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Profiles

  • General Tom Thumb (1838 - 1883)
    General Tom Thumb was the stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), a midget who achieved great fame under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum. Stratton was a son of a Bridgep...
  • Lavinia Warren, Little Queen of Beauty (1841 - 1919)
    Lavinia Warren (1841 – November 25, 1919) was an American proportionate dwarf and the wife of General Tom Thumb. Early life Warren was born at Middleborough, Massachusetts as Mercy Lavinia Warren...
  • Grady Stiles, the Lobster Boy (1937 - 1992)
    Grady Stiles II came from a long line of males born with a disfiguring condition called Electrodactyly (fingers and toes are fused to look like claws). Following in his father's footsteps, Grady joined...
  • Rose-Sémélida Dufresne (1887 - d.)
    Rose was the daughter of Charles-Gregoire Dufresne and Josephine Gagnon. She had dwarfism. She was born at Lowell on June 17, 1887. She had a sister, Alice, and 2 half-sisters, Corona and Angeline Vers...

A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics, people with other extraordinary diseases and conditions, and performances that are expected to be shocking to the viewers. Heavily tattooed or pierced people have sometimes been seen in freak shows, as have attention-getting physical performers such as fire-eating and sword-swallowing acts.

From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainment.