Sideshow Ephemera Header

The Artist

Main Gallery

Sideshow Ephemera

Recommended Reading

Reviewers Comments


All Important Links

Contact Us

The Life History of
Francesco A. Lentini,
Three-legged Wonder


pitchbook pamphlet, 6 pages of text with one photograph, circa 1940

Frank Lentini, the King of the Freaks, told his own story in this pitchbook he sold during his act. Lentini used this opportunity not only to talk about his unique anatomy, but also to preach his own ideas about good hygiene and healthy sexual practice — or as he calls it, “the vital truths of sex life.” Obviously, Lentini saw himself as much an educator as an entertainer. The words are his own (at least the autobiographical portion), presented here just as they appeared when Lentini was working the midway in the middle of the last century — 3 Legs, 4 Feet, 16 Toes, ALIVE:

I am the subject of the present sketch. I was born in Rosolini in the province of Siracusa, Sicily, in the year 1889. I am of a family of twelve children (seven sisters and five brothers, who are all ordinary appearing people, there being nothing unusual in their personal appearance or physical characteristics).

Indeed, careful investigation does not reveal any peculiarity in any of my ancestors either on the maternal or paternal side of my family.

I am often asked the question, "What is the cause of my strange condition?" I have appeared before the leading medical world in Europe as well as in the United States, and the only cause that they can give me is that my mother gave birth not to three children, but more than one, yet not three.

Up to the age of six I was able to extend the third limb so that it was possible for me to reach the floor with it, but was never able to use it for walking purposes, but strange as it may seem at the end of the sixth year my body started outgrowing the third limb, so that at the present time you will notice that it is six or seven inches shorter than the two limbs that I stand on. And furthermore, you will notice, that none of my limbs are alike – yet, I have three and yet haven't a pair.

Often people look at me and pass the remark, "Isn't that too bad!" But I am here to tell you that there are lots of people in the world who are a great deal worse off than I am, who have far less to live for, and who have but a fraction of the pleasure that I get out of life.

When I grew to the age when boys are allowed to go out of doors to play it was then that the realization came to me of my usual peculiarity, and naturally, I grew a little despondent about everything. My parents were fairly well to do and I had every comfort and was not neglected, but I began to grow unhappy, nevertheless.

Frank A. Lentini: 3 Legs, 4 Feet, 16 Toes, ALIVE

But one time I was taken to an institution where I saw a number of blind children and children who were badly crippled and otherwise mistreated by fate, and then and there I realized that my lot wasn’t so bad after all. Even though a child, I could appreciate the fact that I was possessed of all my faculties and senses. I could hear, talk, understand, appreciate and enjoy the beauties of life. I could read and they couldn’t. I could talk to my friends, but some of them couldn’t because they were dumb. I could hear and enjoy beautiful music, while some of them couldn’t because they were deaf. I had my mental faculties and began to look forward to my education, and some of them couldn’t because they were idiots. The visit to that institution, unpleasant though it was because of the misery that I saw, was the best thing that could have happened to me. From that time to this I have never complained. I think life is beautiful and I enjoy living it.

When I was quite young my family moved to America. Wherever we went I was, of course, considered a curiosity, and while at first their curious, critical gaze was considerably embarrassing, I gradually became used to it. It was natural for everyone to suggest to my parents that I be put into the show business, but my father said "No," emphatically – at least until I should have gained an education. He said he could forsee [sic] eventually that I might travel, but that he would not allow it until I had the benefit of an education.

I am often asked the question if I know of any other case of my kind, of anyone being born as I am. Yes, I knew of two three-legged cases, and two four-legged cases — the three-legged being males, and the four-legged being females — but none of these had a normal extra lower limb, and none had control of their extra limbs and in fact they had all they could do to get around on their normal lower limbs. Only one of these lived to an old age, and that was Mertle Corbet [sic], the four-legged woman.

No, my limb does not bother me in the least. I can get about just as well and with the same ease as any normal person — walk, run, jump; ride a bicycle, horse; ice and roller skate; and drive my own car. I can swim — one advantage I have over the other fellow when I swim is that I use the extra limb as a rudder. I am sometimes asked how I buy my shoes; well, here’s how: I buy two pairs and give the extra left shoe to a one-legged friend of mine who had the misfortune to loose his right leg, so you see very time I buy a pair of shoes I really do a good deed along with it. Another question often asked is, “Does the extra limb bother in sleeping?” It does not; I can lie on my back or either side of my body without any hardship or loss of sleep.

Frank Lentini

Frank Lentini
cabinet card, 6 x 3.5 inches, circa 1920
photographer: unknown

Of course, it was a great shock to my parents that I was born as I was, but when they found that I was perfectly normal every other way they, too, began to be philosophical about it. I have been traveling for the most part of my life and must say that I enjoyed it very much.


The purpose of this volume is to give in concise form, and in plain, clean, common-sense language, the all-important information about sex and procreation and the appertaining law of health and hygiene as established by the best modern authorities.

Primarily intended for wives and mothers, it will be found of special value as well to parents and educators who desire to teach the rising generation the vital truths of sex life. How to teach these truths has been a vexing problem to teachers and parents, and a modest, compact and scientific exposition, such as this presents, has long been needed.

