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.
His Third Limb Was Actually A Partially Absorbed Conjoined Twin
Lentini was born with a congenital disorder known as heteropagus (parasitic) twinning, which is thought to occur in as little as one in 1 million births.
This medical phenomenon manifests in utero when one twin ceases to develop while the other - in this case, Lentini - develops fully through gestation. The incomplete twin's body parts then fused to Lentini, who was born with an extra pelvis bone, rudimentary genitalia, and a third fully formed leg.
Lentini's extra leg, which was 36" long, also had a fourth foot attached to the knee. All together, Lentini had 16 toes and two functioning penises.
He Sold A Booklet Extolling 'The Vital Truths Of Sex Life'
For one of his acts, Lentini capitalized on the public's interest in his second set of genitalia. This also gave him an opportunity to present his crowd with a six-page booklet he wrote, titled The Life History of Francesco A. Lentini, Three Legged Wonder. It was sold for 25 cents.
In the booklet, Lentini 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.”
Though Frank Wanted To Remove His Third Leg, Amputating It Was Deemed Too Dangerous
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 said to have been 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 condition.
He Was Discovered And Brought To America By A Traveling Puppeteer
In 1890, a man named Vincenzo Magnano was touring Italy with a puppet show when he entered the town of Rosolini, Sicily, and encountered Francesco, who was 6 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, CT.