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The Circus Sideshow Comeback

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The Sideshow Retirement Home

Hall lives in Gibsonton, Fla., a town of 7,000 people outside Sarasota that's become famous as the winter home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus and several carnivals. Retired clowns, acrobats, animal trainers and carnies live in trailers and modest homes in the small town.

"If you thought sideshow acts didn't form a family, you should see the place," Hall says. "It's special."

Hall remembers when Al Tomaini, a hulking 8-foot-4-inch giant, was the town's police chief. A dwarf named Col. Casper served as the fire chief, and the post office had a lower table so that dwarves could sort their mail in comfort.

Tomaini married Jeanie "The Half Girl" — a woman born without legs — and the two toured the country as "The World's Strangest Married Couple" in the 1930s before settling down. Until she died a few years ago, Jeanie ran the town's bait-and-tackle shop, perched on a stool behind the cash register. "The old guard is passing away," Hall says. "But the stories will live forever."

Lobsterboy’s Tragedy

Gibsonton was rocked by scandal in 1992 by the murder of Grady Stiles Jr., who once performed as Lobster Boy. Stiles, like his father, was born with a genetic condition that caused his fingers and toes to fuse into two-digit claws. He propelled himself with flipper-like legs. Stiles was a sideshow sensation. But he was said to be a violent alcoholic who even drank on stage. He was convicted of killing his daughter's boyfriend. But due to favorable testimony from two carny neighbors — a bearded lady and a fat man — he was spared a lengthy prison term.

Stiles was later murdered by his wife and stepson (a human blockhead), who paid a hit man $1,500 to shoot him. They were both convicted of the killing.

Stiles' son by another marriage has the same condition as his father and is also trying to make it in show business. He recently had a public access show on cable TV in Tampa. He's also tried to sell tracings of his hands on eBay.

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