1The giant who was displayed in a storefront window after his death
Edouard Beaupré was the first of 20 children born to Gaspard & Florestine Beaupré. At the time of his death, he was one of the five tallest men in the world due to his 8' 3" frame. He died at the age of 23 from a pulmonary hemorrhage during a show at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis.
Beaupré's cause of death is fairly common, but the events that took place after his death are truly disturbing. His corpse was sent to funeral directors Eberle and Keyes to be embalmed and prepared for interment. The remains were to be then returned to Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan by William Burke, the circus manager, but he balked at the effort and shipping costs required. Burke instead convinced the Beaupré family to bury Edouard honorably in St. Louis—in order to spare everyone the expenses involved. The family agreed and believed that the funeral took place, but instead Burke simply skipped town and left the cadaver unclaimed and the funeral director unpaid.
To make up for the financial loss, the funeral home put Edouard's lifeless body on display in a storefront window with hopes of making a profit. The body caused so much pedestrian traffic that the municipal authorities eventually demanded that it be removed.
Beaupré's body would be sold two more times, and on one occasion, it was put on display at the Eden Museum of Quebec. In 1907, his corpse was found in a shed in Montreal, stored there after a circus that had purchased it had gone bankrupt.
Beaupre's body then fell into the hands of a respectable doctor by the name of Louis Napoléon Delorme at the University of Montreal. While his title may have been respectable, his demeanor wasn't. He mummified Edouard and placed him on display for the Faculty of Medicine. Edouard remained there for 85 years.
In 1975, Edouard Beaupre's nephew, Ovila Lespérance, petitioned the university to release the remains to his descendants. In 1989, the university finally agreed to cremate the remains and on July 7, 1990, the "Willow Bunch Giant" was finally buried with the dignity that he deserved. A life-sized statue was created in honor and celebration of his life.
2The sideshow performer whose body parts became part of an exhibit
In her short lifetime, Sara Baartman knew more tragedy than one should ever have to endure. She was discovered in Capetown, Africa by a British military doctor known as William Dunlop, and it was her unique physique that grabbed his attention. Her enlarged buttocks and an elongated labia were (and still are) common among the Khoisan women. However, Sara stood out for having slightly larger assets than the other women in her tribe.
It's unclear exactly what promises Dunlop made to Baartman to persuade her to accompany him on his trip back to Europe, but he was able to do so successfully. Upon her arrival, she was immediately presented as nothing more than a curiosity and given the name "Hottentot Venus." (Hottentot was the name applied by white Europeans to the Khoikhoi people. It is now considered an offensive term.)
After four years of degradation and humiliation by Londoners, she was transferred to Paris, only to endure the same systematic abuse to which she'd grown accustomed. Eventually, Parisians grew tired of Baartman as an exhibition. The money stopped coming in, and she was forced to resort to a life of prostitution as a means of survival.
Due to the combination of the abuse she endured and the foreign climate to which she was unaccustomed, she died in 1815 at the age of 25. After her death, French scientist Georges Cuvier had a plaster cast of her body created. He then removed her skeleton, brain and genitalia and placed them in jars at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris where they were on display for 160 years. It was only after Nelson Mandela had requested Baartman's remains be returned to Africa that she was given a respectable burial in 2002.
3The conjoined twin who woke up next to his brother's dead body
Chang & Eng were born in Siam (now Thailand). The siblings were discovered by Robert Hunter, a Scottish merchant who lived in Bangkok. He first laid eyes on the boys while they were out for a mid-day swim and was astounded by how fast they able to move in spite of their handicap.
Hunter shelled out a significant amount of money to the brother's parents as means of adoption. Once in his care, they instantly became a part of the sideshow circuit. After their time in the spotlight, the Bunkers (Eng & Chang's adopted name) went into business for themselves and eventually settled in the town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They lived a good there—they fell in love, married a pair of sisters, and fathered 21 children between them.
In their later years, things started to go south for the twins. After the Civil War, most of their hard-earned fortune had vanished, and Chang's alcoholism caused his health to suffer. Luckily, because the brothers had separate circulatory systems, Eng wouldn't have to endure the consequences of his Chang's poor choices—that is, until the morning of January 17, 1874. Eng awoke to find that his brother had died during the night as a result of a cerebral blood clot. Terrified, he immediately called for a doctor to perform an emergency separation, but it was too little too late. He died just three hours after his brother.
While the exact cause of Eng's death remains uncertain, it's a long-standing theory that the shock of Chang's death played a role.
4The "Living Mummy" who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound
Dominique Castagna was born with a disorder that stunted the development of his fat and muscle tissue at a normal rate. He was treated cruelly throughout his life. He was told he was an ugly child, never acknowledged by family, and never had any friends. By the time Dominique was full-grown, he was no more than 50 pounds and 4' 9" tall. He lived a lonely life and was avoided by most everyone—people believed that he was either fatally ill or contagious.
Castagna's physique didn't allow for a broad range of career choices. He figured that if he was going to be gawked at on a regular basis, he might as well profit from it. Despite having initial reservations about being a featured attraction, his first performances showed great promise of success.
A former co-worker by the name of Cruzel could see his potentialand voluntarily became his tour manager. While working together, the two became the best of friends and Castagna was elated. The man who'd often been referred to as a "Living Mummy" was finally part of a genuine friendship for the first time in his life and his physical peculiarities weren't of any importance to Cruzel.
The duo were on the road for quite some time, but the inevitable occurred, and once the schtick was at the end of its run they parted ways. Cruzel eventually married, and once Castagna received word that his manager was quitting show business, he took the news extremely hard.