In all the vast realm of knowledge there is no subject of greater importance. Unfortunately for the well-being of mankind, there is no other subject upon which the great majority are so densely ignorant. A veil of mystery and prudishness has been cast over these vital facts and truths. But the innocence that is innocent only through ignorance, is in danger of being lost through ignorance, and therefore, of little value or merit, like any other virtue that is virtuous only because it has never been tempted. It is not necessary to give examples. It is the duty of parents to instruct the young and thereby fortify them against a fall into a terrible sin through ignorance. This volume is intended to be placed in the hands of the innocent by their parents. It was written both from a pedagogical and from a medical point of view.

That portion of this work relating more particularly to health and hygiene is based on the principle that "whatever lowers the vital force of a well person will never restore the vital force of a sick one." Every disease is the result of a violation of some natural law. Every such violation is a wrong, and as an addition of two negative quantities cannot make an affirmative, so two wrongs can never make a right. This is common sense, and the following fundamental principles are becoming daily more and more recognized by enlightened people both in and out of the medical profession:


Symptoms and pains are not disease, but only the messengers bringing warning of disease to the brain. To silence the messengers and leave the disease unchecked is folly.

Prevention is better than cure. The great elements of prevention are: (1) Knowledge; (2) Cleanliness, Physical as well as moral and mental; (3) Hygiene and sanitation.

Mind and thought influence the bodily health no less than physical and material conditions. A healthy body needs a mind, and a healthy mind cannot exist without a healthy body.


The Mother During Pregnancy

The development of the foetus requires that the uterus shell become enlarged accordingly. This occurs by the increase in extent of all its parts, especially in the enlargement of the body of the uterus, by which portion the young child is surrounded. The muscular fibers appear to increase in length and width, and also in number; the circulatory vessels enlarge; the nerves and other parts accommodate themselves to the gradual expansion of the structure. As the uterus and its contents become greater in size, the entire abdominal region of the mother becomes extended.

This season is one of deep import to the mother, for in it she is fulfilling one of the supreme functions of woman and is sustaining one of the greatest of human trials. Two lives are dependent upon the proper completion of gestation and the successful birth of the offspring. She deserves from herself and those about her the exercise of the greatest good judgment in taking care of herself. She should eat moderately of wholesome food, neither overtaxing her digestive organs by eating too much, nor permitting herself to lose strength from need of nourishment. Her best diet will consist of grains, vegetables and fruits; especially should she eat liberally and regularly of the ripe fruits is season, such as please her taste and agree with her digestion.

A regular fruit diet does more than anything else can do to prevent and relieve constipation. If she will eat properly she need not resort to the use of medicine. The pregnant woman is not necessarily a sick person because of her condition. She may be just as well and active during this period as at any other time of her life. If she take proper exercise she will have sufficient appetite, and she will have no concern about not being able to eat enough; she will more often cause herself to be distressed from eating too much than from eating too little.

Frank Lentini

Frank Lentini
cabinet card, 6 x 3.5 inches, circa 1920
photographer: unknown

The pregnant mother should dress with proper regard to her condition. While she should clothe herself comfortably as respects temperature, she should relieve herself of heavy clothing as much as possible, and especially alter such garments as is the last degree bind her body closely. Loose, light clothing about the abdominal regions is absolutely needful for both her own relief and to permit the enlargement and changes of position that must occur in these parts. Not only should the clothing be loose, but all its weight should be suspended from the shoulders. To attempt to hide or hinder the natural increase in the abdomen by means of the corset or closely fitting dresses, is to invite other troubles of much more serious character. Any tightening of the region of the waist must press the increasing organs down into the lower part of the abdomen and pelvis. Such a course cannot fail to deform the body more and cause weakness and pain in the back.

The mother in her child-bearing should take proper exercise daily. It is only by reasonable and regular exercise that she can maintain the vigor of all her parts. She may walk, ride, work. She should be much in the open air and sunlight. She should avoid idleness, cheerlessness, distress and despondency as she would shun contagion, for they cannot but contribute toward making her condition worse. There is no better exercise than that of regular ordinary work and that of walking in the open air. Agreeable occupation, constant employment, busy cheerfulness, are the surest means of avoiding both mental and physical depression. She should not exercise excessively nor violently; she should avoid any sudden or heavy strain; should avoid any great excitement; she should receive no sudden shock; she should be shielded from fright, anger or abuse, or from anything else that endangers her life. Anyone who would do her the least violence, by word or deed, while she is in such a condition, is too brutal to be worthy to wear even the image of a human being.

Cultivate bodily health by persistent exercise in the open air, by moderation in eating and drinking, by cleanliness, by proper amount of sleep and recreation. Give the lungs full breath, and cherish fresh air and sunshine as the richest of vital gifts to man. Dress with regard to judgment rather than in obedience to fashion.

Regard the physical body as the delicate and beautiful instrument through which the soul acts, in which it dwells and upon whose vigor and healthfulness the spiritual part is dependent for its own vigor and health, upon which it depends for growth, for happiness and for power.

