by ERIKA ATZORI
In the highly superstitious Sicily in the end of 1800, the three legs and four feet showman Francesco Lentini, Frank for the fans, was born. The man, counting 16 fingers and two functioning genitals started his journey in life on May 1889, has many common aspects with most of the other circus people that back then would populate the Freak Shows all over the planet.
In the land rich of prejudice that Sicily was, people would deal with malformations by making the sign of the cross. Frank moved to the US when he was 9, where he immediately obtained lots of success. His great agility and full control over his 3rd limb allowed his to exhibit himself for over 40 years, a very long career for someone with such conditions. According to some sources, he managed to complete his education and even learn four languages, thanks to an uncle based in Boston.
It seems that the uncle, along with Frank’s father, accompanied the guy from Liverpool towards the US, via ship. Others sources would see his career starting extremely early, to be exact on the same year of Frank’s arrival in the American land, inside the Ringling Brothers Circus Act first and then to the Barnum e Bailey Circus where he found the fame as “The Great Lentini”.
His fortune was most likely determined by the character he had rather than the fascination his body was arising. The huge irony he was possessing would attract a multitude of viewers and the ones who came to have a look at the “freak” were soon staying for his brilliant artistic performances and natural abilities as a showman. Even for those who were mainly focusing on the unusual agility while playing football on stage, they were mainly captured by the acuity of the character.
With his smart, elegant as well as self deprecating attitude, he would show off the fact that, while swimming, he would make use of the 3rd appendage as a sort of boat’s wheel. along with that, he would say that, in order to feed his additional limb, he needed an extra 15% of food than a standard man. Between seriousness and humour, Frank revealed private info about his sexual life and would answer to the questions that the audience were formulating during his shows. To those who asked him how he could find 3 shoes all the times, he would reply that he was always buying 2 pairs then the spare shoe was given to a friend who had lost a leg.
He was repeatedly remarking:
“you laugh ‘cause I’m different. I laugh ‘cause you are all the same”
“U maravigghiusu” as they called him in Sicilian dialect (literally “the wonderful one”), was born in the well off family of farmers Natale and Giovanna Falco, parents of 23 children. The birth of Francesco was seen as a malediction and despite his native family never completely abandoned him, he was looked after by his grandma and aunt, but then eventually sent to a house for orphan and disabled children. There he had the chance to meet children who were blind, deaf or mutilated and this experience let him reconsider his condition drastically.
Up until then Frank used to hate his own body, but in the house he learnt how to walk, ride the bike and even roller skating. His parents never really changed their mind about the possibility to operate Frank and make him become like all the other children. But even an equipe of doctors coming from Malta rejected the idea, because the operation was evaluated as far too dangerous, if not fatal.
The rumours said that the malformation occured because the mother of the child was once impressed by a 3 legs table, work of a woodworker of carts
Frank married Theresa Murray, actress of the same age with whom he had 4 children: Josephine, Natale, Frank and James. He became a legal American citizen when he turned 30 and spent most of his life in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He died in a hospital at the age of 77 after a respiratory failure while he was touring with his Walter Wanous Side Show.
The legend linked to his name still runs to this day. It is said that once married, Frank came back to his Rosolini in Sicily where his countrymen welcomed him dressed up as 3 legged men themselves. However, the recent installation of a statue representing the Great Lentini with his 3 limbs, has been subject of controversy in the Syracuse area.
All pictures are in the public domain