It’s a Barnum and Bailey World: 5 of the Most Outrageous Oddities Featured in Barnum’s Sideshows

Our story here really begins with P.T. Barnum and the fact that from the young age of 12, this fellow never turned down the opportunity to make some money. At 12 years he sold snacks and homemade cherry rum at local events, by the age of 21 he had purchased a general store, a small lottery, and his own newspaper. At 25, he entered the world of show biz with his first sideshow, then in 1841, he purchased a rundown museum in downtown Manhattan to open Barnum’s American Museum. (Diazepam) The museum featured roughly 500,000 oddity displays from historical artifacts, animals, and even humans, as well as America’s first aquarium and wax figure. The museum burned down tragically in 1865 due to a furnace fire that started in the basement, and while the fire harmed no humans, the museum did suffer the loss of most of its animals as well as the two beluga whales in the aquarium that boiled alive in their tanks. Barnum had rebuilt the museum, but before he could restock it, it burned down yet again. (Ambien) At this point, Barnum teamed up with James Bailey, and together they formed “Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth” traveling the world in the first big top three-ring circus. We brought you here today to discuss some of the most curious human attractions featured in Mr. Barnum’s sideshows.

(image via: ancient origins)

The Feejee Mermaid 

The Feejee Mermaid was one of Barnum’s most famous non-human oddities. The skeleton was on display at both museums but is believed to have been lost when the second museum burned down. The skeleton was supposed to be proof of mermaids in Fiji, but it was actually the skeleton of a baby monkey glued to the skeleton of a fish. But don’t get us wrong, it’s creepy no matter which way you slice it. 

(image via: cabinet of curiosities)

Lionel the Lion-Faced Man

Yeah, we know, real original name. The real name is Stephan Bibrowski and he suffered from a condition known as hypertrichosis, meaning excessive hair growth. The story was that his father was mauled by a lion while his mother was pregnant with him. We aren’t really sure how all of that was supposed to come full circle, but hey, it worked. 

Editorial content

The Human Skeleton 

Weighing in at just 43 pounds, Isaac Sprague began losing weight at the age of 12 despite eating a healthy diet. The Human Skeleton was often paired with overweight performers to highlight their size. 

(image via: knox pages)

The Wild Men of Borneo

Brothers Hiram and Barney Davis possessed amazing strength despite being mentally handicapped and very small in stature. During shows the brothers would lift weights as well as spectators, they would have mock fights with each other, and also spectators. As you can imagine, the brothers were well-received among crowds and remained in show biz until Hiram’s death in 1905. 

(image via: all things interesting)

Prince Randian


Prince Randian was totally limbless, and in his shows, he would paint, write, and not just smoke cigarettes, but roll and smoke his own.

Sign up for Our Newsletter

Related Posts