Books About Circus History & Sideshow Freaks

Go under the Big Top and inside the dark tents of the sideshow to explore the history of the greatest show on earth, from PT Barnum’s early dime museums to the modern day showmen and the famous human marvels who amazed and horrified mesmerized crowds throughout the years.

American Sideshow

American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History's Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers
A fascinating look into the history of the American sideshow and its performers. Learn what’s real, what’s fake, and what’s just downright bizarre.
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Secrets of the Sideshows

Secrets of the Sideshows
Working alongside the performers, author Joe Nickell blows the lid off the sideshow mysteries of the midway, revealing the structure of the shows, specific methods behind the performances, and the showmen’s tactics for recruiting performers and attracting crowds. He also traces the history of such spectacles, from ancient Egyptian magic and street fairs to the golden age of P.T. Barnum’s sideshows.
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Ward Hall: King of the Sideshow!

Ward Hall King of the Sideshow
Ward Hall started working for the circus in 1944 when he was just 14 years old, and spent the next 70+ years in show business under the Big Top.
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The Circus Fire

The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy
The true story of the great Hartford circus fire of 1944, when the Big Top caught fire during a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus performance, trapping over 8,000 people inside and killing 167.
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Lobster Boy

Lobster Boy The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles Jr
The life of circus sideshow performer Grady Stiles Jr., also known as the Lobster Boy, who was killed by his wife the Electrified Girl after years of mental and physical abuse.
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Weird and Wonderful

Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America
Dioramas and panoramas, freaks and magicians, waxworks and menageries, obscure relics and stuffed animals–a dazzling assortment of curiosities attracted the gaze of the nineteenth-century spectator at the dime museum.
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The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918

The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918: Tragedy on the Indiana Lakeshore
In 1918, a sleeping engineer’s locomotive plowed into the idle Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train, killing 86 circus performers and workers who were buried in a mass grave in Chicago’s Woodlawn Cemetery in a section called Showman’s Rest.
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Freak Babylon

Freak Babylon: An Illustrated History of Teratology and Freakshows
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