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Sideshows Used To Showcase These Medical Anomalies

Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man Joseph Merrick, born on 5th August 1862, suffered from severe deformities. Initially exhibited as “the Elephant Man,” he later found refuge at… Alexander Gabriel - September 12, 2023

Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick, born on 5th August 1862, suffered from severe deformities. Initially exhibited as “the Elephant Man,” he later found refuge at the London Hospital and gained recognition in London society. Raised in Leicester, he exhibited signs of abnormal growth before the age of five. In 1884, Merrick proposed to showman Sam Torr that he could be exhibited, leading to his stage debut as “the Elephant Man.” He later joined Sam Roper’s circus for a European tour but was robbed and abandoned in Belgium, eventually returning to the London Hospital. Treves, visiting him daily, became a close friend, and Merrick received visits from London society members, including Alexandra, Princess of Wales. Though officially listed as asphyxia, Treves, who conducted the postmortem, concluded that Merrick had died from a dislocated neck.

Mutter Museum

Madame Dimanche and Her Horn

In the early 19th century, Parisian widow Madame Dimanche had a wax model created depicting a mysteriously appearing human horn, known as a cornu cutaneum, which had grown on her body for six years before being successfully removed. These horn-like protrusions are composed of keratin, the same protein found in hair and nails, and can vary in size and appearance. Although typically benign, these horns can be a cause for concern as they may signal underlying skin conditions or skin cancer in some cases. Medical attention is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.


“Pinheads”, Microcephaly on Display

The circus attraction of “pin heads” featured individuals with microcephaly, a condition characterized by an unusually small head and brain. The term “pin head” originated from the idea that their heads resembled the size of a sewing pin. “The Life of Schlitzie,” a biography recounting the experiences of the sideshow performer known as a “pinhead,” provides a poignant insight into the world of circus sideshows during the early 20th century. Schlitzie, whose real name was Simon Metz, captivated audiences with his unique appearance due to microcephaly. The book sheds light on his life, highlighting the challenges he faced, as well as the empathy and understanding he ultimately elicited from those who came to know him.

All That’s Interesting


In the 19th century, the mother of these twins experienced hydramnios, a condition in which one fetus exerts pressure on the other. Following the successful birth of a healthy boy, medical examination of the placenta revealed a tiny, compressed second fetus. This unusual phenomenon provides valuable insights into fetal development. Statistics indicate that hydramnios occurs in approximately 1-2% of pregnancies and is often associated with complications requiring medical attention and monitoring. Hydramnios involves an excessive accumulation of amniotic fluid and can lead to various complications, such as preterm labor and maternal discomfort. Management of hydramnios typically includes close monitoring, with treatment ranging from amnioreduction to addressing underlying causes like gestational diabetes or fetal abnormalities, to ensure a healthy pregnancy outcome.

All That’s Interesting

Madame Devere, the Bearded Lady

Born in Brooksville, Kentucky in 1842, Madam Devere, also known as Jane Devere, Madam Krepps, and the Kentucky Wonder, made her mark as a sideshow attraction. She was born on May 21, 1858, and passed away on June 19. In 1884, she achieved a record-setting beard length of 14 inches, a feat that remains unmatched to this day, earning her the moniker “The Kentucky Wonder.” Devere was a prominent figure in sideshows, working for Sells Brothers and featured as “a bearded lady.” Her journey also included a marriage to sideshow manager J. W. Devere.


Mignon, the Penguin Girl

Born around 1910, Ruth Berry became a prominent attraction in the years spanning from 1930 to 1965. She bore the rare condition of phocomelia in all four limbs, with her fingers fused together, creating the distinctive appearance of flippers. Professionally, she adopted the stage name “Mignon,” a French term meaning “cute.” Phocomelia is a rare congenital condition characterized by underdeveloped or absent limbs, often resulting in the hands or feet being attached directly to the body. This condition is typically caused by exposure to certain drugs or toxins during pregnancy, such as thalidomide.


