Trapped in a Freak Show

Trapped in a Freak ShowTrapped in a Freak Show

A Brief History of the Freak Shows

In mid-16th Century England people with disabilities and deformities began to be treated as objects of interest and entertainment. Freak Shows were set up to exploit these people and crowds flocked to see them exhibited.

These freak shows were often held in fairgrounds and popular taverns as well as in special travelling exhibits. To improve the popularity and entertainment value many of these were incorporated with talent displays. singing, juggling, feats of strength etc.

During the 19th Century, freak shows became very successful commercial enterprises and the two most successful promoters of these were P.T. Barnum in the United States and Tom Norman in England.

Barnum actually concocted a number of hoaxes to draw in the public such as in 1842 with the “Feejee” mermaid, a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish. Perhaps his most famous exhibition, however, was a dwarf named Charles Stratton who he called “General Tom Thumb.” Charles was first put on show at four years of age (but was stated to be 11). He had stopped growing at six months old at which time he was 25 inches tall and weighed just 15 lb.The boy had natural talent and was trained to imitate famous figures such as Napoleon and Hercules.

Tom Norman’s most famous travelling exhibits were Eliza Jenkins, the “Skeleton Woman”, and in 1884 Joseph Merrick, known as “The Elephant Man”. However, by this time public opinion was starting to change in regard to freak shows and it was beginning to be seen as distasteful. Norman only had “The Elephant Man” on display for a few weeks before the exhibition was shut down by police.

This change in attitudes led to the decline of the freak show as a form of entertainment by the end of the 19th Century. Deformities were now being scientifically explained as genetic mutations or diseases and not mysterious anomalies. The disabled were now seen as objects of sympathy rather than freaks to be feared and exhibited. However, even today small freak shows can be found in some fairgrounds and with travelling shows.

As well as this we now have television and with it shows like “Most Embarrassing Bodies”, “Australia, America, and Britain’s Got Talent” etc.

Trapped in a Freak Show

“Step up, step up, and feast your eyes,

Be astounded and surprised.

Human oddities on show,

A buck to enter, very low.


Gents and ladies, boys and girls,

See the strangest things unfurled.

What you’ll see is no illusion,

You will stare in wild confusion.


Follow me into the tent,

Guaranteed worth every cent.

Inside you’ll see the weirdest sights,

That may give you restless nights.”


“Look to your left, within the cage,

The ‘Wild Wolf Boy’ is in a rage.

On the right’s the ‘Bearded Lady’,

And ‘Jessica the Four-armed Baby’.


Up ahead, beneath the light,

Look upon a wondrous sight.

A real live ‘Mermaid’ in a tank,

I guarantee it is no prank.


‘Most Tattooed Lady’ on this Earth,

‘Siamese Twins conjoined from birth.

The ‘Tallest Man’s’ a living giant,

On your donations, these freaks are reliant.


See the ‘Pin Head’ couple, Mary and Jake,

The ‘Reptile Lady’ with skin like a snake.

And most amazing ‘freak’ of all,

Is ‘Tiny Tim’,  just two feet tall.”


People crowd to view the strange,

Parting with their loose spare change.

Some show compassion, but few respect,

Though that’s more than ‘the freaks’ expect.


Accepting life of exploitation

To humour the fickle population.

The only employment they can acquire

Is with these shows as ‘Freaks for Hire’.


Now, fortunately, these shows have ceased,

In the Western world at least.

Though people that we once called ‘freaks’,

Now forced to beg within our streets.


Discrimination still exists,

And fear of difference persists,

Of the disabled and deformed.

Our attitudes must be reformed.


Today’s society is based on looks,

But we need to throw away those books.

We must respect our fellow man,

Embrace our differences if we can.


No one’s perfect, all have flaws,

Sometimes we all just need to pause.

Look at strangeness as unique,

Make it the ‘Holy Grail’ we seek.

This guy is my hero.


by John Hansen © 2016

Follow me
Latest posts by John Hansen (see all)

John Hansen

Longtime poet but not in the traditional technical sense. I enjoy rhyme but like to experiment and dabble in many different forms and maybe even make up some of my own. There is always a message or lesson I want to promote through my writing, for that reason, my poetry generally shies away from the abstract and obscure. After a lot of procrastinating I have finally self-published my first eBook of poetry "I Laughed a Smile" at Now I find myself branching out and experimenting with short fiction. I have also been fortunate to have two poems chosen to be made into songs and recorded. The first "On the Road to Kingdom Come" by Al Wordlaw, and the second, "If I Could Write a Love Poem" by award-winning Israeli/British singer Tally Koren. I am also finding my services increasingly in demand as a freelance writer and I have ghost-written the text for a number of children's books and educational tutorials. It has taken me many years of searching and restlessness to realise that my life's passion is to write. It saddens me that I wasted so many years not devoting to that, but thinking positively, the experiences gained over those years are now wonderful material for my stories and poems. I want to try to bring a new focus on poetry and try to make it appealing to a new generation of young people and those who thought they never liked or understood it before.

