Some of the sideshow performers we've listed were born with conditions that many of us are familiar with, like conjoined twins. But some performers have conditions that are quite rare and might still inspire curiosity today. Ella Harper, the "Camel Girl," had congenital genu recurvatum, a condition that caused her knees to bend backward. Because of the unusual structure of her anatomy, walking on all-fours proved more comfortable for Ella Harper.
Hence the "Camel Girl" nickname, since her knees and walking position supposedly made her resemble the ungulate with bent legs. In fact, Harper often appeared with a camel in her act to present a side-by-side comparison. The reality, of course, is that she was a regular adolescent girl who, by the age of 16, appeared to have quit the world of sideshow work to go to school [source: Pednaud].
Author's Note: "5 Famous Sideshow Entertainers"
There's no doubt that some performers were not as capable of making their own career decisions as others. Schlitzie, for instance, had several developmental disabilities and Joseph Merrick, also known as the Elephant Man, was trying desperately to make ends meet outside a London Workhouse. But other famous players happily chose their life in entertainment, and seemed to have a blast traveling and performing.
- Minnesota Department of Health. "Microcephalus (also called microcephaly)." (April 15, 2015) http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/cfh/topic/diseasesconds/microcephalus.cfm
- Newman, Harley. "Chang and Eng." Sideshow World. (April 20, 2015) http://www.sideshowworld.com/81-SSPAlbumcover/Chang/Eng.html
- Niagara Falls Info. "The Great Farini." (April 20, 2015) http://www.niagarafallsinfo.com/history-item.php?entry_id=1457¤t_category_id=257
- Nickell, Joe. "Secrets of the Sideshows." University Press of Kentucky. 2005. (April 20, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=sACcmMWM6t4C&dq=chang+brothers+sideshow&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Annie Jones – The Esau Woman." The Human Marvels. (April 22, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/annie-jones-the-esau-woman/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Ella Harper – The Camel Girl." The Human Marvels. (April 22, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/ella-harper-the-camel-girl/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Schlitzie the Pinhead." The Human Marvels. (April 22, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/schlitzie-the-pinhead/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "The Siamese Twins – Chang and Eng Bunker." The Human Marvels. (Oct. 13, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/the-siamese-twins-chang-and-eng-bunker/
- Pednaud, J. Tithonus. "Zazel – Presenting the First Human Cannonball." The Human Marvels. (April 22, 2015) http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/zazel-the-human-cannonball/
- Trueb, R. M. "Causes and management of hypertrichosis." American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2002. (April 20, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12444804
HowStuffWorks looks at the history of magician's assistants, what they do and why the assistant is usually a woman.