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5 Famous Sideshow Entertainers


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Zazel
Zazel begins her act at the Royal Aquarium in London in 1877. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Zazel begins her act at the Royal Aquarium in London in 1877. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While a human cannonball wasn't exactly considered a "freak" back in the day, it doesn't seem right to make a list of famous sideshow performers without including one. And hey, if we're using "freak" kindly β€” meaning something that is atypical β€” it's not so crazy to call Zazel (aka Rosie Richter), the first human cannonball, a little freakish. Most of us, after all, don't find ourselves yearning to be shot out of a cannon on any given day.

Not Zazel. A British aerialist, Zazel was the first person to be used as ammunition in an act. She was only 16 in 1877 when the first shot took place in the Royal London Aquarium, and she flew 70 feet (21 meters) in the air on the very first go [source: Pednaud]. The Great Farini, a well-known tightrope walker who made his way across Niagara Falls in 1860, invented the "cannon" that projected humans into the air [source: Niagara Falls Info]. The cannon exploded only to capture the attention of the audience β€”it actually relied on springs to throw Zazel across the ring [source: Pednaud]. While nets were used, Zazel ultimately missed a landing and ended up retiring with a broken back.