Remarkable İmages Shown: By The 1890s, Victorian ‘Freak Shows’
Fascinating images reveal stars of Victorian circus ‘freak’ shows including 8ft tall ‘Mighty Cardiff Giant’ and the smallest recorded human being on Earth
They lived a life in the spotlight, gazed at by thousands of prying eyes as they were paraded around the seedy circuses and taverns of Victorian England and the 19th-century New World.
These remarkable images show the little and large people who were exhibited as human curiosities to the paying public and ‘freak shows’, also known as ‘Circus Sideshows’.
Although little-known today, many of the characters in these photographs went on to become the most famous – and wealthiest – stars of their generation.
But others were driven to death by the dehumanising conditions, including Lucia Zarate, the so-called ‘Marvellous Mexican Midget’, who perished in the Sierra Nevada mountains when her carriage got stuck in the snow.
This reflects the darker side to this industry, which capitalised on exhibiting people with physical deformities.
Seeing how lucrative the business could be, circus promoters attempted to produce their own dwarves – by feeding babies gin to purposely stunt their growth.
By the 1890s, Victorian ‘freak shows’ began to wane in popularity with scientific advances which led to physical differences being explained as genetic mutation and disease.
These remarkable images show the little and large people who were exhibited as human curiosities to the paying public and ‘freak shows’, also known as ‘Circus Sideshows’. Pictured is Dutch dwarf Johanna Pauline Musters, aka Princess Pauline, Lady Dot or the Midget Mite, standing on the hand of her manager Verschueren, circa 1890. She weighed eight and a half pounds and measured 17 inches in height
Many of the ‘freaks’ weren’t as shocking as described and midgets were frequently advertised as being much older than they actually were. In one particularly cruel case in 1884, seven-year-old Millie was advertised as being ten years older than she actually was. That same year, 3 foot tall Millie was wed to 20-year-old dwarf ‘General Mite’ in an elaborate marriage ceremony in St James’s Hall, Manchester (pictured)
Some of the people in these images were driven to death by the dehumanising conditions, including Lucia Zarate, the so-called ‘Marvellous Mexican Midget’, who perished in the Sierra Nevada mountains when her carriage got stuck in the snow. Lucia, from Mexico, had primordial dwarfism. She stood at just 61cm and weighed 2.1kg
Chinese giant Chang Woo Gow, with wife Kin Foo, pictured circa 1871. Chang first appeared publicly in London in the mid-1860s. Thousands marvelled at his height and proficiency in many languages. He toured Australia and the USA extensively throughout the 1870s and became well-known throughout the western world
Captain William George Auger, known as the Cardiff giant, who stood around seven and a half feet, circa 1890s. Auger moved to London where he found work as a policeman. Due to his intimidating presence, he was often assigned to Queen Victoria’s personal police escort squad. It was the Queen herself who began calling George Captain despite the fact that he was not a ranking officer
Lucia Zarate – who stood at the miniscule height of 17cm and weighed only 4.7lbs – making her the smallest recorded human being on earth. She moved from Mexico to the USA at the age of twelve and was exhibited for her small stature. Any claims to national or world records were useful to promoters advertising their acts
Queen Victoria likely thought that a man of George’s statute, personality and physical presence should be addressed with some formality and respect. George later moved to America to perform as a Circus Sideshow and tried to break into the movie business. He is pictured next to three smaller people to show his impressive size
Nellie Keller, an American child circus performer, known as Little Queen Mab, circa 1880s. Nellie was born with dwarfism in Kokomo, Indiana. By the age of three Nellie Keeler came to the attention of P. T. Barnum through local press articles about her diminutive stature. Nellie weighed only eleven pounds and stood just a few inches over two feet. After a successful four-week try out in 1878 she began touring with Barnumís circus
Exhibitions of live human curiosities have appeared in circuses and taverns in England since the seventeenth century. But impossibly tiny people and humans of exceptional stature became a particularly popular form of entertainment during the 1800s. Pictured: Nellie Keller
