Myrtle Corbin, The Four-Legged Girl from Texas

The Infant Myrtle Corbin I am a collecting maniac with a particular fondness for antique photographs. I’ve lost count of the number of pictures in my collection, but one special photo stands out from all the rest.

On one of my frequent trips to Shupp’s Grove in Lancaster, PA, I happened upon a find that has since become the treasure of my collection. There, in a box of assorted generic antique photographs, was a cabinet card of a well-dressed woman showing a little leg. Not just a little leg, my friends, but four of them!

The sitter in the photograph was unknown to me at the time, but a quick search on the faded name penciled on the reverse of the card revealed the fascinating story of one Myrtle Corbin.

Josephine Myrtle Corbin was born in Tennessee on May 12, 1868. She had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down, and each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs. As you can see in the photograph, the the two central legs did not fully develop, and although she could move them, they were never strong enough for her to walk upon them.

As a young girl, Myrtle toured the sideshow circuit as “The Four-Legged Girl from Texas,” working for the likes of P. T. Barnum and Ringling Bros. She was described in her promotional pamphlets as being “gentle of disposition as the summer sunshine and as happy as the day is long.” She took a lengthy hiatus from the sideshow business at 18. She was 19 when she married Clinton Bicknell, a doctor, with whom she had four healthy children. She returned to the circuit for a time from about 1909 through 1915.

Upon her death in 1928, her coffin was encased in concrete and family members stood vigil over her grave. The threat of grave robbers was very real, as interest in her by physicians and showmen alike remained strong even in death.

Since acquiring a rectangular press, I’ve been sifting through my collection in search of other interesting old photographs to transform into magnets. Because…why not?!

by | Sep 14, 2019 | Pressing Matters

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Order the 2×3-inch Myrtle Corbin magnet.


Additional Reading:

Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. University of Chicago Press, 1988

Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Gould, George M. (George Milbry), 1848-1922; Pyle, Walter L. (Walter Lytle), 1871-1921

Cyclopaedia of the Diseases of Children, Medical and Surgical, Keating, John M. (John Marie), 1852-1893, ed; Edwards, William A, 1889, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott company.

Wikipedia Entry