Freak shows

If you’ve got it flaunt it. Freaks were the celebrities of their day and not all celebrities have happy endings.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891) was one of the great impresarios of the 19th century. Barnum was a showman who presented many freaks or wonders of nature. This became very popular at fairgrounds all over the world. One of the midgets Barnum had under contract was Charles Stratton who became world famous as General Tom Thumb. His success led to the Lilliputian Shows. Not only midgets and dwarfs drew a lot of attention at fairs but also bearded ladies, extraordinarily tall men, fat women, Hungerkünstler (‘living skeletons’) and Siamese twins were crowd-pullers as well. In 1871 Barnum founded The Greatest Show on Earth, with which he toured the world.

Postcards from around 1930 showing showman Schneider’s Liliputaner-Stadt (Midget Town).

Until the 18th century tiny people were precious collectables. They were held in high regard by European kings, especially when they had a harmonic body and a witty spirit.. Extraordinary small or big people always had a mythical aura. Everybody knows the dwarfs, giants and gnomes from fairytales and legends. Small people were called Lilliputians after the tiny people in Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels. At the fair they never evoked disgust or pity, but adoration and delight. Some showmen, like Schneider, let their Lilliputians perform in a miniature town. The Lilliputians wore exquisite costumes and presented circus and variety acts.

Chaffer’s Midget Revue employed at least eighteen dwarfs.

John Lester’s Midget Town was a popular attraction at the fair.

This image is taken from an advertising fold-out brochure for Barnum's circus from 1890.

The beauty of the colours and the "amusing" images would have made these items very popular at a time when Barnums circus elicited huge popularity wherever it went.

Mister Barnum wasn’t weighed down by false modesty: he just called his show The Greatest Show.

A midget wondering whether to smoke or not.

Francesco Lentini from Sicily didn’t succeed as a football player.

Lionel, the Lion Man, already could use a serious haircut at the age of 5.

Tippler White presented Barney and Joy Worth as the world’s heaviest married couple. Hull Fair, 1947.

Rita Cauda performed as Donna Cannone. Photo from the 1960s. Cauda, who weighed 260 kilos, was one of the last hulks being exhibited at Italian fairs. Her impresario was Gustavo Cottino, a then famous quack.

The German Fasting Boy. This so-called Hungerkünstler (Hunger-artist) fasted professionally. He was exhibited between 1898 and 1914. 10.000 people reputedly attended his 1910 Turin appearance. The man lived on a diet of caffeine and nicotine. He was married with three children.

One can live with the idea of an elephant riding a velocipede, but what’s puzzling is why it’s wearing glasses and a pith helmet.

Barnum’s even presented Roman Races.

Some of the amazing acts that made up the great shows of Barnums circus. Barnum certainly didn't suffer from false modesty ! He just called his show "The Greatest Show On Earth"

The smallest of living people were the stars of ‘The Emperor of Lilliput’.