Hello, Lovelies! Welcome to the incredible, unbelievable, indescribable, show notes about the people who were acts for P.T. Barnum.
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We know, due to time constraints, we weren’t able to even come close to covering all the incredible people who made their living being themselves this week (maybe that means a part two in the future?). We hope you enjoyed this episode and, as always, you’ll find information here about the podcast featured during this week’s drink break and Rebecca’s show notes below (with sources all the way at the end).
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Rebecca’s Show Notes
P.T. Barnum (formally Phineas Taylor Barnum) was born July 5, 1810 and is most well known for helping start Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in 1871
While today Barnum is known as “The Greatest Showman”, his career was based around good business tactics and questionable business practices.
While most people associate Barnum with the famous circus, he got his start peddling curiosities to a public that had an appetite for the often, less than ethical, entertainment
He got his start at age 25, when he purchased the “right” to rent Joice Heth (who, unfortunately, was a slave) and was shown around Philadelphia as the 161 year old former nurse of George Washington (while in reality she MIGHT have been half that age)
After Joice died in 1836, Barnum charged 50 cents per spectator to observe the live autopsy of the purportedly ancient woman.
In December of 1841, he became the proprietor of the American Museum in New York, a museum that specialized in displaying “interesting curiosities” that the public would pay 25 cents to see. Reportedly, the museum would have 4,500 visitors per day.
This museum also exploited the weird and unusual, one popular exhibit being the “Feejee Mermaid”, which was actually a preserved monkey’s head attached to a preserved fish.
In addition to the exhibits, the museum hosted “living curiosities”, and while the ethics of showing and treatment of the people we are about to talk about… was… not good… they’re people with stories of their own.
Cheng and Eng (last name Bunker), we briefly discussed the history of these twins in our episode featuring the Mutter Museum (update: the museum also houses the twin’s liver)
They started touring in 1829, both with sponsors and independently, until their death in Jan 1874
There are mixed reports on whether they toured with Barnum and Bailey, but some sources say Barnum publicly associated himself with the brothers, and even had a wax figure of the twins in the American Museum in the 1840s.
JoJo the Dog Faced Boy (his real name was Fedor, or Fyodor, Jeftichew) was from St. Petersburg, Russia and suffered from hyperthrichosis, a medical term for when an abnormal amount of hair grows all over the body. His father, Adrian, also suffered from this disease. Little was known about the mother, as Adrian claimed that she had died.
Adrian and Fodor were discovered by two hunters, who brought them to the local fair. Adrian tried to escape multiple times but was unsuccessful. The pair toured Russia, reportedly meeting the Tsar at the time, before eventually being brought to Europe.
They quickly became popular, and eventually, in England, a group of doctors determined Adrian was around 50 years old while Fedor was around 4. The doctors also (correctly) determined that Adrian passed down the trait to Fedor.
One questions researchers had was were the pair a weird result of nature (some termed it a cruel prank) or if Fedor and Adrian were the last of a fair-faced people
All this didn’t stop Fedor from being a playful child. While only being able to speak broken russian at the time, he pointed to the bald head of one of the senior doctors before pointing to his own, suggesting to share his hair with the physician
Fedor soon, however, learned German and French, a fact that would impress audiences. He would part his hair down the middle of his face, and his fur would often be compared to that of a skye terrier
Fedor joined Barnum in 1884 at the age of 16 after meeting one of Barnum’s talent agents.
The backstory given to Fedor, now JoJo, was that he was savage child who was found in a rural Russian cave by hunters who had to shoot his father who became violent as soon as he spotted the hunters.
For shows, Fedor was dressed in a neatly tucked Russian military uniform. Now going by his show name, JoJo, he would then growl and sometimes bark at the audience.
He toured all over the world with Barnum, eventually dying of pneumonia in Saloniki in 1904
Annie Jones (Bearded Lady) is considered the original “Bearded Lady” due to her touring with P.T. Barnum and being photographed so often everyone recognized her.
She was born in 1865 on July 14. A fine hair covered the infant’s chin, a fact that initially horrified her parents. It was after she caught the attention of P.T. Barnum that her parents quickly realized her monetary value.
