Monday, March 24, 2014

American Horror Story Freak Show: The Ohio Big Foot Girl

American Horror Story is one of my absolute all-time favorite television shows.  I love the unique change of story lines from season to season and I love the creepiness each season brings.  I also REALLY enjoy the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) references to actual people, events and situations found in paranormal research.

And, while we're on the topic of things I love...I have always had a fascination with circus and carnival culture and history, especially the "freak shows."  Therefore, I was thrilled when last week, the rumors of American Horror Story Season 4 being of a carnival theme were confirmed.  I was even more thrilled when today, Ryan Murphy (creator and producer) tweeted that the official subtitle for Season 4 was going to be "Freak Show!"

In honor of this revelation, I wanted to do a series of bonus blogs this week featuring some of my personal favorite human oddities and sideshow attractions. But, I feel like a caveat is in order:  In no way are these blogs intended to be mean-spirited or exploit/make fun of the people featured.  In fact, I want to do just the opposite; there still remains a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about the freak show culture and how these poor people who were different were snatched from their parents as babies and forced to be displayed like animals.  While obviously not all performers were happy with the lot they were given in life, many performers found a wonderful and accepting family within the circus or carnival.  It wasn't unusual for the owner of the circus to legally adopt and treat these children as his own.

Many of these performers grew up perfectly well-adjusted with shockingly normal lives.  They got married, had children, were educated and had hobbies.  For so many of these people, the freak show was not just the ONLY work available to them, but it was GOOD work, allowing them to comfortably support themselves and their families.  And with that, here's the first profile:

The Ohio Big Foot Girl

 Fanny Mills was born in 1860 and was raised near Sandusky, Ohio.  She was the daughter of English immigrants.  As a young adult, Fanny was described as being a petite woman, weighing in at about 115 lbs, yet her legs and feet had swelled to an enormous size!  Her custom-made shoes were a size 30, and were made from three goatskins.  Pillowcases were used as her socks.

In 1885, Fanny joined the traveling "freak show" circuit under the name of The Ohio Big Foot Girl, and the accompaniment of a nurse who assisted Fanny with walking and day-to-day tasks made difficult or impossible by her disability.  Fanny's "gimmick" was that her father was offering a dowry of $5000 and a farm to anyone who would marry his unfortunate daughter.  Fanny had plenty of offers on this fake promotion concocted by her promoters, most by gold diggers.  She respectfully declined these, but actually would quietly marry a man named William Brown.  Brown was the brother of Fanny's nurse, Mary Brown.

Unfortunately Fanny's career was cut short when illness forced her into retirement in 1892.  Ironically she and her husband DID return to her parents' farm near Sandusky, where Fanny would die in May of 1899.  Her funeral was reported as well attended, with services being held at the family's home, and private burial at Oakland Cemetery.

It would later be learned that Fanny suffered from what is now known as Milroy Disease, which wasn't classified until 1891, only eight years before Fanny's death.  Milroy Disease affects the lymphatic system, and is most often characterized by lymphedema of the lower legs, as the vessels swell with fluid.  This is an extremely rare genetic disorder in which an overwhelming number of sufferers are female.





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