Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze!

Known in some circles as Jules Leotard (yes, that kind of leotard). (And totally serious about the song.) Jules (1842-1870) developed trapeze acts as we know them today (and the costume - though calling it a leotard did not catch on until the 1880s). He was the son of a gymnastics instructor and was poised to enter Law. However, his love of and awesomeness in acrobatics led him to his first performance, in 1859 in the Cirque Napoleon.
1907 Mae Gordon's Original Insane Moving Pedestal

Francesco Lentini (1889-1966) was born in Italy with three and a half legs (the half was a bit of a foot growing out of his knee on the leg furthest to the left in this photograph). His parents abandoned him to an aunt who eventually put him into a home for disabled children. Francesco allegedly hated his extra limbs until he went to live at the home where he faced children who were deaf and blind. In 1898 he moved to America and joined the Ringling Brothers as a sideshow as The Great Lentini (he also later toured with Barnum). While his three legs were all of different lengths (he is said to have complained that even with three legs, he still did not have a pair), part of his act was to kick a soccer ball around on a stage (touted as The Three Legged Football Player). Francesco married and had four children before dying at the age of 77, the longest living three legged man.

Unknown. Only a torso and still wearing a corset. >_< Admiral Dot!
Leopold Kahn was born in California in 1858 to a Jewish couple; among all of his siblings, he was the only dwarf. He was discovered by Barnum at the age of four and height of two feet (though he would eventually grow to be just over 4 feet tall). Leopold was originally billed as The Eldorado Elf, but, taking a leaf out of General Tom Thumb's book, was assigned a military rank and became Admiral Dot, as well as perfecting a comedy routine. He married Charlotte Naomi "Lottie" Swartwood who he met at the Locke & Davis Royal Liliputian Company in 1891. They had two children. The family settled in upstate New York (as their height increased, their marketability decreased, but they remained beloved characters) where, with their fortune opened the Admiral Dot Hotel. Leopold also became a volunteer firefighter (and was on the scene when his own hotel burnt down) and a deputy sheriff (the smallest man in the country to hold both positions). He and his daughter died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Madam Milo, Queen of Hair in the 1880s. Length 6 feet, 2 inches (yes, of course I'm jealous!)

1904 Dreamland at Coney Island. Kitty! >^_^< I wish I had any information to give on this man. Though for the first time since finding him (a few years now), I see that he does, indeed, have two feet!

Schlitzie is one of the sideshow performers whose story is both happy and tragic. His real name and birth date and location are unknown due to being passed from parents to showmen to showmen, though his official tombstone (raised in 2004) puts his birth in 1901. Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, resulting in a very small brain and skull - resulting in severe mental retardation as well as billing as The Last of the Aztecs, a Pinnhead, The Monkey Girl (he was frequently billed as female and often dressed in long, simple dresses), or What Is It? He functioned at about the level of a three year old, but show business appeared to suit him well. His fellow performers described him as exuberant with a love of singing, dancing, and generally being the center of attention. Later, after being hospitalized when his most recent guardian/showman had died, he fell into depression until he was recognized by a sword swallower working part time at the hospital. Schlitzie was released into his care and spent the rest of his life giving occasional performances, even if it was just to a small crowd in the park. His most famous moment is his appearance in the 1932 film Freaks (he also made cameos in a few other films at that time), a horror film in a carnival setting. (You can watch it on Google, it's quite good!)

Rosa and Josefa Blazek were born in 1878 in Bohemia. Unlike many siamese twins who are merely connected by skin or cartilage, the girls spines were fused together. Despite almost being starved to death at birth, the girls were in show business (put their by their parents) by the time they were one year old. Rosa was described as the dominant twin - both physically and emotionally. She was slightly larger and at times it seemed that Josefa carried out Rosa's unspoken thoughts. In 1909 Rosa gave birth to a son, Franz, whose father was never officially named, though the man Rosa eventually married, another Franz who died in WWI is the most likely candidate. The media had a field day, as it is wont to do in such circumstances, despite attempts to keep the pregnancy hushed in order to preserve Rosa and Josefa's reputations. The 1920s saw the twins and Franz move to America to join the vaudeville circuit (Franz was now part of the act). Unfortunately Rosa fell sick in 1922 and recovered, but by then Josefa had fallen ill and died, with Rosa following 12 minutes later. There had been discussion of attempting to separate them in order to give Rosa a chance, but their brother insisted that they wanted to die together (amidst speculation that he was after their money). Autopsies revealed that there was no chance of a successful separation.

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