10 Bizarre Circus Sideshows

World's Ugliest Acts
Would you rather be known as "World's Ugliest Woman" or the "Mule-Faced Woman"? This was a choice Grace Daniels had to make. A. R. Coster/Stringer

This "bizarre" sideshow makes it on the list not because the performer herself was bizarre, but because — like our piece on dwarfism — it points out how totally strange it is that sideshows could feature such an attraction. That "attraction" was Mary Ann Bevan, which the Coney Island Dreamland Circus, and later Ringling Bros. gleefully touted in the 1920s as the "World's Ugliest Woman." Never mind that Bevan suffered from acromegaly, a pituitary disorder that causes bone and facial disfigurement [source: Danzig]. Also never mind that Bevan could not possibly be the World's Ugliest Woman, because if you read YouTube comments you'll learn that many make that claim about a whole host of people and consensus is unheard of.

The claim of "World's Ugliest (sometimes "Homeliest") Woman" was, it turns out, contested even back in the day. Grace McDaniels (who probably had a condition called Sturge-Weber Syndrome, which caused a facial birthmark and tumors) also was endowed with the term around the same time period. While Bevan was forced to perform in sideshows to support her four children after widowhood and accepted the title, McDaniels was apparently so ashamed of the nasty moniker that she talked the promoters into calling her the Mule-Faced Woman instead [source: Pednaud]. (Which seems a rather hollow victory.)