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.
For months month’s now we have explored the world of the circus and those performers we call freaks, although the term itself it derogatory and should not be used today, this is what they were referred to. I stand by using the terms of those times, but we must always remember these were human beings that should have been treated better but weren’t always. Many of the performers we have profiled lived incredibly sad lives and some lives very exciting lives t a great deal of money for their talents and eccentricities. These performers did not have a lot of options to live a normal life and many times society outcaste them living many no choice but to join a circus or freak show to make a living. Today these people hopefully would be respected and even maybe have a rockstar status for their differences, but society is still a cruel place today.
Can you imagine if the Elephant man existed today? Or Lobster boy or any of the other performers I have profiled here. Its hard to say if society would accept them or run-in fear over their differences. One type of performer that has seemed to have a normal life is “Little People”, where today many little people are incredible performers in film and television like one of my favorite Warwick Davis who has been in multitude of films like Willow and Harry Potter.
There are so many performers that have been forgotten or their stories go untold because of little or no real information other than a picture and some history, but they existed. Some of the so called freaks were not freaks at all, but unusual in their appearance all human beings of course, but its sad that we as society exploited that to make money and bring fame.
Previous Profiles and Stories
Edouard Beaurpre (Worlds Tallest Man)
Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man)
Stephan Bibrowski (Lionel the Lion-faced Man)
General Tom Thumb and Admiral Dot
Ohio Bigfoot Lady
Grady Stiles (Lobster Boy)
The Pinheads Pip/Flip and Schlitizie-
Myrtle Corbin (The Four Legged Girl)
Koo-Koo the Bird Girl
The Siamese Twins –
The next set of performers that I found in my discovery included the Muse brothers, two black albino brothers from Roanoke, Virginia. These brothers were initially exploited and then later hailed for your unintentional role in civil rights.
Their Story Begins
Born in the 1890’s who were both scouted by sideshow agents and kidnapped in 1899 by bounty hunters working in the employ of an unknown sideshow promoter. Black albinos, being extremely rare would have been incredibly lucrative. They were falsely told their mother was dead and they would never be returning home.
The brothers began to tour in 1922 with Ai G. Barnes who began to showcase the brothers requiring them to grow their hair out in to long white dreads. The brothers were given many different titles in the name of show business starting with the White Ecuadorian cannibals Eko and Iko. When that didn’t pan out and failed they were renamed the “Sheep-headed Men” and then finally in 1923 “The ambassadors from Mars”
As the “Men from Mars” the two traveled extensively with the Barnes circus. Unfortunately, while they being fed, housed and trained in playing the mandolin, they were NOT being paid.
In mid-1920’s, the Muse brothers toured with Ringling bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1927, while visiting their hometown, their mother finally tracked them down. Fighting to free her sons, some 20 years after their disappearance. Threatening to sue and the Muse brothers were freed.
The brothers filed a lawsuit for the wages they were due but never paid. Initially demanding a lump-sum payment of $100,000. However, as time passed the Muse brothers missed the crowds, the attention and the opportunities sideshows provided. Their lawyers able to get them a small lump-sum payment and a substantial contract with a flat monthly wage, returning to show business in 1928.
During their first season back they played Madison square garden and drew over 10,000 spectators during each of their performances. They made lots of money in their new contract which allowed them to sell their own merchandise and keep all the profits for themselves. In the 1930’s they toured Europe, Asia and Australia. Performing for the royals including the queen of England. In 1937 they returned to the Ringling bros and Barnum & Bailey circus for several years, finally ending their career in 1961 with the Clyde Beatty Circus.
The brothers returned home to their hometown and lived together in a house they purchased for their mother. Neither brother married, though they were well known for their many extravagant courtships.
George Muse died in 1971 and many expected Willie to follow his brother. Willie continued to play his mandolin and enjoy the company of friends and family until his death on Good Friday of 2001, he was 108 years old.
The Muse Brothers continue to be relevant even today as they appear to have been popularized in the film the Greatest Showman and in books, most recently in the 2016 non-fiction book by American author Beth Macy. The book tells the story of George and Willie Muse, two African American brothers who were kidnapped and forced to perform as sideshow attractions. View here for more information on the book – Truevine – Wikipedia
In addition to the book, the author also did an interview which can be view here:
Once again just another example of so-called circus freaks exploited for their differences but were able to successfully be financially independent making lots of money. These are the stories of real-life individuals that we should all be hearing about, although these individuals are no longer here, their stories and lives should live on as a reminder to what they went through to survive and just how in a way Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey exploited many of these performers. In the film the Greatest showman it made it appear the performers where all living incredibly lives and maybe some were but many were cheated and used for profits by P.T. Barnum.
I appreciate all of you joining in my journey to explore the lives of these performers and human beings, who were treated a property much of the time. I often think how often we still do this today by the media, film and T.V. to make money off a person. Ill admit the participants many times go willingly as money is a great motivator to do something, but it doesn’t make it right.
I hope in time we will all learn to appreciate human life better, but it doesn’t appear so as we continue to repeat history in how people are exploited for fame and profit even today.
Thank you for joining me once again on adding another face to those who performed for our amusement, although not today but yesterday.