Top 5 Famous Sideshow Performers
Tales have been told of the sideshows that used to dominate the world and showcase people with differences that people would pay good money to see and experience. These differences were often marveled at and the people who had these differences were made famous and oftentimes made a lot of money. Join us as we celebrate their fame with these Top 5 Famous Sideshow Performers.
JoJo Dog Faced Boy – Fedor Adrianovich Jeftichew
Born in 1868 in St. Petersburg Russia, Fedor was born with Hypertrichosis which was an unusual growth of hair on the body. In his young life he toured French sideshows with his father who had the same condition.
Fedor was found by P.T. Barnum and brought to the United States in 1884. There he performed, often time in a made-up Army uniform and promoted as Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Boy. The act was helped out with the story that he was wild and was found living in a cave. Fedor would add to the act by often growling and even barking like a dog for crowds.
Despite his act, he was a smart man and spoke English, German, and Russian in real life. He spent most of his career touring through the United States and Europe. As he grew up, he was named the Dog-Faced Man and made a lot of money. He eventually passed away from pneumonia while living in Greece in 1904.
Elastic Skin Man – Felix Wehrle
Born in 1858 in Laredo, Texas, Felix suffered from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which affects the connective tissue of the skin and he found his skin could be stretched. He could also bend his finger forward and backward that added to the show he put on for people. He found most of his employment performing as a sideshow attraction at Barnum & Bailey shows around the world performing under the name of “The Elastic Skin Man”. Felix had a long career of making a name for himself and lived to be 75 before he passed away in 1933.
Pinhead – Schlitzie
It was said that Schlitzie was born in September of 1901 in Bronx but much of the information of his early life isn’t concrete. Much of it could have been dreamed up by promoters to tell people. He suffered from Microcephaly, or an undersized brain, but was still able to make money being billed as a “pinhead” in various sideshows.
Schlitzie mostly worked for the Barnum and Bailey sideshow. It was said he had the intelligence of a 3-year-old and was well liked by those around him. He was sociable and affectionate and loved to dance and sing while being the center of attention. He was often portrayed as female and wore dresses to meet his medical needs as he was incontinent and needed help taking care of himself. Outside of his sideshow fame, he starred in a few movies, the most notable in the 1932 movie Freaks that starred a lot of real sideshow performers. Schitzie lived to age 70 where he still performed occasionally in sideshow attractions in Los Angeles.
Camel Girl – Ella Harper
Born in 1870, Ella was born with a condition where her knees bent backward and she often crawled around in her shows. She eventually was employed by the Nickel Plate Circus and presented to audiences as “The Camel Girl” where she became the star of the show.
Although she was cheered by newspapers for her personality, in 1886 she confessed that one of her big wishes was she wanted to quit the sideshow circuit and go to school like a normal girl. She lived a long life getting married and becoming a mother before she passed away in December of 1921 from Colon Cancer.
Elephant Man – Joseph Merrick
Born in 1862, Merrick was normal for the most part growing up but when he turned 12 years old small bumps started appearing on his body. They grew larger and the growths became so grotesque and large, his stepmother kicked him out of his house.
He traveled the streets mostly and hid his face and most of the growths behind a bag like mask. He began to live at The London Hospital and eventually got a job with a sideshow run by Sam Torr where he was called “The Elephant Man” and made a lot of money. Besides being a sideshow attraction, he was also a talented writer and a poet.
Although he was visited by the wealthy for much of his life, he was depressed and killed himself by sitting in a position that made his growths dislocate his neck in 1890. What he was afflicted with has become a bit of a mystery. In 1986 it was thought he had Proteus syndrome but DNA testing on his hair and bones proved to be inconclusive.