Pictured are the married couple Anna Haining Swan and Martin Van Buren Bates, with a normal sized man. Mr and Mrs Bates, from Canada, were both over seven foot and weighed over five hundred pounds. This image was taken circa 1878. Although little-known today, many of the characters in these photographs went on to become the most famous – and wealthiest – stars of their generation
American dwarf Lavinia Warren – who stood at 2 feet and 66 inches and weighed a minuscule 29lbs – became a millionaire by today’s standards. In 1863, she was offered $5,000 (equivalent to $116,000 today) to be exhibited in a show for just six weeks. Lavinia’s marriage(pictured) to fellow dwarf Tom Thumb in New York that same year made her one half of the the 19th century’s tiniest and richest power couple
Their lavish wedding was attended by 10,000 guests, some paying $75 each for the privilege and President Abraham Lincoln hosted a reception for the couple at the White House. Pictured: Lavinia pictured from 1855-65. Her life is a reminder that the so-called ‘freaks’ of the age often had vastly different experiences of their time in the limelight
By the early 1900s, ‘freaks’ were forced to perform in seedier venues. Former Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren(pictured) – who has been world-famous tiny celebrities in their youth – made a living running an ice-cream shop in Massachusetts towards the end of their lives
The wedding of seven-foot-tall giantess Anna Haining Swan to equally tall Martin Van Buren Bates at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London in 1871 also drew thousands of adoring fans. Queen Victoria herself gave the pair large diamond studded gold watches, worth $1,000 apiece, as nuptial presents
Anna Haining Swan with her parents, circa 1860-65. Anna was a Canadian giantess famed for her great stature of 7 feet 11.5 inches. Her parents were of normal height and were Scottish immigrants. Unsurprisingly, there was very little knowledge of what caused the vastly varying sizes shown in these photos
Chang ‘the Chinese giant’ was born in Fujian Province around 1841. Although his height is usually given as eight feet, no records give the exact figure. He was frequently pictured posing with far smaller people in stylized scenes. In these two examples, he is wearing traditional dress
Chang is pictured here with his arms around a man in a bowler hat. Images like these were taken to emphasise his impressive size. Publicity stunts like the example above were used by promoters to spread the message about their shows and drive more ticket revenues
Chang was respected for his intelligence and knowledge as well as for his height. He spoke six languages and toured the world in a series of tours. He died in Bournemouth in 1893 after a career spanning several decades. He is pictured here in a series of photos promoting his tours
Maria Fassnauer, who stood around 7 and a half feet tall. She was from Austria and known as the Tyrolean giantess and is pictured circa 1900s. Like many of the people show in this set of images, Maria toured the world as an exhibition before her death in 1917
According to accounts from the time, Maria looked like any other child when she was born. But by the age of three, she began to grow dramatically and soon reached seven and a half feet. Local media called her the ‘tallest person in Tyrol’ and her fame spread around the world
Francis Joseph Flynn, aka General Mite, had a highly publicised wedding with his wife, Millie Edwards. The wedding changed the fortunes of Millie’s family – who had been poor labourers living in a cramped caravan in Grantham, Lincolnshire when she was born in 1881
In her journal, Queen Victoria described Mille and General Mite as being the most ‘wonderful little dwarfs’. Millie and her parents went on to travel the world, entertaining royalty and eventually settling in Australia. Francis also found success as a travelling showman
Martin Van Buren Bates, who was thought to be 7ft 11in, an average sized man and Frank Bowman, a dwarf. Crica 1900 – 1919, pictured in Ohio. Mr Bates married Anna Haining Swan a giantess from Canada. Public marriages among ‘freaks’ was a particularly popular way for promoters to advertise their acts
Pictured: Dutch dwarf Johanna Pauline Musters. There are cases of circus managers attempting to produce their own dwarfs by feeding them gin as children to stunt their growth. A retired Circus showman told the ‘Otago Witness’ in 1896 how ‘The making of midgets is a regular one, and a horrible one at that’
He continued: A naturally small children is taken at six months olds, or thereabouts, given graduated doses of gin every hour, and bathed in gin for half an hour three times a-day. This treatment stops its growth, and a midget is the result.’ Pictured: Dutch dwarf Johanna Pauline Musters
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