Barnum & Bailey invited him in 1889 to participate in a European tour.

While performing in London, John charmed the audience and pretty much stole the show.

Souvenir photos sold during their time in the tour focused on his good looks, specifically the curled mustache while completely hiding away his unusually lean physique. John’s popularity declined as he regained weight.

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4 /10 Annie Jones - Bearded Lady

Several freak show acts accurately billed as the “bearded lady,” but Annie Jones would easily claim the top spot simply for the longevity of her career. When P.T. Barnum met Jones’ parents to let her join the show, she was barely one year old.

She was kidnapped by a phrenologist who also wanted to make money, displaying her peculiarity.

She was soon found and, in total, spent nearly 40 years with Barnum’s shows and others. Annie earned a reasonable sum of money from her job and later on became an accomplished musician.

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3 /10 Ella Harper - The Camel Girl

An unusual condition known as congenital genu recurvatum made Ella Harper the “Camel Girl.” The condition caused her knees to bend backward, so she was comfortable walking like a four-legged mammal.

During the shows, Annie often appeared with an actual camel to allow the audience to observe the similarities between her legs and the animals.

By the age of 16, she left the world of freak shows to go back to school. She died of colon cancer in December 1921 at 51 (assuming she was born in 1870, but there are conflicting reports on her birth date).


2 /10 Mademoiselle Gabrielle - The Half-Woman

A legless marvel in the freak shows, Mademoiselle Gabrielle, was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1884.

She began her exhibition career at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900 and was subsequently known as “The Half-Woman” for the apparent reason.

She traveled to American to work with Barnum & Bailey, Dreamland Circus Show, and Ringling Bros. For a short while, Mademoiselle also was a vaudevillian with the New York’s Hammerstein Theater.

She had neither legs nor stumps; her torso finished gracefully just below the hip. That said, she had an impressive figure and natural beauty to mesmerize the audience.


1 /10 Mary Ann Bevans - The Ugliest Woman In The World

Born in 1874 in London, England, Mary Ann Bevans began to display characteristics of acromegaly shortly after her marriage at the age of 29.

Following the passing of her husband, she found herself solely responsible for the well-being of four children.

She had been employed as a nurse, and to make some additional income, she entered and ultimately won an “Ugly Woman” contest.

In 1920, she was hired by Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus until her death in December 1933. Mary Ann also performed for other shows throughout her career, including Ringling Bros and the 1926 World’s Fair.

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