Unusual human beings have been exhibited in public since antiquity. The first traveling "freak show" appeared in 1738 in Europe. Curiosity is the motivating factor of the audience.
For over 150 years, carnival and circus freak shows were immensely popular in America. At one time, there were 105 exhibitions of human freaks traveling the United States, as well as many featured in amusement parks.
The most unusual people were those in the Palace of Wonders, later known as the Freak Show, owned by Ray Marsh Brydon. People would stare at the tattooed lady, a contortionist, a sword swallower, a fire eater, or the "Human Blockhead" who would pound nails into his nose. There was the "Two-Faced" man who was promoted on the outside banner with two separate and distinct faces. The real two-faced man had only one face. One side was normal, and the other side was significantly deformed.
Chicagoan Marshall Brodien (1934-2019) worked the Freak Show stage at Riverview Amusement Park as a "carnival barker," enticing people to buy tickets to the show. He was a professional magician and later played Wizzo the Wizard on Chicago's Bozo's Circus and The Bozo Show. Marshall Brodien, the inventor of the TV Magic Cards, opened a magic shop in Old Chicago Mall in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and would perform a magic show in Old Chicago amusement park. All that ended when Old Chicago closed in 1981.
But the most notable Riverview Park "freak" was Lillian B. Williams ("Betty Lou"), the world's only "4-legged" girl. Born on January 10, 1932, she was the youngest of 12 children born to sharecroppers in Albany, Georgia.
At age two, Betty Lou began to be exhibited by Ripley's Believe It or Not. According to Ripley's pamphlet, an X-ray revealed a perfectly developed head inside her chest.
|Lillian B. Williams ("Betty Lou")|
While still a teenager, she had become quite wealthy, earning a handsome living, $1,000 a week during her heyday. Betty Lou put all 11 siblings through college and bought her parents a 260-acre farm, paying cash. She was known as a generous person, perhaps too generous, as her fiancé absconded with most of her money. She died in 1955 officially of asthma, but, as her friends believed, she died of a broken heart.
Betty Lou lived her 23 years with a parasitic twin embedded in her torso with two legs and one arm protruding.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.