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by Tracy Vanity

After getting worked up over last season’s “Coven” and being completely disappointed, I was skeptical about the newest season of “American Horror Story.”

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Being a big fan of Tod Browning’s Freaks, as well as “Carnivale,” and The Pilo Family Circus, I adore sideshows and carnivals. The “Freak Show” theme has a lot of potential for great characters and stories but given the previous season’s wasted potential with New Orleans witches, it was still possible that this season would not live up to expectations. I was curious and hopeful but did not want to get too worked up yet until I knew more.

The teasers and promo pictures have been interesting but I was not blown away until creator, Ryan Murphy, recently tweeted a sneak peek of the main titles for “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

Ok, NOW I’m excited! I adore stop-motion animation. This opening sequence reminds me of Mark Ryden with a nod, not only to Freaks but to real people with unique genetic abnormalities.

Here are some of the freaks from AHS and the real people that must have inspired them:

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Fanny Mills

Born in 1860, Fanny Mills was the daughter of English immigrants who settled near Sandusky, Ohio. She had a condition called Milroy disease, which restricts development of the lymph vessels in the legs and causes fluid build-up. Fanny was a petite woman who weighed but 115 pounds, yet she wore size 30 shoes, each pair made from three goat skins, with pillowcases as socks. Each foot was said to be 19 inches long and 7 inches wide, although photos clearly show that they were not the same size. Her exhibition career began in 1885, when she entered the museum circuit, accompanied by a nurse, Mary Brown. Brown helped Fanny move from place to place, as her large feet made walking very difficult. Fanny’s promoters offered $5000 and a “well-stocked farm” to anyone willing to marry the big-footed girl. Eventually she did marry, to William Brown, the brother of her assistant. When she came down with an unknown illness in 1892, she retired from showbusiness, returning to her family’s farm with her husband. She died the same year.

Milroy disease (or Nonne-Milroy disease) was first described in 1891 and causes many anomalies aside from lymphedema, including spinal cysts, yellow nails, double eyelashes and hearing loss. It is most common in women (70-80% of patients are female) and is an autosomal dominant trait.


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Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr

 Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. (June 26, 1937 – November 29, 1992) was a freak show performer. His deformity was ectrodactyly, in which the fingers and toes are fused together to form claw-like extremities. Stiles’ stage name was the “Lobster Boy.

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Blanche Dumas, born to French and Caribbean parents, was a high-class Parisian courtesan in the late 1800s. She was uniquely qualified for her line of work: Attached to her lower back was a third leg, and her wider-than-normal pelvis contained two bladders, two bowels and, yes, two vaginas. Her doctors noted that both sets of ladyparts had “equally developed sensations.” They also commented on her sex drive, which was “markedly pronounced,” and, they confirmed, “coitus was practised in both vaginae.”

While living in Paris, Dumas met Juan Baptista dos Santos, a Portuguese man with a “ravenous” sexual appetite. Like Dumas, he happened to have a third, nonfunctional leg, which he kept in a sling or tied to his thigh. And like Dumas, he also had a second set of genitals.

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“Juan was considered quite handsome, fit and well proportioned,” writes The Human Marvels, which adds, “Both penises functioned perfectly. An 1865 report stated that Santos used both penises during intercourse and, after finishing with one he would continue with the other.”

Diphallia, known as penile duplication, is a condition in which a male is born with two penises. Only 1,000 cases have ever been reported. One in 5.5 million men in the United States has two penises.


Can you really mess up a horror show about sideshow freaks? Let’s hope not! It’s a subject rich with interesting, real people to inspire some incredible storytelling.

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If you want to see some more human oddities, check out The Human Marvels. Long live the sideshow!

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