They were rejected by society, but found comfort with each other
Before the internet, before video games, the circus was a major form of entertainment. These traveling acts included trapeze artists, lion taming, and most memorably, what was called “freak shows.” These “geeks” had congenital conditions that rendered them scary to many ignorant people who were not commonly exposed to those that were different looking.
While we are a much more sympathetic society now, let’s take a look at what once was an American staple of oddities that American Horror Story dedicated an entire season to.
Simple and innocent, Pepper was a fan favorite of AHS. The real-life version was a man named Schlitze Surtees from the early 1900s. He was affected with microcephaly, a neurodevelopment disorder that causes an unusually small brain and skull. These people were called “Pinheads.”
Schlitze’s competence was that of a toddler and could only speak a handful of words. You might have seen him in the classic film Freaks.
Mordrake appeared in a two part Halloween episode of the show. His deformity? He had a conscious talking face on the back of his head who was evil. History books tell us that the real Mordrake was from the 1800s and who did indeed have a face on the back of his head. Some rumored the face could cry and laugh. Mordrake committed suicide at only 23 years old.
Tom Waits wrote “Chained Together for Life” about Mordrake.
Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr.
Stiles is arguably the most notorious circus geek, who was portrayed by Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling on Freak Show. His affliction? Ectrodactyly, which is an affliction where one’s hands (and sometimes feet) were formed to resemble what was called “lobster claws.”
Born in Pittsburgh in 1937, Stiles was part of a whole family of people who had the condition. He was forced to become a sideshow act at a young age. He eventually became an abusive alcoholic who married twice and bore four children, all of whom had the same condition. Stiles went on to murder his daughter’s fiancé in 1978 on the eve of their wedding and was eventually murdered himself.