12 thoughts on “Trapped in a Freak Show

  • July 8, 2017 at 11:23 PM

    I’ve wondered what it would be like to be part of a freak show? The sadness that must prevail, knowing that so many people who go to watch them perform, if you call it performing. to mock and sneer at them. Any one of us could have been in their shoes, but freaks are all about us in the world from every walk of life. We have them in politics, religion and business, they continue to freak out many of the taxpayers who pay them to perform, bring in the clowns with their Rippled faces. Well written John, loved the dialogue and rhyme. Bravo

    • July 9, 2017 at 8:45 PM

      Yes, Vincent. It is just a luck of the draw at birth that nothing goes wrong and we could have been born “a freak” so to speak. It is sad that people went and paid to ogle them and watch them perform, but for many at least it was a way to earn their keep and not be locked away in some institution pretending they didn’t exist. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • July 8, 2017 at 11:41 PM

    Well done John; we are a strange race, so macabre in our curiosity and cruel in our abuse of those stricken with deformity and abnormality. In a way we are all a bit of a freak show; I often think what alien races sitting in their ships observing us, think about what we do on this planet. I think we are the aliens in every aspect. Nice work mate!

    • July 9, 2017 at 7:14 AM

      I’ve often thought the same measure Tony. Would those Aliens even want to be part of our Freak show here on earth;-)

    • July 9, 2017 at 8:48 PM

      Thank you, Tony. Yes, I am sure we all appear as freaks to an alien race, as they may do to us. I guess it is more acceptable now for people to alter their bodies with piercings, implants, tattoos and the like so “freaks” may be almost accepted as the norm.

  • July 9, 2017 at 1:38 AM

    Nick Vujicic – what a beautiful soul, truly an inspiration. John, thank you for sharing that video.

    Your article is very well-written and really makes one think deeply about those who were/are living a life in “freak shows”. They have hearts and souls and are people, not freaks. I saw two movies about Joseph Merrick, and read a lot about him. When one understands their life story, one can look beyond the deformities and see the person inside. You have paid an honorable tribute to these beautiful souls.

    • July 9, 2017 at 8:53 PM

      Yes, Phyllis, Nick is an inspiration. I have always found Joseph Merrick’s life sad but intriguing. At least he found some fame in his short life. Thanks for the kind words.

  • July 9, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    John this was very well written, great rhyming and excellent flow as always. I remember the freak show from when I was a kid. It was not as big of a spectacle as it was back in the day. There was always a bearded lady, and usually some other side show like snake lady or the man with three arms. Each act was an awful example of how we degrade the unfortunate by gawking and even laughing at someone else’s misfortunes. Excellent work John.

  • July 9, 2017 at 8:51 PM

    Thank you, Paul. Yes, I remember the sideshow freaks from when I was a small child, bearded lady, snake woman etc. It was a prime example of how we look down and degrade anyone who is different. I appreciate your kind words.

  • July 18, 2017 at 3:14 PM

    This is a poem that is very inspiring because it opens our eyes to treating others by the character of their heart, as opposed to the outer appearance. I have never seen a show as described above, but I have heard of them, and I saw the movie The Elephant Man (which made me cry for days).

    This wonderful poem made me remember a novel I read, called: The Laughing Man. It was an incredible story, and a very surprising end. But, it discussed the mid-16 Century England people that these types of disabilities were actually forced onto “once-normal-looking” people. The story was exceptional, but the parts that discussed the above atrocity was difficult for me to read, very disturbing, and tragic.

  • July 21, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    Thank you for sharing that, Tamara. Yes, I was also affected emotionally by watching the movie The Elephant Man starring John Hurt as Joseph Merrick. I think I would like to read The Laughing Man.

    • July 24, 2017 at 3:47 PM

      John, please tell me if you read this book, The Laughing Man. I got it for Free on my Kindle. Let me know if you need the name of the author, and I will get it for you. I know you are busy, but it’s an incredible read!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

Our cookie settings are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. By continuing to browse this website you are accepting our cookie policy.