A Freakish History

In honor of this week’s opening season of American Horror Story ~ Freak Show, I’ve decided to write an article dedicated to those who courageously face society with their unique abnormalities.

For centuries, onlookers have been astounded by the malformations of these distinct individuals, gawking at their obvious differences. Freak shows became popular attractions associated with fairgrounds where freaks would often entertain the crowds with their many talents. Some of these astonishing individuals were quite skilled at dangerous acts such as sword swallowing or flame throwing while others would catch their audience by surprise with deformities like mutated limbs or extra appendages. Even exceptionally tall people were viewed as freaks and labeled as giants.

These extraordinary people joined traveling circuses and fairs to gain employment and possibly a sense of belonging because in earlier times, they weren’t so easily accepted by society. Take Joseph Merrick for example. He was well-known as “The Elephant Man” during the 1800s. He suffered from a severe thickening of the skin that caused huge lumps throughout his entire body and a bony growth on his forehead. Joseph was also inflicted by enlarged feet and an enlarged arm. The cause of his condition was never determined. He tried working as a door-to-door salesman, but because of his deformities, his attempt at such employment proved unsuccessful.

Conjoined twins, John Baptista and Lazarus Colloredo gained their recognition by touring Europe in the early 1600s. Then there was “The Missing Link”, a Burmese girl who’s real name was Krao Farini. She was employed by P.T. Barnum from the late 1800s to the time of her death in the mid-1920s. The reasoning for her stage name was because it referred to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Krao Farini had an excessively hairy body with ape-like qualities.

Many freaks were actually quite financially comfortable back in the day. Popular freaks were even depicted on trading cards, another way that these remarkable people were able to achieve monetary gain.

You can call them freaks, human oddities or whatever you choose, but the fact of the matter is that we are all humans regardless of our appearance.

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” ~ Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. The Elephant Man

~ Sheila Renee Parker on Twitter @sheilarparker.

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