Monday Motivation: Top 10 Most Popular ‘Weird and Wonderful’ Circus Acts From the 1800s
March 7 - Kevin

From looking at the Blank Canvas Entertainment website you will see that we have a whole section dedicated to our absolutely amazing circus acts that are total crowd and party pleasers, as well as being so incredibly talented (we suggest you have a scroll through and see for yourself ☺) But going back a couple of centuries however circus acts were slightly different…..

So here is how it went….Circus owners P.T. Barnum and his partner J.A. Bailey as well as the Ringling Brothers were the first travelling circuses to really create the immense popularity and hype of the circus. Although both circuses were most proud of their ‘educational exotic animal acts’ they also heavily relied upon their weird and wonderful sideshow acts – previously named ‘freaks’ or ‘freak shows’ – absolutely horrible titles if you ask us.  

Below is a roundup of ten acts that were the most popular of our ancestors back in the later part of the 19th Century…..

The Fiji Mermaid

97-39-70/72853 T1383

What act was this?! A total classic throughout Barnum’s circus days that’s for sure. But what it was meant to be was a skeleton of a mermaid- long gone are the days when you could fool people so easily! However, what it actually was though was the upper torso and head of a baby monkey stuck to the lower half of a fish!

General Tom Thumb


What act was this?! Barnum’s distant cousin was a very little person measuring in at only 25 inches at the age of four-years-old. Barnum taught his family relative to sing, dance, mime and do impersonations.  At the ripe old age of five-years-old Barnum presented him to the public as General Tom Thumb, who went on to perform for the likes of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales whilst touring Europe!

The Wild Men of Borneo


What act was this?! Two siblings who were mentally deficient, very small but extremely strong were at the age of twenty or so, bought from their mother by a travelling circus showman. Recruited into the circus and renamed Waino and Plutano, their acts were intended to demonstrate their strengths such as lifting members of the audience and wrestling each other among other things. Fast-forward thirty years, and they were picked up by Barnum who ended up making them world famous and earning them an absolute fortune!

Jo-Jo, the Human Skye Terrier/ Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy


What act was this?! Russian born Fedor Jeftichew and his father were afflicted with hypertrichosis, a rare condition that causes an abnormal and abundant growth of hair all over the body including the face.  Performing alongside his father for over ten years, our faithful recruiter Barnum picked up Fedor calling his act Jo-Jo, the Human Skye Terrier and having him tour several times with the Barnum’s circus.

The Camel Girl


What act was this?! A girl named Ella Harper with an extremely rare condition that meant her knees would bend back the wrong way. Ella felt much more at ease walking on all fours hence the nickname ‘Camel Girl’.  Camel Girl went on to become the most popular act in Harris’s Nickel Plate circus!

The Elephant Man


What act was this?! Englishman Joseph Maverick suffered from severe deformities, which led doctors to believe he suffered from elephantitis* hence Joseph’s stage name. Merrick found himself working as a sideshow ‘freak’ and toured Europe after which he returned to a London hospital.

*more recent medical studies believe Joseph Maverick suffered from Proteus syndrome.

Eddie Masher The Skeleton


What act was this?! Eddie Masher, also one of Barnum’s performers for a stint of his 24-year-circus-career, act consisted of showing off his unusually skeletal frame by parading around being the ‘masher* about town’. The Guinness Book of Records states that he weighed a mere 48Ilbs!

*masher was a term for a man that was very popular amongst women.

Prince Randian


What act was this? ‘The Snake Man’, ‘The Human Caterpillar’ and the ‘The Living Torso’ known as Prince Randian suffered from an almost unheard of condition at the time known as tetra-amelia syndrome, which meant that he didn’t have any limbs. Barnum (once again) was involved with bringing Prince Randian to America with his specialty act including being able to roll, light and smoke a cigarette with just his lips!

Francessco Lentini


What act was this?! Three legs, sixteen toes and two sets of genitalia led Francessco Lentini to have a career spanning forty years performing in every major circus show, including Barnum’s circus (of course!) Lentini was so respected amongst other performers he was often referred to as ‘The King’!

Myrtle Corbin


What act was this? Myrtle Corbin was much like Lentini, but had one up on him with four legs! Entering the circus at the tender age of thirteen-years-old, each of her two pelvises had two legs and all four of her legs had the power to move independently of one another!

SO there you have it the top ten most popular circus acts of the 1800s all of which seem a little too cruel for our liking and can definitely stay in the 19th Century! But luckily circus acts have come along way since then and are full of fun, fantasy, expertise and much more. Go on have a little scroll

Happy scrolling!

BCE xx