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
Jennie Quigley (August 20, 1850- March 11th, 1936)
Issaac W. Spraque and Peter Robinson (The Original Thin Man)
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 performer is certainty unique in his size billed as the worlds biggest man
T. A. Valenzuela – World’s biggest Man (B. 1886, D.1925)
Teodulo A. Valenzuela, considered at the time as the world’s largest man. He was a feature side show attraction of “The Biggest Show in Earth”, the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. Born in 1886 , the son of Jesus and Delores Valenzuela. Although this father was of normal size , his other family members were large. His mother weighing at 360 pounds. Two of his brothers weighed over 300 pounds and his sister weighed 510 pounds at the time of her death. Teo was no exception, his increasing weight resulted in his being known as “Fatty” and by the age of 16, he weighed 450 pounds.
Theo known to have worked as a boot black at Wyatt’s barber shop in Tempe for several years. However, in those days before air conditioning, his increasing weight caused him to suffer more and more from the heat. Just before the summer of 1905, he left the barber shop to take a job selling ice cream.
Working a variety of jobs, usually with other family members. He was a salesman with the J.A. Valenzuela Co. managing the confectionary story in Phoenix.
Theo married Liondies Estrada and by 1920 they had two children. The then had a job managing the pool hall in Tempe. His weight now over 600 pounds and attracting attention where he went. While vacationing in Long Beach, California he had to request police attention to get relief from the hordes of curious onlookers.
After several requests to go on exhibit, he gave in and appeared at the Arizona Cotton Carnival in Mesa and the Arizona State Fair. In 1921 he hired an agent and was appearing at the Pike at Long Beach.
By 1923, Theo went on the road with the Snapp brothers Shows. This was minor leaque circus that toured medium sized towns. Feature high divers, wrestlers, dancing girls, motorcycle acts and a large side show.
Theo’s big break came in 1924 when he weighed 745 pounds and considered to the be the world’s largest man. Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey which priced itself as having the biggest and best of everything hired him to join their side show. Leaving the west coast for New York, but even getting to their office to sign the contract caused problems. A truck was used to transport him through New York City and then he had to ride the freight elevators to get to the upstairs floor.
Fitting well with the sideshow, being compared to the baby elephants in the circus. Theo continued to gain weight and the rigors of constantly being on the road with the circus became difficult that he could no longer continue. He took a job appearing at Coney island, although he hated the east and he hated leaving his wife and three children in Los Angeles, this was the only way he could support them.
Even finding a place just to sit down was difficult as no chair would hold him and no being able to sit at a table and dine. Unable to take a regular bath, beds broke beneath him and a victim of many falls.
Theo’s weight continued to increase to 900 pounds with a sudden increase of 100 pounds in a month. His heart weakened and experience difficulty breathing. He knew he was dying and wanted to be home in his final days.
At Los Angeles he was met by a two-ton truck which took him to the general hospital. Two beds at the hospital were fastened together and braced to hold his weight. There he died at the age of 39.
Resting in state for three days, over 40,000 people filed past Theo’s bier paying their last respects. Mass was held at St. Vivane’s Church attended by hundreds of circuses and show businesspeople. The body was buried in Calvary cemetery. Twelve men were required to move the coffin to final resting place where a block and tackle were used to lower the coffin into the ground.
Survived by his wife and three children. He had managed to support his family as a side show attraction, but he was not rich. After his death, his widow took a job as a school custodian to support herself and the children.
Theo an unknown was still one of Barnum’s attractions, another human who was used and abused for the entertainment of others. Today its not laughing matter that a person weighs to these proportions where many do not live into their forties.
Big and small, the different and unique were used in the modern circus. Today that is no different as we continue to parade the different in social media and in reality TV, in such shows at my 600 pound life. Although one could say certain reality shows are a cautionary tale of what not to do in our lives, many continue to live in that matter.
Today so-called freaks still exist but instead they are placed in social media, on TV and movies in the disguise of trying to help them but in the end its still mockery of who these people are. Often these individuals many do not have a choice, its either be in the public and make some sort of living or starve to death, many of these people have wives, husbands, children and families to support.
When will we learn even today, maybe never, but its also it depends on those who are different Not to engage in mockery of themselves just to make a buck, but to each their own one could say.
Thank you so as always for continuing this journey into the world of those circus performers who are of yesterday , gone but not forgotten as we learned a bit about Teo, a unknown but still important to the world of freaks, performers and human beings used for profit, but still allowed to survive even with his differences.
Sadly Teo also know as Tom Ton was not the only large person used for entertainment as there were many Fat men and women used as specticles for profit.