Step right up, Step right up! The show is about to begin as we explore the world of the circus and those who made and make a magical place to visit. The tradition of the circus has a long incredible history as we learned from last week, but that history lesson is not over today as I will make it point of how history and even film has influenced the circus.
In our last visit to the modern circus we had the opportunity to continue our journey to the 20th century parade in addition to our profile on Lobster Boy Grady Stiles. I have found so many incredible aspects to the circus with the parade being on of those aspects. With the introduction of the parade which I would have loved to see in those days , the excitement especially seeing the big Tent built.
This being one important part of the show, the next I would like to touch on is the Equestrian Sets. Divided into three main groups: Voltige, in which a rider vaults onto and off a horses back; trick riding, in which the standing rider performs somersaults and pirouettes or forms human pyramids with other riders on one or more horses; a spectacular form of dressage in which horse executes complex maneuvers in response to imperceptible commands communicated through slight shifting in the riders weight, pressure exerted by the knees and legs or the handling of the reins.
Previous Profiles and Stories
Grady Stiles (Lobster Boy)
The Pinheads Pip/Flip and Schlitizie-
Myrtle Corbin (The Four Legged Girl)
Koo-Koo the Bird Girl
Camel Girl –
The Siamese Twins –
The Equestrian’s Magic
Equestrian acts taking place both in the 19th and 20th century as Astley being one of the most popular riders. Others included Andrew Ducrow, who was Astley’s manager during the last two decades of his life. The 19th century saw other great riders who were champions of bareback riding- the art of performing acrobatic and gymnastic feats on the bare backs of loping horses. James Robinson, a mid-19th-century American was one such rider. He was billed as “the One Great and Only hero and bareback horseman and Gold Champion-belted Emperor All Equestrians.
A variety of other equestrian tricks gained popularity in the 19th century. A traditional finale of the larger tent shows, know as the Great Roman Hippodrome Races, was a spectacle composed of novelty races, steeplechases and the ancient arts of chariot racing and Roman post (standing) riding. Also popular were “Horses at Liberty” horses that performed free of rider, reins, or harness directed solely by visual or oral command. In 1897 the Barnum & Bailey Circus presented the largest troupe of these horses, with 70 performing simultaneously in one ring.
This part of the act is just one enterprise of the circus that I found enjoyable, but there is so much more I will go over in future blogs, but for now lets remember this part of the show. One thing I personally don’t fully agree with is riding on animals backs in the way horses where used meaning many times requiring the performer to stand on the back on the horse as opposed to sitting on his back like normal.
We have truly meeting lots of new faces in the world of circus of side shows and last week was no different when we detailed Grady Stiles also known as Lobster Boy and his horrible past of being a sideshow and even a murder which made his life all more interesting.
Many of you will see that I have theme with much of this series which involves many real life profiles of individuals to have been popularized in television in movies and today is no different when we profile Fanny Mills also know as the “Ohio Bigfoot Lady” an unknown until I came across her in my research.
Fannie Mills (Born 1860 Died 1899)
Ohio Bigfoot Lady
Also known as “The Ohio Bigfoot Lady” born in England but moved to Sandusky, Ohio as a child before her disfigurement began. Afflicted with Lymphedema which is considered a gross swelling, fluid build-up and discoloration of soft tissue that was localized only to the lower extremities, requiring Fanny’s feet to grow and required her to wear size 30 shoes.
At a very young age she began to have painful symptoms of Milroy’s disease. Milroy’s disease is a familial disease characterized by lymphedema, a extremely rare genetic disorder in which an overwhelming number of suffers are female.
As a young adult, Fannie who was a petite woman, weighing in at about 115 pounds. Her feet growing to about nineteen inches long and seven inches across. In 1885 Fannie joined the traveling “freak show” under the name Ohio Big Foot Girl and was accompanied by her nurse Mary Brown, who helped her walk and with her daily tasks.
Earning about $150 a week in wages, a small fortune at the time as Fannies promoters came up with strange gimmicks by saying that her father was a offering a dowry of $5000 and a farm to anyone who would marry his unfortunate daughter. Fannie had plenty of offers on this fake promotion mostly by people wanting the cash and farm which Fannie did not own.
The promotion proving successful with droves of bachelors coming out to look at Fannie, all paying an admission fee to see her. Declining all offers and going off and marrying William Brown in 1886, the brother of her nurse Mary.
Mary was 26 and William 46 at the time. In 1887 giving birth to a stillborn baby at which point her health started to fail. She was forced to retire in 1892 due to her declining health and died in 1899 at the age of 39. Her funeral was reported as being well attended, with services being held at the family’s home, and a private burial at Oakland Cemetery.
This is one of those cases where again not a great deal of information is available but nonetheless she is worth mentioning for her life and what she had to endure as part of the freak show. She attempted to have somewhat of a normal life but the condition was too much to bear but it hopeful she found love and did not die alone.
Although this condition is very rare there doesn’t appear to be a real cure for this but ways for the fluid to decrease such exercising and some types of medication, so goes to show you even back in Fannies Mills days there wasn’t treatment so she had to live with it. She was sadly very young when she died, too young in my opinion.