When I was a child growing up in a farming community in Iowa life was alright, but nothing very exciting happened. That all changed for me when the Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town. I had seen “The Greatest Show On Earth” on TV and was especially looking forward to seeing the clowns. In the Big Top we saw the animals and acrobats, trapeze and high wire acts and it was all amazing and great fun. Then my father steered us to a separate tent in the midway called the Side Show!
Inside was a strange assortment of people and displays meant to amaze one and all. A couple of displays seemed to be obvious fakes, but the humans on display were for real. I saw the fattest woman I had ever seen (up to that time), dwarves and the man who started a lifelong fascination with what most refer to as “freaks”, Sealo the Seal Boy!
I actually had a few minutes to talk with him (he seemed to genuinely like talking with us children) and he showed us that he could do most of the same things we do, just a little differently. Then he gave me his autograph and I was one happy little boy!
Throughout the years since then I have read and collected real life stories of many of these “Freaks”. The first book I read was a book of freaks written by a freak, “We Who Are Not As Others” By Daniel P. Mannix , a giant.
I have bought and read several more books over the years and and have been fascinated by many of their life stories, some who had great careers and others who died in utter poverty. From Aesop’s Fables, written by a macrocephalic, hunch back dwarf who was killed for his writings to The Lobster Boy who became a murderer and was killed by a hit man, The Elephant Man who died because he wanted to lay down on a bed like a normal person and Lucia Zarate, a primordial dwarf, who froze to death while on tour.
So many throughout history that worked the sideshows because they couldn’t get a normal job to support themselves, but many in the later 1900’s lost their incomes because of liberal do-gooders who cried that these people being exploited. Yes. Some were being exploited, but many of them WANTED to be exploited in ordered to make a living. Some can live mostly normal lives, but others…?
Sideshows today aren’t allowed to have any real freaks. You may see some dwarfs but other than that, all the “freaks” are self made body modifiers, overly tattooed and pierced, blockheads and sward swallowers.
The world of the Sideshow is sadly long gone…