In 1905, the "Living Mummy" was found dead in his hotel room. The nature of his wounds led the coroner to believe that his death had been a suicide.
5The circus fat lady who choked to death on her own vomit
Ruth Smith-Pontico was born in 1904 in Kempton, Indiana. She weighed a whopping 16 pounds. As an adult, she would become the third generation of women in her family to be featured as "The World's Fattest Lady" in sideshows.
Baby Ruth made an excellent income from being featured, and her devotion to fulfilling her role was intense. She was determined to meet the demands of the crowd and reportedly gained up to 40 pounds a year to keep up appearances.
After nearly a decade of performing with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the 700-pound beauty was admitted to a hospital in Florida to have fatty tumors removed from her legs. It was known to be a pretty standard procedure, but things took a turn for the worse during the recovery phase. As Ruth was coming out from under the effects of the anesthesia, she began violently vomiting. The medical team responsible for her care frantically tried to sit her in an upright position but were unable to do so because of her size. She choked to death in 1942, leaving behind a husband and daughter.
6The sideshow performer whose assassination was sponsored by his own family
The malevolence associated with Grady Stiles was well known in the freak show community. When under the influence of alcohol, he was more of a monster than any ringmaster could ever fluently depict. He took no prisoners; everyone was considered a target, family members included.
One of the acts that demonstrated just how nasty Stiles could be was committed on the eve of his daughter's wedding. A disagreement had taken place with the daughter's husband-to-be and ended with Stiles murdering the groom in cold blood. He was found guilty but was able to manipulate his sentencing by using his disability to gain leeway. Instead of a prison sentence, he got 15 years of probation.
No signs of remorse were ever expressed. In fact, getting away with murder gave him a sense of invincibility, and it became something he boasted about frequently. He made sure to remind those that he abused that he'd gotten away with murder once and he wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
The consistent abuse throughout the years eventually became unbearable to his wife, and what she had in store for him he never saw coming. In 1993, Stiles took three bullets to the head while watching television in his home. The murder was carried out by fellow sideshow performer Chris Wyant for $1500 at the behest of Stiles' wife.
7The human curiosity who died from a broken vertebrae
The majority of the public viewed Joseph Merrick as nothing less than a monster. They couldn't have been more wrong. Those who knew Merrick spoke of him as being quite a gentle soul, and though his condition often made it hard for him to be understood, he was highly intelligent.
Once Merrick stopped touring and was no longer able to fend for himself, he spent the remainder of his life in a customized hospital ward. It was a terribly lonely existence, but from time to time he would receive gifts and visits from actresses such as Marge Kendal and even the Princess of Wales.
Throughout his life, Merrick longed to be treated like any other person. This has caused many to theorize that his wish for normalcy could've played a role in his death. It was a known fact that due to the weight of his head, he had to sleep sitting up in bed with his head tucked between his knees. On the morning of April 11, 1890, he was found dead laying on his back. Merrick attempted to sleep like a normal person, but the weight of his head became too much. For years, it was believed that he had died from the weight of his head somehow managing to crush his windpipe, but it was later determined that his death stemmed from a broken vertebrae. He died at the age of 27.
8The woman born with a parasitic twin who died from a broken heart
Betty Lou Williams was born poor in Georgia in 1932. She was the youngest of 12 children and the only one to be born with four legs and an extra arm—she was carrying a parasitic twin whose head was also lodged in her torso.
As a toddler, Betty was placed on tour. She began making $250 a week by the age of two thanks to her unique aesthetics. As an adult, her salary quadrupled, amounting to over $1,000 a week. Her choice of career had not only earned her enough to put all of her siblings through college, but she was also able to purchase a home for her parents in their later years.
If it's not already evident, Williams had a generous heart. She was considered a great beauty and her deformity never got in the way of her many admirers. By the age of 23, she fell madly in love and was engaged. Although Williams was in the relationship for love, she soon learned that the intentions of her fiancé weren't as pure. To him, Betty was nothing more than an easy payday. He eventually took her life savings and skipped town. His actions became more than Betty could bare—the betrayal had not only taken a toll on her emotionally but ultimately led a full-blown asthma attack. Though suffocation was documented as the cause of death, those who knew her best were adamant that she'd died of a broken heart.
9The professional regurgitator who gassed himself to death
The Great Waldo's talents consisted of him being able to swallow an assortment of items—from ping pong balls to padlocks. However, the performance that caused him to gain the most notoriety was when he opted to include live mice in his show. Just as with every item, he swallowed the mouse of his choice and then proceeded to regurgitate the poor thing, completely intact.
As you could imagine, his strange talent wasn't one that had women longing for his affections. For most ladies, his winning personality simply wasn't enough—who he truly was an individual would always be overshadowed by his choice of profession.
Sadly, after yet another relationship had gone sour, Waldo was found dead in his home. He committed suicide by gassing himself.
10The sideshow performer who died after swallowing a large needle
Mirin Dajo made his sideshow debut in 1947. He commanded the attention of the crowd by allowing his assistant to impale him with a sword without so much as a wince.
This bizarre talent not only captured the attention of sideshow attendees but also professionals in the medical field. He was invited to display his talents at a medical center, and X-rays were produced to prove the authenticity of his act. However, even a medical marvel has limits—Dajo's unique gift was also responsible for his demise. He died at the age of 35 after ingesting a large needle, which led to an aortic rupture.
The Human Pincushion remains a marvel and continues to puzzle those in the medical field to this very day.