Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Famous Circus Performers

Stacy Conradt
facebooktwitterreddit

I'm sure you have all noticed by now that I have a love of the strange and the bizarre. So when I came across this fascinating post about strongmen throughout history at Listverse, I was immediately inspired for today's Quick 10. I know strongmen aren't always circus sideshow attractions, but they are definitely unusual people"¦ so that's where my brain went. And by the way, if you have something to get done this afternoon, don't click on the Listverse link. It's a highly addictive site that will suck you in for hours.

Have a good weekend!

biffen
biffen /

2. If you're a fan of Charles Dickens, the name Sarah Biffen might sound familiar to you. She was a woman who was born with no arms. She had legs, but they didn't function. However, she had no problems writing, painting or doing needlework because she learned to use her mouth. Charles Dickens was so impressed that he wrote her into both Martin Chuzzlewit and Nicholas Nickelby. Sarah toured with a man named Mr. Dukes, who took her to various fairs and circus, charging people to watch her draw and sew. She even sold her work for three guineas each.

bibrowski
bibrowski /

4. Myrtle Corbin was a dipygus "“ she had two pelvises side-by-side, which gave her four legs. The inner two of them were too small and too weak to do much with, though. She toured with sideshows for a while, but ended up marrying a doctor in 1887 (she was 19). They had four kids "“ supposedly, three from one pelvis and one from the other.

5. Minnie Woolsey, AKA Koo Koo, the Bird Girl. She had Virchow-Seckel syndrome, which resulted in a very small head and a narrow, bird-like face, including a long nose and very large eyes. She was also bald, lacking any teeth, and had very little to no sight. She was also in the movie Freaks, where she wore a bird outfit and danced during one of the scenes.

6. William Hutchings was known as the Boy Lightning Calculator (marketed by P.T. Barnum, of course). He could perform complex equations and add, subtract and multiply extremely large numbers without the aid of so much as a pencil. When his sideshow days were over, he went on to write a book about how you can do the same thing yourself: The Lightning Calculator: A Guide to Rapid and Accurate Calculation by Professor Hutchings.

marriage
marriage /

8. Lavinia Warren was Tom's wife. She and her sister both had proportionate dwarfism (meaning all of their features were proportionately small). She worked as a teacher for a while, but when she heard of Tom Thumb's success, she assumed there was no reason she couldn't do the same. And she did. In fact, even though Commodore Nutt, a fellow dwarf, was pursuing her, she was in love with Tom Thumb and ended up marring him in 1863. Their wedding was a huge event "“ P.T. Barnum charged people $75 to attend the reception.

9. Frank Richards, better known as Cannonball. His whole act consisted of taking painful objects to the gut, including a sledgehammer, two-by-fours, a punch from heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, and, yes, cannonballs. You guys might know him from the Van Halen III album cover. You can see him doing his thing below:

10. Anna Haining Bates was, like a lot of these performers, discovered by P.T. Barnum. She was already four and a half feet tall by the time she was four, and about 6'1" at the age of 10. Her adult height was right around 7'5". She married Martin Van Buren Bates, another super tall person (Guinness lists him at 7'9".)

facebooktwitterreddit