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Tragic story of ‘Lionel the Lion-faced Man' who died young after a life of ridicule

Tragic story of ‘Lionel the Lion-faced Man' who died young after a life of ridicule

He was born into a life of working sideshows because of how he looked

Thankfully we live in a world where sideshows exploiting people with rare physical attributes are no longer a thing.

But there was a time when the industry boomed, with entrepreneurs doing all they could to make a small fortune by exploiting others.

Known as 'freak shows' during their height so as to entice the ordinary person in to paying for a ticket, they showcased people with physical rarities.

One tragic case revolves around the performer 'Lionel the Lion-faced Man'.

A poster advertising 'Lionel the Lion-faced Man'.
Wikimedia Commons

Born Stephan Bibrowski in the Polish village of Wilczogóra in 1890, he became one of the most famous sideshow performers of his generation.

When he was born, Bibrowski's parents knew he was different immediately when they saw he was covered in 2.5cm thick hair across his entire body.

The story given by his parents to explain the condition was that his mother Benedetta had been so disturbed by Bibrowski's dad Michael being mauled by a lion that it caused the baby to grow fur like a lion while still in the womb. Far-fetched, to say the least.

Benedetta shunned the poor child, considering him to be an abomination due to the extremely rare condition which is now believed to be hypertrichosis. At the time, they said he had 'werewolf disease'.

The hair on Bibrowski's head grew to 20cm in length.
adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

Aged just four, Bibrowski was abandoned by his mother and given to a person named Sedlmayer; a German impresario (someone who organises stage performances).

His hair continued to grow. And soon after, while still a young child, Sedlmayer forced Bibrowski to take a stage name and exhibit his condition.

Advertised by travelling circus boss PT Barnum (the man who The Greatest Showman is loosely based on) as 'half man, half lion', Bibrowski's hair had grown to around 20cm in length on his face.

Across the rest of his body, the hair was around half the length.

Bibrowski was, plain and simply, exploited by those who made money off of his condition.

Bibrowski wanted to be a dentist.
Wikimedia Commons

For 19 years he performed in the Barnum & Bailey Circus across the United States.

After this he settled down in New York City, being a regular performer at Coney Island where people could see him up close.

But he was more than his looks. Bibrowski spoke five languages and had aspirations to become a dentist; aspirations taken away from him by the sideshow business.

Little is known about his final years. Reports say Bibrowski died of a heart attack in 1932 after moving back to Germany.

He was just 41 years old.

Featured Image Credit: adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

Topics: Weird, US News, History, World News