Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ella Harper, The Camel Girl

If you caught last night's blog, I wrote about how Season Four of American Horror Story will officially be subtitled: Freak Show.  In honor of this revelation, this week I'm featuring some of my favorite sideshow performers and human oddities.  Yesterday, I featured Fanny Mills, The Ohio Big Foot Girl.  Today is another beautiful young woman, Ella Harper.

Ella Harper, known on the sideshow circuit as The Camel Girl, was born in Hendersonville, TN sometime between 1870 and 1873.  She was born with a condition known as congenital genu recurvatum.  In layman's terms, Ella was born with knees that could bend the other way, allowing her to walk on all fours.

Not much is known about Ella's life, but we do know that she worked with W.H. Harris Nickel Plate Circus and received top billing during the 1886 season, where she was often accompanied on stage by an actual camel.  Her pitch card stated that Ella had been in show business since 1882.  Despite earning an estimated $200 a week working with the circus, Ella left after that season to pursue an education.  There is no mention of her after in the annals of sideshow history.

So what happened to Ella, the Camel Girl?  It is believed that Ella got married in 1905 in her home state of Tennessee and passed away in 1921.  She only performed a short four years, but in those years she traveled extensively, was featured in every local newspaper of every town she visited, and was touted as one of the best human oddities to ever be put on display.

UPDATE April 2015: A researcher named Ray has gone above and beyond with piecing together a complete history of Ella Harper after her time in the sideshow business.  Please go check out the following article: Finding Ella (my search for The Camel Girl).

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