Meet Lionel, the Lion-Faced Boy, aka Stephan Bribowski from Poland, who graced freakshows at the turn of the century. He was covered in luxurious blond hair, a condition called Hypertrichosis, which according to circus lore was due to his mother having witnessed Lionel’s father being mauled to death by a lion when she was pregnant. A legend, of course.
In his show, Lionel conversed with the audience in a cultivated manner, and then pounced around to show the supposed animal side of his nature. Joining the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1901, he was one of the most successful show freaks ever, and a star at Coney Island in the 1920s. He retired to Germany in the late 1920s. Mercifully, he died in 1932 and was thus spared the Nazi regime, which he certainly would not have survived.
- The Barker’s Blog: A “barker” is the person who stands outside the show venue and tries to entice passersby to see the show.
- Robert Bogdan: Freak Show. Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. (at Amazon) – Fabulously readable work by an eminent sociologist.
- Leslie Fiedler: Freaks. Myths and Images of the Secret Self. (at Amazon) – A psychological and historical view of popular fascination with freaks. Brilliant.
- Mark Hartzman: American Sideshow. (at Amazon) – Haven’t read this one yet. Popular encyclopedia, lists performers from 19th century up to the present.