While there is no recorded history of the first sideshow in America, P.T. Barnum started promoting the human novelties he deemed “freaks” in his traveling show in 1835.

He soon opened his larger freak show in the American Museum in Manhattan in 1841.

A fire, however, in 1868 destroyed this museum and forced him to open P.T Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus.

Famous acts such as Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, Fiji Mermaid, General Tom Thumb, and George Washington’s nurse soon joined him.

This started the public’s interest in these so-called sideshows. One of these sideshows included the Three-Legged Sicilian, Frank Lentini, who was born with three legs.

His condition stemmed from a parasitic twin that had developed during gestation.

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10 /10 Understanding His Condition

Frank was born with a parasitic twin. A parasitic twin is an asymmetrical conjoined twin and occurs when the twin embryo develops in the uterus but does not entirely separate.

This causes one twin to become development dominant, and one ceases development during gestation and is incompletely formed.

The twin was attached to his spine at the base and had a pelvic bone, a rudimentary set of male genitalia, a full-sized leg on the right side of his hip, and a small foot coming from the knee.


9 /10 Sideshow Presence

His stage name was the Three-Legged Football Player, as he would kick a football across the stage using his third leg.

His standard legs were also different lengths, with one being 39 inches and the other 38 inches.

The third leg was 36 inches and had a club foot on the end. As he grew, his two legs remained different, and the third length was several inches shorter.

Due to this, Frank considered himself not to have a good pair of legs, even though he had three in total.

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8 /10 Exhibiting His Deformity

Frank was exhibited in several cities starting in 1897, including London.

Then, at eight years old, a man Magnano, who oversaw running a traveling puppet show, had him come to Middletown, and Frank’s family ended up moving to the United States.

He then began his sideshow, The Great Lentini, and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus.

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7 /10 The Birth Of Frank Lentini

Frank was born at 9 Gintoli Street in Rosolini, Sicily, to his parents Natale and Giovanna Falco on May 18th, 1889. Maria Alberino, a midwife, delivered him.

Frank was the fifth of 12 children, with seven sisters and five brothers in his family.

Due to his unusual condition, he was soon sent into the care of his uncle Corrido Falco and his wife.


6 /10 Unusual Condition

Frank was then taken to a specialist in Naples, where he was examined at four months old. Frank was born with a third leg.

At five years old, he was able to play with other children and straighten his third leg, but unable to walk. While he also had a third leg, Frank also had four feet and two sets of genitals.

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5 /10 Ringling Brothers Circus

The Ringling Brothers first created their circus in 1882 when the five brothers joined to perform skits and juggling routines in town halls around Wisconsin.

In 1884, they expanded the show into a one-ring show. They added a trick horse and bear and started traveling by train in 1888.

In 1884, they also purchased the Yankee Robinson Circus. Their competitor, James Anthony Bailey of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, thus viewed them as a competitor.

They soon bought Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in 1907 when Bailey died in 1906. The two were run separately for several years.

However, as audience numbers declined and employees were drafted for World War I, Ringling Circus and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus were merged in 1919 as the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus.


4 /10 Rise Of Sideshows

Entertainment acts first became popular in the 16th century when abnormalities and disfigurements became objects of public interest and amusement at English summer fairs.

This continued into the mid-19th century when Bridgeport, Connecticut’s P.T. Barnum started touring across the US and Europe with several “freaks of nature.”

This included a dwarf, General Tom Thumb, the Feejee Mermaid, and the man-monkey.

Others such as Tom Norman showcased oddities like the Balloon Headed Baby and the most famous, the Elephant Man Joesph Merrick.

While some were real, others were fake. But whether they were real or not, they ultimately became a success.

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3 /10 Frank's Sideshow Career

Frank became a US citizen at 30 years old. He worked every major sideshow and circus ranging from Barnum and Bailey and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for over 40 years.

He became known as “The King” from others that worked alongside him.


2 /10 Married Life

In 1907, Frank married Theresa Murray, who was three years younger than him. Together they had four children, Giuseppina (Josephine), Natale (Ned), Francesco (Frank), Junior, and Giacomo (James).

The two separated in 1935. Frank soon began a relationship with Helen Shupe, with who he lived until his death. On September 21st, 1966, Frank died of lung failure in Jackson, Tennessee, at 77 years old.


1 /10 Pop Culture

Frank was related to strongman/filmmaker Christopher Annino. Additionally, Jonathan Redavid portrayed him in the film The Greatest Showman in 2017.

He is also featured on the back of Alice in Chains’ self-titled rock album from 1995. His hometown of Rosolini still celebrates Frank and remembers him to this day.

Fifty years after his death, they glorified him to honor his memory. His family even attended that was still in the United States.

In addition, a painting exhibition was held in his honor, with visitors coming to the town and everyone visiting the cemetery for a final farewell on the exact day of his death. Though he left, he is still remembered fondly as a proud Sicilian. 

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