Three-legged man Francesco "Frank" Lentini was born sometime between July 1884 and May 1889 in Rosolino, Italy, one of 12 children. His large number of siblings was a pretty mundane fact about his life, however, considering that he had an extra, full-sized leg that protruded from the right side of his body, which caused him no shortage of embarrassment while growing up. As he aged, though, instead of viewing his extra limb as a liability, Lentini began to see it as an opportunity to educate and entertain others.
When he was eight years old, Lentini moved to the United States – Bridgeport, CT, to be exact – and eventually toured as "The Great Lentini" and the "Three-Legged Football Player," appearing in carnival sideshows and performing with Ringling Brothers and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
This three-legged Italian man was a member of a special community of "freaks" who displayed their disabilities during the 1900s, a time when people were enthralled by their deformities (see also the Elephant Man). While today it would be considered exploitation, these side shows enabled people like Lentini to earn a steady income, marry, have children, and buy a home. It's unlikely Lentini would have been able to do any of these things if hadn't left home for a life in show business.
Lentini was actually a conjoined twin. However, in utero, Lentini's body partially absorbed that of his twin, who was connected to Lentini at his spine. The twin had its own pelvis bone, rudimentary male genitalia, and a fully formed leg. The extra leg, which was 36" long, protruded from Lentini's right side and also included a foot attached to the knee (so he technically had four feet).
Lentini's other legs were 39" and 38" long. Lentini had 16 toes and – notably – two functioning penises.
The man had two sets of functioning genitals, so it's little surprise that that became an area of interest during his act. And Lentini capitalized on this interest. During his act, Lentini sold a six-page booklet for 25 cents called The Life History of Francesco A. Lentini, Three Legged Wonder. He described his condition, discussed good hygiene habits, and included information about sex and procreation. The titles of the pamphlet's chapters were: “Obey Nature’s Laws,” “Poisons Are Not Remedies,” “The Mother During Pregnancy,” “Illicit Intercourse,” and “Physicology of Sex Life”
It's believed that Lentini was examined at an institution for disabled children on the island of Malta because photos from the era belonging to a Maltese Professor of Medicine show a child between the ages of 7 and 9 with Lentini's identical condition. However, because the third leg was so close to Lentini's spine, doctors feared that if they removed it, the boy would become paralyzed.
As a young child, Lentini despised his third leg and was very embarrassed by it. He felt restricted by its presence because he believed he couldn't play sports and do things that most boys his age could do. Given the danger of removing it, though, Lentini had to make peace with his difference.
In 1890, a man named Vincenzo Magnano was touring Italy with a puppet show when he went entered the town of Rosolini, Sicily, and encountered Francesco, who was six years old. Magnano thought the boy would be an excellent addition to the Barnum and Bailey Circus, so he asked Francesco's parents if they would consent to their son moving to the United States. They agreed on the condition that they could travel to the US with Frank.
After raising money for their passage, in 1892, the three Lentinis along with Magnano and his pregnant wife, made the one-month trip across the ocean to Bridgeport, Connecticut.