The Sideshow Lexicon

AB (Amusement Business) – The magazine of the trade. In the old days, before its name change, it was The Billboard. Many, if not the majority, of traveling showmen would have Billboard as their address; that is, they could be contacted while on the road care of the forwarding services offered to the showmen by … Read more

Barnum Stories

The white whales or the monstrous couple At his beginning, Barnum traveled extensively across the country and even the world to search for curiosities. One day he  traveled up the St. Lawrence to buy two white whales, sent them 700 miles back to his museum in New York by train, and put them in a … Read more


Barnum was born into a poor family in Connecticut in 1810. His genius lied in his ability to drive human psychology to meet his own ends, and his talent for hatching the most sensational and bizarre schemes. In her book Circus! Marian Murray notes that Barnum was known to many as a "trickster, a perpetual … Read more

Freakshows Today

In the early 1990s former phone salesman Jim Rose developed a modern sideshow called “the Jim Rose Circus”, reinventing the sideshow with two types of acts that would attract modern audiences and stay within legal bounds. The show featured acts reviving traditional sideshow stunts and carrying some of them to extremes, and “fringe” artists (often … Read more

History of sideshows

Exhibitions of living human oddities has been around in travelling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat people, the very thin, conjoined twins and even people from exotic countries. Freak shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when people from all classes … Read more

Types of freakshows

The Ten-in-One freakshow offers a program of ten sequential acts under one tent for a single admission price. The ten-in-one might be partly a freak show exhibiting "human oddities" (including "born freaks" such as midgets, giants or persons with other deformities, or "made freaks" like tattooed people. However, for variety’s sake, the acts in a … Read more

Exploiters or slaves ?

As stated earlier, many freaks signed their contracts and displayed themselves willfully, while others were sold or drafted by their parents or guardians into the freak show. Those who had no choice in the matter were generally mentally retarded or very young; in either case, they were unable to completely comprehend what would happen to … Read more

What is a freakshow

A Freak Show is a show where human oddities and freakish working acts are performed. The term applies to both circus and carnival. In practice, these shows were often ten-in-one shows and usually had on top of the usual human prodigies a high percentage of working acts like sword swallowers and fire eaters or ‘made … Read more