We've seen some pretty bizarre acts, from drunk acrobats to flatulists. But I say with utter confidence that the most bizarre — and perhaps most delightful — act is our No. 1. Let's get to the real head-scratchers that make us wonder "how do they do it?" Or maybe more to the point, "who wants to see them do that?" Not sure what I mean? Well, let's just say that one of our top sideshow act went by the name "The Great Regurgiator." Step right up, I guess — but maybe not too close.
Yup, vomiting — and its more benign cousin "water spouts" — were a sideshow act that records show existed even in the 17th century [source: Pednaud]. Basically, performers could either take some sort of substance to make them copiously expel or they trained themselves to harness stomach and throat muscles to their command. Either way, you had a rather messy show.
Hadji Ali was the most well-known regurgitator in the 1920s, and could hit a target 6 feet away [source: Pednaud]. Ali would also combine his act with fire-breathing, where he would ignite kerosene into a fire, and then expel of water he had swallowed to put out the flames.
It's hard to deny the fact that the strange talents of people feel a little more fun to celebrate than the (often times painful or life-threatening) medical conditions. While it's terrific that sideshows these days feature performers who are empowered and responsible for their act, I can't help but think that I would pay a lot of money to see Le Petomane perform today.
- Brown, Garrick H.S. "Le Petomane: The Strange Life of a 'Fartiste.'" Retro Magazine. (May 8, 2015) http://www.ljhelms.com/pet/_pujol/thestory/retro.htm
- Danzig, Jon. "Doctor protests at greeting card manufacturer making fun of woman with acromegaly." British Medical Journal. 2006. (May 8, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1633789/
- Gilbert, Elizabeth. "The Lives They Lived: Melvin Burkhart, B. 1907; Life as a Blockhead." The New York Times. Dec. 30, 2011. (May 8, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/30/magazine/the-lives-they-lived-melvin-burkhart-b-1907-life-as-a-blockhead.html
- Grande, Laura. "Strange and Bizarre: The History of Freak Shows." History Magazine. Sept. 26, 2010. (May 8, 2015) https://thingssaidanddone.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/strange-and-bizarre-the-history-of-freak-shows/
- Hartzman, Marc. "American Sideshow." Penguin. Sept. 21, 2006. (May 8, 2015) http://books.google.com/books?id=gpm91xwIg1QC&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Horwitz, Simi. "Sideshow Performers Define Themselves in the Modern World." Backstage. Aug. 24, 2011. (May 8, 2015) http://www.backstage.com/news/sideshow-performers-define-themselves-in-the-modern-world/
- Lofty, M. et al. "Successful separation of craniopagus parasiticus." Neuroseurgery. Nov. 2006. (May 8, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17143210
- Mayo Clinic. "Acromegaly." Feb. 5, 2013. (May 8, 2015) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acromegaly/basics/definition/con-20019216
- Museum of Hoaxes. "The Feejee Mermaid." (May 8, 2015) http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/the_feejee_mermaid
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Ben Dova — The Drunk Daredevil." The Human Marvels. 2014. (May 8, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/ben-dova-the-drunk-daredevil/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Elmer McCurdy — The Wandering Dead." The Human Marvels. 2014. (May 8, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/elmer-mccurdy-the-wandering-dead/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Hadji Ali — The Great Regurgitator." The Human Marvels. 2014. (May 8, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/hadji-ali-the-great-regurgitator/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Le Petomane — The Fartiste." The Human Marvels. 2014. (May 8, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/le-petomane-the-fartiste/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Pasqual Pinon — The Two Headed Mexican." The Human Marvels. 2014. (May 8, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/pasqual-pinon-the-two-headed-mexican/
- Pituitary Ademoaner. "The Ugliest Woman In The World." May 24, 2012. (May 8, 2015) http://pituitaryademoaner.blogspot.com/2012/05/ugliest-woman-in-world.html
- Russell, Patrick. "Joseph Späh." Faces Of The Hindenburg. Nov. 30, 2008. (May 8, 2015) http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com/2008/11/joseph-sph.html
- The Sturge-Weber Foundation. "Sturge-Weber Syndrome." (May 8, 2015) http://www.sturge-weber.org/medical-matters/sturge-weber-syndrome.html
- Wishart, Adam. "The Terrible Story of Hoo Loo." Feb. 15, 2007. (May 8, 2015) http://www.adamwishart.info/blog/2007/02/15/the_terrible_st
- YouTube. "Ben Dova — The Drunk Daredevil." Jul 24, 2007. (May 8, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv6DjMpY04I
HowStuffWorks looks at the history of magician's assistants, what they do and why the assistant is usually a woman.