16 Real Life Side Show Workers That Probably Inspired “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
1. Edward Mordrake
Edward Drake was a 19th century man who suffered from Diprosopus, or cranial duplication. While there is some dispute to the veracity of his story, according to the 1990 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine he was purported to have a second face on the back of his head that could only laugh and cry. He claimed the face spoke to him at night, and was so distressed that he killed himself at age 23.
The third and fourth episodes of Freak Show feature a fictionalized Edward Mordrake.
Schlitzie was a man with microcephaly, a condition that causes a sloping head and smaller brain. In addition to being featured in the cult film Freaks, Schlitzie was enormously successful in sideshows, working in all the biggest circuses of the day. Reportedly, Schlitzie loved performing, which he did up until his death at age 70.
Initially buried in an unmarked grave, in 2009 fans collected money for a grave marker.
3. Daisy and Violet Hilton
Daisy and Violet Hilton were conjoined twins active in side shows during the 1930s. They endured lifelong abuse at the hands of shady managers, and were eventually abandoned North Carolina after a show. With no income and no means of transportation, they sought work in a grocery store.
They were found dead in 1969, victims of the flu. Daisy had died first. Violet lived for several more days before also dying.
4. The Doll Family
The Doll Family were German dwarf siblings who performed in circuses and side shows. They were extremely successful and worked extensively in film. Two of the siblings, Harry and Daisy, starred in the cult classic Freaks, and all four were featured in The Wizard of Oz as munchkins.
5. Robert Huddleston and Ella Harper
Robert grew up on a farm before spending decades in the circus, and eventually retired to California where he spent his later years restoring cars and raising rabbits. He died in 1970.
Ella performed in circuses in the late 1800s, intending to quit after she raised enough money to go to school. It appears that she succeeded. After 1886 there is no further mention of Ella, save for a 1905 marriage certificate.
6. The Monster of Ravenna
In 1512 reports spread of a monster born in Ravenna with bat wings for arms and a single horn upon its head. Dozens of woodcuts and drawings exist, and Pope Julius II ordered the creature to be starved to death.
While there’s no definite account of what the monster was, it was certainly a human born with a severe genetic disorder, misunderstood and feared at the time. Nobody knows what became of it.
7. Mignon the Penguin Girl and Earl Davis the Frog Boy
Mignon (which means â€œcuteâ€ in French) was a woman born with phocomelia in the early 1900’s. She married twice in her life, first to an average sized man, and had a child without deformities. Later she married a retired acrobat named Earl Davis, and they performed together for the next several years. They retired, and the remainder of their lives are mystery.
8. Bill Durks, the Man With Three Eyes
Bill Durks was born in 1913 with frontonasal dysplasia, a condition where the two halves of the face fail to meet. Bill was shy, had trouble speaking, and was denied an education because of his appearance. As a result, he was illiterate.
In the sideshow circuit, Bill found fame and fortune. A friend taught him to read and write, and he gained confidence from performing in front of a crowd. He fell in love with Mildred the Alligator-Skinned Woman, and they spent many happy years together. He died in 1975.
9. Fanny Mills, the Bigfoot Lady
Fanny Mills was born in 1860 with a condition known as Milroy’s Disease, which causes extreme swelling of the lower extremities. During her time in the circus, a reward of five thousand dollars was offered to any man willing to marry Fanny.
Fanny was already happily married, however, and her $150 a week salary afforded her a comfortable lifestyle until her death at an untimely age of 32.
10. Myrtle Corbin, the Four-Legged Woman
Myrtle Corbin was born in 1868 with a parasitic twin dangling from her midsection. She could move the legs of her twin, but they were malformed with only three toes. She earned $450 a week, an astronomical salary in the day. She had five children and passed away at age 60.