The 13 Most Bizarre Circus Acts in the World

The public has always needed something breathtaking and the circus was one of those places where people could get such an experience. They especially liked freak shows where horrifying mutations of people could reproduce some of their nightmares. P.T. Barnum was the first showman to fundamentally change the circus and create the first freak show with extraordinary people. He knew how to manipulate and surprise people so he often used simple people to pretend to be unique and extraordinary. Despite the fact that Barnum’s show was a fraud, the tickets were always sold out right after the announcement.

Circus performances give us lots of emotions. They inspire and surprise us with breathtaking tricks. Here are some of the most incredible acts with people who seem to have superpowers. Do you want to know how the circus started?

Bright Side found most extraordinary circus acts that have ever existed in history. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the show!

1. Alar, the Human Arrow

Pansy Zedora, also known as Alar, the Human Arrow, performed with her sister and brother-in-law with the Barnum & Bailey Circus as The Human Arrow and The Flying Zedoras. She acted as a living weapon – she was shot like an arrow into the air out of a 40-ft crossbow through a paper target and caught by her sister swinging from a trapeze. Mary amazed crowds with her ability to fly large distances with such accuracy and grace.

2. Grady Stiles, the Lobster boy

Grady Franklin Stiles Jr. was a freak show performer. Grady was the sixth generation of the Stiles family born with ectrodactyly, a birth defect causing the hands and feet to be fused into claws. Grady's father was already a part of a traveling carnival, so the son followed his father's footsteps and began performing early as The Lobster Boy.

Grady was married twice and had 4 children, 2 of whom also had ectrodactyly. Stiles and his two children toured together as The Lobster Family.

3. Aloys Peters, the Man with the Iron Neck

Aloys Peters was a German acrobat with a unique skill – he could jump off a platform 75 ft in the air with a hangman’s noose around his neck and still stay alive. At the same time, the rope would just snap back before he would actually hit the ground. It resulted in his flying upward and making a controlled descent. Peters performed this feat initially for the famous Strassburger Circus in Berlin and then the Sells-Floto Circus on US shores in the 1930s. His unfortunate and last performance was in 1943.

4. Mademoiselle Octavie LaTour

Mademoiselle Octavie LaTour was a lady stunt driver, performing for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1905. At the time when automobiles were a brand-new technology, she was featured in the Dip of Death, where she was supposed to drive a small car at breakneck speed on a ramp that had a 20-ft breach. She turned upside down in the auto and did a reverse somersault over a 20-ft crevice at the end of her ride and arrived on the appropriating track.

5. Frank "Cannonball" Richards

Frank Richards could take the cannonball (47 kg) fired at his stomach twice a day. To be able to do so, he asked people (including heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey) to punch him in the gut. Later, he started allowing spectators to jump on his stomach. Richards began with one person and continued on to 4. This let him endure repeated sledgehammer blows. What he will never be forgotten for is his ability to withstand being shot in the belly with a cannonball.

6. Josephine Giradelli, The Fireproof Woman

First performing in 1816, Josephine Giradelli seemed immune to heat and was called "The Fire Queen." She held boiling lead in her mouth, held up a red-hot iron block over her head with her bare hands, walked barefoot on a red-hot metal plate, dropped melted sealing wax on her tongue, and cooked an egg with her hands in hot oil. Her skills were considered to be fake, hard work, and dedication to her trade. Later on, she even included ingesting poison in her performance.

7. Samuel Gilbert Scott

Samuel Gilbert Scott was considered to be a daredevil as he jumped off any tall thing he could find. Scott served in the United States Navy where he became well-known for jumping off the masts of Navy vessels.

After the Navy, he became a professional stuntman and dived from a precipice near Niagara Falls that was considered to be a 593-ft jump. Historians thought that it was impossible.

In Cornwall, Samuel Gilbert jumped from a 240-ft cliff into 8 ft of water but there was something wrong with the equipment and it almost resulted in him suffocating and nearly dying. However, he was saved by a sailor at that time.

When it happened again, a rope slipped and tightened around his neck and people considered it to be part of the act. When they realized what had happened, it was already too late.

8. El Niño Farini and Mademoiselle Lulu

Samuel Wasgate was an orphan adopted by an acrobat and tightrope walker William Leonard Hunt, also known as Guillermo Antonio Farini.

Sam became famous at the age of 10 for a death-defying stunt called Le Tambour Aerial by El Niño Farini, where he played the drum while balancing on a trapeze bar on the back of his neck. Sam also balanced on Farini’s shoulders when he crossed a tightrope 180 ft above the crowd.

In 1870, he began impersonating a female acrobat and aerialist known as “Mlle. Lulu.” However, 8 years later, “Lulu” got injured onstage and his real gender was revealed to his admirers. After this, Samuel continued performing, but as a man.

9. General Tom Thumb

Charles Sherwood Stratton was the real name of well-known General Tom Thumb, who performed under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum. He began touring as General Tom Thumb at the age of 5, gaining popularity that later allowed him a pampered lifestyle and a business partnership with Barnum. Stratton appeared twice before Queen Victoria. He also met the 3-year-old Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII.

10. Sword swallowers

While sword swallowing, the performer puts a sword down the esophagus to the stomach. This skill requires no actual swallowing but the deliberate relaxation of the upper gastrointestinal tract. It needs a lot of physical and psychological preparation. For some performers, learning to swallow a sword can take years.

11. "The LionDrome" – The Wall of Death

This is Ethel Purtle & her lion King in 1949.

"Fearless Egbert" was a British showman and one of the first to ride the Wall of Death, a specially made track for doing gravity-defying stunts, in the 1920s and 1930s.

There were a hundred walls of death traveling the US; however, the most breathtaking one was the "Liondrome" in which a rider was accompanied by a tamed lion.

Having a lion right behind you in the passenger seat was quite risky since the animal could become too stressed while riding and bite off your head. This is why the drivers placed them in side-cars and were careful not to smell of alcohol while driving as lions absolutely hated it!

12. Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken was an American actress, painter, and poet. She was best known for the title role in Mazeppa. The plot itself is a fairly standard romance but Menken’s heroine horseback maneuver emptied out box offices around the globe. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Bret Harte were among her fans.

13. The bearded lady

Annie Jones was the world-famous bearded lady of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. By the age of 5, she happened to have a mustache and sideburns that made her known as the "Bearded Girl." Hirsutism is when there is excessive body hair on body parts where hair is normally absent or minimal and that's what made Annie unique and famous. She was also known for her musical skills.

What do you like about the circus? Share this article with your friends and we'd love to hear what impressed you the most in the comment section below!

Share This Article