Emerging from a popular yet affordable form of entertainment in dime museums during the mid-1800s in the United States, freak shows reached the height of their popularity throughout the late 19th to early 20th century.
They were parts (or perhaps the main attractions) of circus performances or other types of traveling exhibitions throughout the country and beyond.
Although popular among spectators, the freak show was often criticized for its nature likely involved instances of exploitation of its performers.
The “show” mostly revolved around the exhibition of human oddities or congenitally unusual anatomy, for example, microcephaly, dwarfism, gigantism, and other physical disabilities.
As if the term “freak” was not demeaning enough. Some even consider freak shows a part of pre-WWII American culture.
One of the earliest and most popular performers, “The Elephant-Man,” Joseph Merrick was not an American but an English born in Leicester, United Kingdom.
Out of necessity to earn a living, Merrick became part of a freak show in his early 20s before Dr. Frederick Treves found and arranged accommodation for him at the Royal London Hospital.
10 /10 Miserable Adolescence
There are some conflicting accounts about the life of Joseph Merrick during his teenage into early adult years. Some sources say Merrick spent much of his life being part of a fairground exhibition as a freak.
Others suggest that Merrick was exhibited in the back of a vacant establishment only for a short period in 1884. However, almost certainly, he had rough miserable adolescence due to his deformity.
He couldn’t keep every employment he had, mainly because he possessed no skill required to perform the work and that people were horrified by his looks.
9 /10 Extreme Deformity
Joseph Merrick suffered from a condition not fully understood even by modern medical science. His skull featured significant growth of bone on the right side and at the front of the temple.
His right arm also was far more critical than the left, which appeared normal. His right upper leg bone (femur) was thicker and more extensive than the left too. Merrick’s spine was curved, making him hunched.
The curious part was that the abnormal growths only occurred in certain parts of the body.
Diagnoses thus far include Proteus syndrome or a combination of that with neurofibromatosis, but it remains uncertain.