Fra Leppo Nippy | Bleader

Fra Leppo Nippy

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Columbus Inquirer July 28, 1908. We confront one of two probabilities here: Either Leppo was an early method man and very dedicated to staying in character, or else this carnival was exploiting a bona fide crazy person as its geek.

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Sounds like the marks got their money's worth from Leppo that evening, anyway.

As we've already seen, some circus wild men were black, but most were white. But sometimes Caucasian wild men were given an exotic racial back story by their management: P.T. Barnum's celebrated Wild Men of Borneo were actually a pair of mentally-disabled dwarfs from Connecticut named Hiram and Barney Davis. (The Davis brothers weren't technically geeks though: They mostly did strong-man stunts.)

I'm guessing that circus geeks were predominantly white because the most of the audience would have seen black people as at least semi-savage anyway, so there'd have been less of a frisson from the spectacle of a black man biting the head off a live snake or chicken. Also, most of the feral wild men and women reported in newspaper stories were specifically identified as having white features.

I've yet to run across an account of a female circus geek. I suppose that would have been a flagrant violation of standards of decency. Traveling shows were always getting in dutch with local law enforcement anyway, so I reckon none of them felt like shopping for extra trouble.

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