Know, too, that the most sensitive and responsive of all physical parts are the sexual organs. Keep these within proper control; use them as nature intends and good judgment dictates. One can no more afford to abuse the sexual function than he can afford to destroy the brain. Aim to live temperately, chastely, virtuously. Shun dissipation; cleave to the noble purpose.


"Virtue is the health, the good habit, the beauty, of the soul; vice is its disease, its bad habit, its deformity." – Plato.

Considered upon strictly physicological grounds, there is no difference between the sexual union of persons who are married to each other and a similar connection between persons who do not sustain this relationship. But the social and moral interests of enlightened people decide that, while marriage is wholesome, illicit intercourse of the sexes is one of the grossest of evils.

However wrong promiscuous intercourse may be and for whatever reason it may be evil, such sexual union is equally so to both of the parties engaged in it. The man who seeks the indulgence, who sues for the gratification of his passions, is as guilty of wrong and is as much degraded by the act as is she who yields to his inducements and shares the corruption with him; in truth, there are reason for considering him the more culpable, since he is usually the stronger of the two; he is the one who appears the seducer, while her weakness and her necessity may to some extent excuse her.

A woman’s choicest treasure is her virtue; in sacrificing her chastity she destroys the jewel of her crown; her purity is her strength and protection. So forcibly does this view of woman’s worth prevail in the enlightened world that it would be better for her to suffer unto death and render up her life in virtue than from any inducement whatever to enter upon a life of illicit intercourse. The sense of degradation which an unvirtuous life brings will, to a sensitive person destroy all happiness, and tend even to destroy health and life as well.


Humanity is divided, in relation to physicological laws into seven stages:

1. Fetal life, from conception to birth;
2. Infancy, from birth to the time of appearance of the first teeth;
3. Childhood, from the first to the second dentation;
4. Boyhood or girlhood, from second dentation to puberty;;
5. Adolescence, from puberty to maturity;
6. Manhood or womanhood, from maturity to old age;
7. Senility, lasting until death.

It is very important that we all have a clear understanding in regard to these various stages in order to live aright. The two most important are adolescence and maturity, or the periods characterized by an active sexual life.

While the natural tendencies toward sexual excitement are great during this period, it must not be overlooked that it may be in no small measure to be due to some local irritant, such as a too tight or too loose foreskin or an adherent clitoris. There are various other causes that might contribute toward this condition, such as hemorrhoids, worms in the rectum, etc. The circumcision of boys will often effect a cure in these cases, and a careful examination should be made in all cases so as to remove the cause if it is a mechanical one; likewise to break up the adhesions of the clitoris will often afford the greatest relief to girls. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the child is given a thorough education in self-control and instructed in regard to the irreparable dangers arising from a violation of the important laws of Nature.

The same laws which control reproduction in mankind, also exist in animal and vegetable life. The pride of the male bird in his beautiful plumage and melodious voice, the cock’s comb, the horns of the stag and the lion’s mane, are all manifestations of his sexual instinct, causing a fondness for appearing well in the eyes of his mate. In vegetable life, fertilization is as necessary for reproduction as it is in man, the two sexes being just as essential to the propagation of plant life. It is, however, disseminated in a different manner. In some varieties the pollen, or male element is carried to the female by the wind for fertilization. These are called "windbearing" plants, and are quite numerous in plant life.

The Marriageable Age. Girls are said to have attained development at the age of eighteen years, and boys at the age of twenty-one though marriage should not be entertained before the twenty-second and twenty-fifth years, respectively, as complete maturity is not reached before that time, and if a woman enter the married state before complete physical development has been attained, she is unfit for motherhood; neither are her mental powers sufficiently developed tom permit her to assume the responsibilities of motherhood. Not only this, but abortions are liable to occur should impregnation take place before full development. Reproductive powers consist not only in being able to produce children, but in nourishing them after they are delivered therefore the lacteal glands should be fully developed.

Change of Life. This change, also called the "menopause" or "climacteric," normally occurs at the end of the thirtieth year of procreative life, which is about the forty-fourth year, varying according to the time at which the first menstruation appeared, state of health, and various other influences. If a girl menstruates at twelve years of age, then the change of life should occur at the forty-second year, or if she should not menstruate until the sixteenth year, the menopause would naturally be delayed until the age of forty-six, thus making the child bearing period thirty years. This change is commonly applied to women alone, but as a matter of fact, men pass through a change also, being less marked physiologically than in the female sex. The menopause is the period which determines the state of health for the balance of life; that is, if this time is safely passed, the individual will enjoy better health than before, or it may be the beginning of suffering for the rest of their lives. But even the best, they are on the down-hill of life, the sexual organs become smaller, and the tissues all over the body lose their elasticity and recuperative powers. The peculiar features which result in sterility after the change are the cessation of ovulation in the female and absence of spermatozoa in the semen of the male.

Thus it is that years rob the individual of physical growth and development and the power of reproduction, yet the mental attributes may be developed to a wonderful degree after this change has taken place, and often a keener interest in intellectual pursuits is enjoyed more than ever before.

My tribute to Frank Lentini, Francisco Lentini as a Lutenist, may be seen here.

Previous Page Home Page Next Page

All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2003 - 2010