Sideshows, which were offered as auxiliary entertainments by carnivals, circuses and fairs, centred around the display of ‘freaks’. The trend was begun by the great American showman P. T. Barnum
, who in 1835 purchased Joice Heth
, a slave woman who (falsely) claimed to be 161 years old and to have nursed George Washington. On the back of his success in exhibiting Joice, Barnum quickly acquired a whole host of human oddities, both real and fake, including Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy
, Zip the Pinhead
and the Middlebush Giant
. Soon others caught on and freak shows featuring a variety of acts began to spread across the states. Their popularity remained high until the mid 20th
century when increased public understanding of underlying medical and genetic conditions caused attitudes to shift.
Tom Browning’s seminal film Freaks (1932), of which this is a key scene, stars many famous 1920s performers.