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 it’s sad that we as society exploited that to make money and bring fame.
Previous Profiles and Stories
The Muse Brothers
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 at different times in history but equally important in their uniqueness physically. One could even way they were the original “Thin Man”. The two individuals include Isaac Sprague and Peter Robinson. Both at one point appeared to have worked for Barnum and Bailey and one appeared in the film Freaks.
Issaac W. Spraque (May 21, 1841 – January 5, 1887)
Sprague was an entertainer and sideshow performer billed as the human skeleton. Born in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Although normal for most of his childhood, Sprague began irreversibly losing weight at age 12 after feeling ill after swimming. The weight loss continued throughout his life despite a healthy appetite. His condition has been described by historians as extreme progressive muscular atrophy, which ultimately led to his death.
Bouncing around from job to job during early adulthood. He worked both as a cobbler for his father and a grocer. However, his illness kept him from continuing down either those career paths. His parents died and he could no longer work enough to support himself, so he was left unemployed.
In 1865, he was offered a job as a circus sideshow, where he was known as the “Living Skeleton” or “The Original Thin Man”
The next year P.T. Barnum hired Sprague to work at his American Museum. Paying him $80 a week for his services . What stood out most about that time being offered the job was that “Mr. Barnum stood very near me, and I overheard him say to his agent, “Pretty lean man, where did you scare him up?”
Barnum’s museum burned down in 1868 and Sprague managed to escape with his life. At this point, Sprague took time off to marry his wife, Tamar Moore. They had three sons who lived healthy, Normal lives.
Sprague made attempts to stay away from the sideshow, but he could not escape his financial troubles. It was rumored that in addition to caring for a wife and three sons he also had a gambling problem. His condition keeping him from real work so he continued to tour with Barnum throughout the country and eventually overseas.
By the age of 44, he was 5 feet and 6 inches tall with a weight of 43 pounds. Due to his condition, it required Sprague to constantly take nutrients. His health was in poor state that he often carried milk in a flask around his neck. He would sip from time to time to keep himself up and conscious.
Sprague died on in poverty of asphyxia in Chicago, Illinois.
Peter Robinson (April 8, 1873 – 1947)
Credited as The Cigarette Fiend, The Thin Man and the Living Skeleton was an American art performer and his only film appearance in the film Freaks with a lengthy career in the carnival circus at Coney Island and Ringling Bros. Robinson born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the son of Abraham Robinson, a native of Vermont and Canadian Victoria Hebert.
Working as a carnival sideshow entertainer, weighing in at 58 pounds, he billed himself as “The Living Skeleton”, in the vein of Isaac W. Sprague. In January 1922 he went on tour through South America and returned to the United States in November that same year. In 1916, he married in New York fellow sideshow entertainer Baby Bunny Smith, a 467-pound circus fat lady aged 18, and two children. He would marry numerous times for promotional purposes, after having been involved with no fewer than eight other “Circus fat ladies”
Despite making his living inside shows, he was classically trained Shakespearean actor and a harmonica player. By 1940 he was living with his sister Josephine Robinson and her husband Charles Slight.
Both of these performers strangely came from Massachusetts with very similar conditions which I find unusual, as if something was in the water. Both have short stories and not much of lives are told but one could only imagine the lives they lived, they struggled for some normalcy like marriage and family.
Like many of the performers from this series there is one thing that is clear, the circus was a family , close knit of all of their differences and within that family was love and protection.
As we add another name to our series of an unknown human freak, but still human who both lived lives with some normalcy but died thin. I am unsure if this type of illness exist today although I am sure it does.
Thank you for continuing to take this journey with me and adding these two human beings who many times are forgotten in to the light.