10 Offbeat Circuses


Acme Miniature Flea Circus

Three fleas are harnessed to miniature chariots at the start of a Roman-style race, just one of the attractions in John Torp's American flea circus circa 1956.
Sometimes talented fleas can blow elephants and lions out of the water. Sherman/Stringer

Confession: I have no idea if the Acme Miniature Flea Circus is real. I mean, flea circuses aren't real, right? Of course not. They're just illusions and tricks performed by hucksters and swindlers.


The Acme Miniature Flea Circus has me almost completely convinced. Professor A. G. Gertsacov swears that he uses pulex irritans (human fleas, bigger than fleas on animals) and trains them to pull miniature chariots and dance on high wires [source: Viera]. (Well, high to them.) Gertsacov (not, as far as I can tell, a tenured professor but a bona fide graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College) uses a magnifying glass to highlight the fleas, but most audience members over the age of 8 might be hard-pressed to confirm that they actually see them [source: Acme Miniature Flea Circus]. That doesn't stop members for excitedly rooting for Midge or Madge (the flea performers) to win a race or do an acrobatic stunt.

But who needs proof to be impressed by the illusion? Enjoy your flea circus just as much as the Victorians did, when the little bugs (or their imaginary avatars) proved popular entertainment.