When we think of the circus today, it’s generally a happy place with clowns, cotton candy, and music, all wrapped in a menagerie of bright colors. But it wasn’t always this way.

In the early days of the circus, organizers would use freak shows to draw people in and gain publicity. These collections of living oddities ran the spectrum from benign to truly horrifying.

When you see them, you’ll understand why they’re no longer around.

1. Behold! Alice E. Doherty, also known as the Minnesota Wooly Baby.


2. The human pincushion has a pointed resume.


3. These two would eventually become the inspiration for the television series, American Horror Story.


4. This girl was supposedly born with four legs!


5. These conjoined twins were bonded at the torso.


6. Some freak shows would pit their subjects against each other in grotesque exhibition matches.


7. Unzie the Albino could have passed for Santa’s illegitimate child.


8. Isaac W. Sprague was also known as the Living Skeleton, for obvious reasons.


9. This woman was born without arms.


10. At the age of 18, Lucia Zarate weighed just under 10 pounds.


11. Annie Jones was one of the most famous bearded women of the freak circus.


12. Ella Harper’s tragic condition led her to be known as Camel Girl.


13. Born Minnie Woolsey, Koo Koo the Bird Girl was supposedly “rescued” from a mental asylum and brought into the circus world.


14. The Legless Acrobat and his family.


15. It’s hard to believe now, but tattoos used to be considered quite the oddity.


16. Some unknown condition, possibly elephantiasis, gave this woman freakishly large feet.


17. Mike the Headless Chicken famously lived for over a year without his head. He was kept alive via a feeding tube.


18. This man was gifted (or cursed) with elastic skin. Freaky!


19. John Jennings was once considered the modern version of Samson for his incredible strength.


20. This young man was afflicted with Ectrodactyly, also known as cleft hand.


I’m glad these kinds of shows have largely been phased out of the entertainment world. Not only were they incredibly disturbing, but “performers” like these were often taken advantage of and worked for little to no pay. Still, these photos provide a fascinating glimpse into the grotesque past.

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