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As we all head to our television screens in the next few weeks - Wimbledon, World Cup, Golf .......

 As we all head to our television screens in the next few weeks - Wimbledon, World Cup, Golf - lets take a look at one of latest films to grace our screens - Greatest Showman. The film is about P.T. Barnum and whilst enjoying good reviews, as with many films of its ilk, there are some facts kept from the viewers. 

Here we take a look at the real life stars of the shows.

Greatest Showman Clip

A Few Facts About The Real Stars Of Barnum's Greatest Show

P.T. Barnum started promoting the human novelties he called freaks in his travelling show in 1835 and he opened his larger freak show at the American Museum in Manhattan in 1841. After a fire in 1868, Barnum founded P.T. Barnum's Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus. In 1881, the Circus came under the joint management and ownership of Barnum, James Bailey, and James Hutchinson and in 1887,  Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show On Earth was formed. Barnum died in 1891 and the Circus was acquired by the Ringling Brothers in 1907, a venture that led to the formation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Throughout all of these changes one thing remained consistent - the presentation of human attractions or freaks. 

From the FeeJee Mermaid to General Tom Thumb to Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, Barnum presented intriguing individuals with unique bodies and minds as wild and exotic marvels. Many of the sideshow performers became quite famous and wealthy, others got by eking out a living while trying to find a home. Barnum's exploitation of his so-called freaks is not without criticism and his contribution to the imperial culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is clear, but the lives of the freaks themselves make for some fascinating tales. 

     Myrtle Corbin1                General Tom Thumb       


Joice Heth, The 161 Year Old Woman 

P.T. Barnum obtained Joice Heth in 1835 from a man in Kentucky who was displaying her as George Washington's nurse. Heth was blind, toothless, paralysed in both legs and one arm, and had long curled fingernails. Her previous owner in Kentucky claimed Joice was 161 years old and Barnum touted this fact when showcasing her. She was displayed for hours a day, six days a week. She was supposedly from Madagascar but the real story of Joice's life was never really known. When she died in February 1836, Barnum sold tickets to her autopsy.

Myrtle Corbin, The Four-Legged Woman

A native of Tennessee, Myrtle Corbin was billed by Barnum as the Four-Legged Woman. She was born in 1868 as a dipygus - a person born with two of everything from the navel down including two pelvises and four legs. She was put on display as an infant by her father, who toured her around the country. Her father negotiated a contract with Barnum and Bailey when she was just 13 or 14 years old. Corbin was paid $250 a week until she left the circus in 1886. She was incredibly popular and her reproductive and sexual abnormalities were of particular interest. Corbin went on to marry and have children, after which she returned to a life in the circus in 1909. Of note, she wasn't asked to display her lady parts, but marketing material made it a point to ponder her sexual and reproductive possibilities.


General Tom Thumb

 P.T. Barnum found Charles Sherwood Stratton in Connecticut when the boy was only five years old. Thumb was under two feet tall and Barnum told audiences that he was the eleven-year old General Tom Thumb. Thumb toured immediately as part of Barnum's freak show, winning over audiences and fans, such as Queen Victoria, on a European tour in 1844. He made Barnum and himself very wealthy.  In 1863, Stratton married fellow little-person Lavinia Warren, who worked for Barnum the previous year. Their wedding was a huge event in Manhattan with guests who supposedly paid Barnum for the honour of attending. Barnum toured the small couple together with a baby, even though the couple never had any children of their own. They joined Barnum's circus later as well and when General Tom Thumb died in 1883, thousands attended his funeral. 

Isaac Sprague The Bearded Lady  Chang Eng Bunker 


Madame Clofullia, The Bearded Lady

Josephine Boisdechêne was born in Switzerland in 1831 and signed with P.T. Barnum in 1853. Josephine displayed excessive hair growth from a young age with a beard by the age of 2 and 2-inch facial hair by age 8. Josephine's parents showcased their daughter when she was 16, in large part because her 6-inch long beard was already gathering attention wherever she went.  Josephine met an artist named Fortuna Clofullia in 1851, fell in love, and the two married. They had two children but one died as an infant. Shortly after Josephine, now Madame Clofullia, made her way to New York to work at Barnum's American Museum. She was called The Bearded Lady, and given claims that she was actually a man, played up her femininity as much as possible with jewelry and elaborate dresses. Her surviving child, a son named Albert, was put on display by Barnum, as well.

Isaac Sprague, The Living Skeleton

One of many living skeletons, Isaac Sprague was a normal child until the age of 12 when he started losing large amounts of weight without explanation. He was emaciated and had a hard time finding work until the age of 24 when he visited a sideshow passing through his native Massachusetts town. In 1865, Sprague went to P.T. Barnum directly and negotiated a job. When the American Museum burned down in 1868, Sprague took a brief break from the freak show, got married, and had three kids, none of which showed signs of his condition. He later toured with the circus and progressively became weaker and weaker. He died in 1887. At five feet, six inches tall, his lowest weight on record was 43 pounds. Barnum continued to employ living skeletons in his show, sometimes with added features. Alexander Montarg, for example, played the violin. 

Chang and Eng Bunker, Siamese Twins

These Siamese Twins are the basis for the colloquial term applied to conjoined twins today. Chang and Eng Bunker were from a family of multiples but were the only two siblings that were born conjoined. Born in 1811 in Thailand, they entered show business in 1829 when they were purchased by an American colonel. They took control of their own career during the early 1830s and retired in 1838. The worked with Barnum on occasion during the 1850s and 1860s to tour. After the Civil War, they once again worked with Barnum because they needed the money. After they left show business, they moved to North Carolina and became US citizens, changing their name to Bunker. They married a set of sisters, Sarah and Adelaide Yates. Between the two of them they fathered 22 children. Chang and Eng died in 1874. An autopsy revealed they could not have been separated in a way that would have allowed for them both to survive.

Captain George Constentenus  Feodor Jeftichew  Feejee Mermaid 


The Tattooed Prince

George Constentenus earned his fame as a Tattooed Man in American sideshows. A Greek-Albanian born in 1836, George had 388 Burmese tattoos over his entire body, including crevices and genitals. The only parts of his body not inked were his nose, ears, and the bottoms of his feet. His tattoos featured colourful symmetric patterns, flowers and plants, and even animals like elephants. He was billed as Captain George Constentenus, the Tattooed Greek Prince and was a major attraction by 1876. He claimed that he was tattooed against his will by savage women.

Feodor Jeftichew, Dog Boy

Suffering from hypertrichosis, Feodor Jeftichew was known as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced boy to has fans. Hypertrichosis causes excessive hair growth on the body, rendering a person animal-like in appearance. Feodor was born in Russia in 1868 and, prior to joining Barnum's show, toured with his father who also had excessive hairiness. He made his way to the US with Barnum in 1884 and was pitted against his father as a wild savage. Feodor barked, growled, and acted like an angry dog. He was one of Barnum's most popular performers and when a group of performers complained they they disliked being called freaks in 1898, he was at the forefront of the protestors. 

The Feejee Mermaid

As part human and part fish, the Feejee or Fiji Mermaid was presented in a mummified form in 1842. In reality, it was the head of a monkey sown onto the body of a fish and then covered with papier-mâché.  Obviously a hoax to modern observers, Barnum seized upon the mermaid craze that was all over the media on both sides of the Atlantic. By presenting the Feejee Mermaid as the missing link between humans and fish, Barnum brought in large crowds. When questions about its validity were raised, Barnum claimed that he had nothing to do with its construction or origins, just that he wanted to show it to the world. 






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