Krao Farini

Krao Farini, born in 1876, was an American sideshow performer afflicted with hypertrichosis. During the late 19th century, she embarked on exhibition tours across North America and Europe. Sadly, she fell under the guardianship of William Leonard Hunt, also known as Guillermo Antonio Farini. Hunt exploited her distinctive appearance for financial gain. Throughout her life, Krao Farini was falsely promoted as a primitive human, and she was often advertised as the missing link bridging humans and apes. During her final years, she lived in Brooklyn. When venturing out in public but not participating in exhibitions, she habitually wore a veil. Tragically, she succumbed to influenza on April 16, 1926, in Manhattan. In her wishes, she specified that her body be cremated, a choice made to prevent posthumous scrutiny.

Akademi Portal

Pauline Musters, aka “Princess Pauline”

Pauline Musters, a Dutch woman born in 1878 with dwarfism, embarked on a career as a sideshow attraction at just two years old, touring fun fairs and bringing unexpected wealth to her family. Due to her condition, Musters stood at a mere 1 ft 9.5 in tall and weighed only 4 lb 5 oz by age nine, ultimately achieving a measured size of 1 ft 11.2 in and setting a record as the shortest adult person, although her measurements were surrounded by conflicting data and likely exaggerations. Today, Pauline Musters is recognized as the fourth shortest documented person in history.


Sealo the Seal Man

Stanislaus Berent, born on November 24, 1901, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was an American performer known as Sealo the Seal Boy. He became famous for his seal-like arms, a result of the congenital condition phocomelia. His career started when he was discovered as a newspaper seller and continued for thirty-five years, including performances at Coney Island’s freak show and the World Circus Sideshow in 1941. Despite his physical challenges, he demonstrated impressive abilities, such as sawing crates in half and sculpting clay figurines. He retired in 1976, moving to Showmen’s Retirement Village in Gibsonton, Florida, but returned to Pittsburgh as his health declined. He spent his final days in a Catholic hospital and passed away in 1980.


Silas Whaley, The Man Without a Stomach

Silas Whaley, a sideshow performer known for his unique act, would deliberately suck in his stomach to create the illusion of having no abdominal area. Outside his tent, posters boldly proclaimed, ‘The Man Without a Stomach! Believe it or not!’ A LIFE magazine image captured the fascination of onlookers as they marveled at Whaley’s concave belly, each one eager to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary sight. This ability wasn’t due to any deformity or special talent. Many people are able to suck in their stomachs in such extreme ways. While it looks unusual, it is not an indication of anything dangerous.

All That’s Interesting

Cases of Elephantiasis

African-American sideshow circus entertainer Sylvia Portis, famously known as Sylvia the Elephant Girl, gained widespread attention due to her unique condition that exhibited signs of elephantiasis. Elephantiasis is a parasitic disease caused by mosquito-borne filarial worms that block the lymphatic system, resulting in severe swelling of body parts, commonly the legs and genitalia. This condition can lead to disfigurement, immense pain, and a significantly reduced quality of life for those affected. Elephantiasis affects over 120 million people worldwide, predominantly in tropical and subtropical regions, making it a significant global health concern.


Conjoined Specimens

The stillborn conjoined twins specimen at the Mutter Museum represents a unique and somber piece of medical history. These twins were born with a rare condition that caused them to be conjoined, sharing vital organs and body parts. Their existence serves as a poignant reminder of the complex and sometimes heartbreaking nature of medical anomalies. Visitors to the museum can view this specimen and reflect on the challenges faced by individuals with such conditions, fostering a deeper understanding of human diversity and the importance of medical research in addressing rare congenital disorders.

Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:,Hypertrichosis%20is%20defined%20as%20excessive%20hair%20growth%20anywhere%20on%20the,%5D%5B2%5D%5B3%5D,excessive%20height%20and%20other%20complications.,male%E2%80%9D%20or%20%E2%80%9Cfemale%E2%80%9D.,in%20a%20smaller%20head%20size.,the%20Caribbean%20and%20South%20America.,be%20severe%20and%20life-threatening.,toe%20or%20a%20lower%20limb.,have%20different%20signs%20and%20symptoms.\,It%20is%20also%20called%20polyhydramnios.