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10 Bizarre Circus Sideshows


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Dwarfism as Show
Dwarf performers range in ages, but P. T. Barnum convinced performer Tom Thumb to lie about his age to seem more intriguing. Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Dwarf performers range in ages, but P. T. Barnum convinced performer Tom Thumb to lie about his age to seem more intriguing. Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

This one goes on the list not because it's bizarre in and of itself. We're putting it up for scrutiny because conditions like dwarfism were presented as sideshow. This is one of the most offensive stories about the circus and its history. Simply put, it should be seen as patently bizarre that medical conditions were ever considered entertainment.

And let's not pretend that a showman like P.T. Barnum was ever satisfied with simply presenting his performers as is. Take Tom Thumb (real name: Charles Stratton), the dwarf who became a wildly popular performer in the mid-19th century. Was it good enough for the 2-foot-tall (60.96 cm) Thumb to merely exist as a performer? Of course not. Although Tom was only 5 years old when he started performing, Barnum told him to tell the audience he was 11 — more shocking, you see.

But medical conditions were only interesting sideshows if they were shocking, of course. So let's take a look at one show that might have a modern audience ready to call an ambulance, and not buy a ticket.