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Facts And Stories About Frank Lentini, The 'Three-Legged Man'

Updated October 15, 2021 215.2k views8 items

Francesco "Frank" Lentini was a Sicilian-American entertainer born in 1889 in Siracusa, Sicily. Due to a congenital defect, Lentini was born with a third leg that protruded from the right side of his body. Despite the many obstacles his disability presented, Lentini overcame adversity at a young age by learning to use his third leg to educate and entertain others. 

At just 8 years old, the Lentini family immigrated to Bridgeport, CT, in the United States in search of the American dream. Not long after, Lentini quickly began to make a name for himself as a star attraction in the Ringling Brothers circus, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and a number of carnival sideshows.

In the 1900s, performers with disabilities, unusual body types, and extraordinary talents were commonly exhibited in what were known as "dime museums" or "freak shows." Both the Elephant Man and "The Great Lentini," as he would come to be called, were part of this unique community.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Because He Had Control Of His Third Leg, Frank Rode Bicycles, Swam, And Did Everything Other Kids Did 

    As a child, Lentini visited an institution in Italy and witnessed deaf, blind, and severely disabled children who lived happy lives. This was a turning point for Lentini, who decided he could have a fulfilling life even with a third leg.

    Though he couldn't use his third leg to walk (because of its short length), he learned to run and jump as well as ride a bicycle, ride a horse, swim, ice skate, roller skate, and drive a car. Moreover, he was able to control his extra appendage. In fact, he wrote in a pamphlet about his life that the third leg actually helped him when he swam: "One advantage I have over the other fellow when I swim is that I use the extra limb as a rudder."

    Lentini earned the nickname the "Three-Legged Football Player" because he was able to kick a ball across the stage. He also revealed that the extra limb did not prevent him from a good night's sleep because he slept on his back or side and it didn't get in the way.

  • Photo: Jack Delano / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    He Retired To The Same Town As Priscilla The Monkey Girl And The Alligator Man

    In the early 1960s, Lentini moved 12 miles south of Tampa, FL, to Gibsonton, where many performers went when they retired from circus life.

    Dubbed "Gibtown," it was home to a variety of sideshow acts, including Priscilla the Monkey Girl, the Alligator Man, and the Lobster family. While these people were often ostracized in other places, they felt at home in Gibtown and bonded with those who shared similar experiences.

    A performer through and through, Lentini was performing with the Walter Wanous Side Show when he got sick. He was hospitalized in Jacksonville, FL, and passed on September 22, 1966. He was 77 years old

  • Photo: unbekannt, Edena Studios / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Despite The Money Lentini Could Make, His Father Wouldn't Let Him Tour Until He Finished School

    Lentini and his parents moved to the United States when he was only 8 years old, but his father refused to let him go on tour until he received an education. When he graduated from school, Lentini spoke four languages, and he was allowed to go on the road with his act.

    Lentini spent nearly 20 seasons with the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He was also featured in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as well as his own sideshow.

  • He Was Incredibly Quick Witted And Good Natured - And These Abilities Built His Act

    For Lentini's sideshow act, he would demonstrate his ability to kick a ball with his third leg. At times, he would also use the extra appendage as a stool that audience members could sit on to ask him personal questions about his extracurricular activities and even his sex life.

    When asked how he found shoes for three feet, Lentini joked that he would buy two pairs and give the fourth shoe to a friend who happened to have just one leg. When someone asked how he dealt with the extra limb, he responded, "If you lived in a world where everyone had just one arm, how would you cope with two?"

    Lentini was an average-sized adult. He weighed about 175 pounds, of which 25-30 pounds was attributed to his third leg. Lentini told people that he consumed 15% more food than a normal man because he had to feed his extra appendage.