Circus Month - 3 Famous Sideshow Performers of the Past

March 19, 2015


The circus has been around for centuries. But as our blogs have shown, a number of acts were hugely famous in their day, not just the circuses of which they were a part (though admittedly, P.T. Barnum was hugely famous in his own right – hell, he’s even inspired a musical currently touring the UK).

Without further ado, here are a few fascinating sideshow performers from the circus.

Mirin Dajo, The Invulnerable Man

 

 

Sometimes there are acts that require a few more words to adequately describe them, to distance them from the pack, to ensure that they’re not overlooked during the event planning process. Mirin Dajo’s performance had no such problems and can be explained thusly, ‘He could stick swords through his body without injury.’ Huh.

The human pin cushion is a classic act and Dajo was so good that he ultimately worked alone. He claimed that he learned the trick from fakirs during trips to India but there appears to be no record of these travels, perhaps conjured to give his act an air of spirituality. Several doctors examined him – both with and without the sword piercing his body – but were left mystified by the act. Nowadays, it is theorised that it came to be through Dajo creating small scar tunnels through his body by slowly piercing the implements over many years.

Unfortunately for Dajo, his act eventually caught up with him; he decided to swallow a steel needle and then undergo surgery to have it removed. Nobody knows which of these actions are to blame but just a few days after going under the knife (ahem), Dajo died from an aortic rupture.

Change and Eng Bunker, the Siamese Twins

Born in Siam (hence the name), known as Thailand today, Chang and Eng were the very first Siamese Twins, joined at the sternum.

Aside from their medical peculiarity though, it is the Bunkers’ lives away from the stage that makes them so interesting. They bought a plantation – yes, with slaves – in North Carolina and settled down with a pair of sisters. You may be wondering exactly how this worked but Chang and Eng were way ahead of you. Yes, they had a specially constructed bed manufactured and when all was said and done, 21 children was the grand result. You’ll have to use your imagination how that worked but it must have been an interesting marital bedroom.

Well actually, we know how interesting it was because unfortunately, the two wives apparently didn’t get on. You’d have thought they’d have realised this when growing up and saved everyone an awful lot of logistical heartache. Never mind. A solution was found – if you can call it that – whereby the women moved out and lived in separate houses. Chang and Eng then spent three days to a week at each residence.

The stories don’t stop there however; rather sadly, Eng woke up on January 17, 1874 to find that his brother had passed away of a stroke during the night. Before a doctor could arrive to work on an emergency separation, Chang too had died.

Francesco Lentini, the three-legged man

 

Before your mind ventures off in that direction, we are really talking about a third leg here, although according to some reports, ‘Frank’ did actually have a second set of genitals, which were in full working order.

Be that as it may, it probably wasn’t the sort of thing to entertain the masses at the time and frankly with a third leg always on show, it was to this that most people would be drawn.  The leg (and presumably the four feet we’re yet to mention) was the result of a partially-formed conjoined twin connected to Lentini’s spine.

Making the most of a bad situation – and having met blind and deaf children at school when growing up – Frank decided upon a career in sideshow, drawing large crowds as he kicked a football and jumped a rope using his third leg. He may have performed other impressive feats with his unusual condition but that’s not for this blog to ponder.

 

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By Henry Fosdike