sideshow performers

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Bill Durks suffered from a genetic disorder known as frontonasal dysplasia that made him appear to have two faces. Durks was not allowed to attend school as a child due to his appearance, and he was ostracized by the public and his family until he attended a sideshow fair. The showmen at the fair invited Durks to join them, and when he did he became “The Man With Three Eyes”. (His third, middle, eye did not actually exist, it was painted on for theatrical effect. In actuality he was blind in one eye, so he would be a one-eyed man.)

Due to his lack of an education, Bill Durks was illiterate and this lead to people taking advantage of him. Durks was well-liked though, and many other performers looked out for him and helped him. Eventually Bill Durks found love, when he was introduced to Mildred the Alligator-Skinned woman, another sideshow performer. Despite their appearances, the couple was very happy, and they stayed married until Mildred’s death in 1968. Bill Durks died in 1975.

THE CURIOSITY OF FRANK LENTINI

At conception, Frank Lentini was one of a set of conjoined twins, but as they developed in the womb, the other twin died and his body was “assimilated” into Frank’s. Thus, when he was born in Sicily in 1881, Frank Lentini was born with three legs, two sets of genitals, and one rudimentary foot growing from the knew of his third leg. His parents refused to acknowledge him and was eventually given to a home for disabled children to be raised. At the home, met children who were deaf, blind and mute, and he learned to do amazing things despite his deformity: walking, ice skating, jump roping. At the age of 8, he moved to the United States and joined the  Ringling Brothers Circus as “The Great Lentini.” His career spanned over 30 years and he was so well respected amongst his peers that he was often referred to simply as “The King.” As an adult, Lentini’s legs grew to three different lengths, causing him to remark that even though he had three legs, he still didn’t have a pair.

 

Journey back to the edge of darkness at any time at alveryscottkent.tumblr.com but don’t stay too long by yourself - sometimes this place gets creepy

THE CURIOSITY OF SCHLITZIE

Little is known about Schiltzie’s life prior to joining the circus, but he became a popular attraction in carnival sideshows in the 20’s and 30’s. Born with a condition called microcephaly (pejoratively known as “pinhead”) , he had an unusually small brain and small skull, and suffered from moderate to severe mental retardation, but he had an exuberant and sociable personality, and loved to sing, dance and be the center of attention, which made him a popular attraction. He even made appearances in a few movies. As was common amongst sideshows at the time, responsibility for his care passed from one carnival to another as shows traded attractions with each other, but by most accounts, Schiltzie was well cared for and treated throughout his performing years. 

Journey back to the edge of darkness at any time at alveryscottkent.tumblr.com but don’t stay too long by yourself - sometimes this place gets creepy

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Grady Franklin Stiles Jr. was born on June 26th 1937, with a physical deformity called Ectrodactyly. Also referred to as, Lobster Claw Syndrome, Ectrodactyly is the absence or deformity of one or more of the middle digits on the hand or foot, giving a “claw-like” appearance. Due to his deformity, Grady was unable to walk, so he utilized his hands and arms for locomotion, resulting in impressive upper body strength. Grady’s father was a sideshow performer who was also born with Ectrodactyly and he incorporated Grady into his show with a traveling circus. As an adult, Grady was married twice and had four children, two of which had Ectrodactyly. Grady, still doing work with a traveling circus, marketed him and his two children as, “The Lobster Family”. Unfortunately, Grady developed and alcohol problem, which would lead to violence and abuse toward his family members. In 1978, Grady’s 17 year old daughter, Donna, informed him that she was pregnant and that she planned to run away with her boyfriend and get married. Donna was not actually pregnant, but she fabricated this in order to gain support for her marriage. The night before the wedding, Grady requested to have a conversation with his daughter’s fiancé, where he shot the man twice with a shot gun, resulting in his untimely death. Donna later explained that she returned to the horrific scene, her father was sitting on the porch smiling, when he told her, “I told you I would kill him.” Grady was convicted of third degree murder, but he did not serve any prison time. There were no state institutions that were capable of caring for him, so instead, he received 15 years probation. In 1989 he remarried his first wife, Mary, and began a new life, free from alcohol and violence. Grady abstained from alcohol for two weeks, but then relapsed into his old ways, becoming more abusive than ever. Mary and her son from a previous marriage, Harry, decided to pay sideshow performer, Chris Wyant, to kill Grady for $1500. On November 29th 1992, Grady was shot and killed.

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It’s a good thing Annabelle is crazy about cats, or she may not have been so optimistic about her lab accident. She doesn’t like to talk about the accident itself much, but she always says “It could have been worse, I could have been turned into a dog!”. Annabelle has been let go from the lab for obvious reasons (mostly her clumsiness), but it doesn’t stop her from working. She occasionally does children parties but her main job at the moment is traveling with a world famous group of sideshow performers.

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The saga of Jolly Irene.  This is Jolly Irene, a very successful sideshow performer.  Her stints included the cream of the carnival crop, the Ringling Brothers circus and, later, Coney Island.  (To view all three pictures, use the arrows on either side of the photo.) Her real name was Amanda Siebert.  According to the book American Sideshow, Amanda was of normal weight until she entered her twenties and ballooned to nearly 700 pounds.  Despairing of ever marrying, and unable to get the other kinds of jobs afforded to women in those days, she took to the road and made a pile of cash by putting herself on display.  She spent years at Coney Island (after leaving Ringling Brothers when they tried to make her ride in the large-sized animal car), and her popularity at Coney afforded her a kind of permanent security. While there, she  met her husband, a sideshow talker (or barker) named George.  It’s not recorded whether she was really jolly, but apparently she made a good enough show of it while on stage, and performed as a sunny and lighthearted personality….I came across her when I was looking for a carnival fat lady for a scene I set at Coney Island, and she was there at the right time period.  Every show had at least one “fat lady” or “fat man” (just as it had to have a giant, a midget, a Wild Man of Borneo, and a so-called pinhead), and they truly were billed as either “jolly” or “baby.”  

By the way, in the first photograph in the series, she is at the casket of another beloved sideshow performer, Zip the What Is It. I find this a poignant picture, in part because of Irene’s sweet expression, and in part because I am quite a fan of Zip (William Henry Johnson).   As for Jolly Irene’s own demise, she died in her fifties of weight-related illnesses.  The story goes that Irene’s casket wouldn’t fit into the hearse.

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 Revenge of the Headless Horseman | Flickr

This needs to be in the Stateside parks, immediately - no video exists of it that I’ve ever found, but it’s a walk through Halloween attraction with sideshow theme and performers,  and headless corpses, as I understand it.