10 Bizarre Circus Sideshows

Giant Tumors
Tumors are no joking matter, but in 1831, Chinese laborer Hoo Loo became a public experiment when tickets were sold to view the surgical removal of his abdominal tumor. Universal History Archive/Getty Images

So this just scrapes in under the umbrella of sideshow — as we'll see, Hoo Loo's story doesn't involve the circus or "show," per se. But it does speak to the bizarre obsession in the 19th century to treat people with anatomical or medical conditions as public performers, subject to gawking. And aclth.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/cancer/facts/cancer.htm]tumors counted.

Hoo Loo, a Chinese laborer, had come to London in 1831 in the hopes that surgeons could relieve him of the 58-pound (26.3 ton) tumor that covered his lower abdomen to his knees [source: Wishart]. "Hospital tickets" were sold to watch the surgery in Guy's Hospital, and 680 men (no ladies allowed for such a show) watched the operation performed — sans anesthesia, of course. Such a thing wasn't used in medicine for another decade or two. He died on the operating table.

Author Laura Grande argues that Hoo Loo's story is an example of how the sideshow aesthetic made its way into the general populace — using "freakery" to both facilitate conversation about disability while also maintaining it as an abhorrence [source: Grande].