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
Felix Wehrle (The Elastic Man)
The Human Caterpillar
T.A. Valenzulea (The World’s Biggest Man) (B. 1886, D.1925)
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 –
Charolotte Vogel (Susi the Elephant Skin Girl) – 1908-1976
Susi the Elephant Skin Girl suffered from a condition known as ichthyosis from birth, a painful malady which caused her skin to thicken, turn grey, wrinkle and break into cracks that were apt to admit infections. A native of Germany she began touring the U.S. and moved here after Hitler came to power. She exhibited herself mostly in the New York area, at Hubert’s Museum in Times Square, at Coney Island, Gorman Bros Circus and later years Ringling Bros as a sideshow. She performed at the Chicago World fair in 1933 with Ripley’s believe it or not. Her last known booking was with the Great Allentown Fair in Pennsylvania as “The Swamp Girl”.960’s
Early in her childhood Susi’s Ichthyosis manifested aggressively and her skin quickly thickened and due to the severity of her condition endured physical pain. Amplified by multiple infections and illnesses as bacteria invaded the major cracks formed in her skin from the most subtle movements. During her early years she couldn’t blink her eyes with risk-threatening cracks.
In addition to physical pain, endured emotional pain as she was of the subject of ridicule and segregation from her peers. During the hot summer days, while children played in the water, Susi rubbed ice over her arms in an effort to cool down as her skin condition left her unable to sweat.
As children pointed and laughed at her she would not shed a single tear as her condition robbed her the ability to cry.
Susi’s parents, in an effort to improve the quality of her life and to prevent infections lathered Susi with generous amounts of oil and moisturizer on a daily basis. Her parents were highly concerned with her general appearance and took to peeling the skin from her face on a nightly basis.
Both practices did wonder for her skin as it became suppler, and her facial complexion cleared to reveal and attractive face. Susi would need to repeat the daily procedure for the rest of her life.
Coming to the United States in 1927 as part of a troupe consisting of a giantess and a bearded lady. With her manager, she emigrated to the U.S. from Germany to escape the oncoming war and moved to an apartment on New York’s west side.
By all accounts Susi was shy, introverted and a quiet woman who preferred to keep a low profile and exhibit sparingly. She exhibited herself more or less until her manager passed away in the late 1960’s. With his death, Susi’s career and heart for the business died as well.
By some accounts Susi retired to Germany, but most report that she passed away in New York City in 1975.
As I continue this journey, which I have started years ago, there are still man performers that I have not wrote about. Many of the performers have little or no information about their life and history. I continue to bring these names to light as many of long forgotten , but slowly emerging in film and television like some of my favorite shows and movies I have mentioned often.
It appears Susi lived a difficult life , but hopefully she found some joy and peace in her situation as she struggled with her condition. It sounds like she lived in a life of pain, but begin apart of the circus brought joy and amusement to others. Another way the circus although the only way to survive for Susi was taken advantage still by Ringling Bros but I am sure it had its benefits instead of staying home living a life of desolate and being poor hopefully she made good money performing and exhibiting.
Since writing about all of these individuals I have a great respect for each of the individuals, despite there strangeness and uniqueness there were human beings. Many would feel sorry for them but I believe they wouldn’t want that , but to appreciate them and I do.
These men and women often exploited for there freakness and uniqueness, but I will say that many made money, some astounding amounts in those days. Do we still exploit people today, sure we do but we do it on the social stage of social media, on TV and movies for a profit?
Thank you for continuing to be on this journey with me as these posts are not as often but certainty not forgotten.