She was brought to New York soon after her first birthday and was shown by Barnum’s museum as “The Infant Essau”. (i.e. Jacob’s hairy brother in the book of Genesis)
Her mother signed a 3 year contract with Barnum, earning $150/wk. After the first year, due to a family emergency, Annie’s mother had to return home to Virginia and left her in the care of Barnum and an appointed nanny.
It was at this point she was kidnapped by a phrenologist. Some reports say the phrenologist claimed she was his daughter and tried to exhibit Annie privately.
She was located in upstate New York and was promptly returned to her mother. After this incident her mother no longer left her in the care of anyone else.
She toured throughout her lifetime, eventually going by “The Essau Lady”
Annie was married twice during her lifetime, with her second husband falling ill and dying. It was after this Annie returned to Barnum not knowing what else to do.
She died in 1902 at the age of 37 after suddenly falling ill
Frank Lentini was born in Sicily in the late 1880s (accounts differ on the exact day and year of his birth, ranging from 1884-1889)
He was born with 3 legs, 4 feet, 16 toes, and two sets of genitalia. This terrified the midwife, who (presumably) promptly threw him under the bed and ran away screaming
The ultimate cause of his condition was his absorption of a twin while still inside the womb, but his village thought he could be a punishment from God, nicknaming him “The Abominable”.
Others say his condition was a result of his mother visiting a cart maker while pregnant who made a three legged table
As Lentini grew, two of the legs quickly outgrew the third, causing Lentini to require special clothes and would often sit or sleep with the third leg placed on a box. When he needed to walk, he would tie the third leg to one of the larger legs.
Lentini came to the United States in 1898 and quickly joined the Ringling Brother Circus and, eventually, Barnum and Bailey’s.
He was displayed as an oddity, often using his third leg to kick footballs earning him the nickname “The Three-Legged Footballer”.
When asked why he had three legs, he’s reported to have responded “My mother did not give birth to two children. More than one, but not two.”
He died on September 21,1966
(Josephine) Myrtle Corbin was born on May 12, 1868 in Lincoln County, TN, with a congenital deformity called Dipygus. This rare deformity is where the body axis forks left and right along the torso, separating the bottom half of the body, thus duplicating the pelvis and legs.
Medical reports at the time stated that:
“… between each pair of legs there is a complete, distinct set of genital organs, both external and internal, each supported by a pubic arch. Each set acts independently of the other, except at the menstrual period. There are apparently two sets of bowels, and two ani; both are perfectly independent,– diarrhoea may be present on one side, constipation on the other.”
Though the inner legs were significantly smaller, she was still relatively healthy and reported to be thriving soon after birth
She joined Barnum at the age of 13 (some sources claimed this happened later), and was named “The Four-Legged Girl From Texas”. When on stage, nothing, except her wide hips and clubbed left foot, gave away her condition. However, after lifting her skirts enough to show four legs, the public was left breathless.
She reportedly earned up to $450 a week, some sources say she retired from show business at the age of 18.
She married at 19 to James Clinton Bicknell, and became pregnant a year later in her left uterus, which she reacted to with surprise, stating “I think you are mistaken; if it had been on my right side I would come nearer believing it”
This was due to the fact that her right side was almost always used for… coitus
While this first pregnancy didn’t come to term, she eventually had 4 healthy children, rumors stating that 3 (including the failed pregnancy) came from one side, and 2 from the other. While medically possible because she had two sets of fully functioning reproductive organs, there’s no confirmation of this being the case.
Myrtle briefly came out of retirement at age 41 in 1901 and retired a second time in 1915.
After dying on May 6, 1928 from a streptococcal skin infection (something easily treated with antibiotics today), her body was encapsulated in concrete to prevent grave robbers from stealing her corpse. Several medical examiners and private collectors offer compensation for her corpse.
Because of her, however, there were many copy cats, one as recently as the 1990s, when Ashley Braistle, who also reportedly suffered from dypigus, got married in 1994, but died in 1996 after attempting skiing and struck a tree.