I RAN across a few odd references to a ‘demon child’ that was born in Cleveland, Ohio and supposedly a sideshow exhibit in the late 19th century. These ‘freak’ exhibits were quite common in the North America & Europe during the period:
This Demon Child is the same which created so much excitement in Cleveland, Ohio, of Russian-Polish parents. It has horns sprouting from its head, tusks protruding from its mouth. The child has claws in place of hands, has hoofs instead of feet and tail two feet in length, making in all what may be termed an “Infantile Devil or Demon Child.” All medical men have agreed upon the same point, and say that this is without a doubt the most extraordinary freak of nature they have heard of for hundreds of years past. The Demon Child will be on exhibition at the Fort Wayne fair grounds during fair week. We would advise every lady and gentleman to go and see this child, as it is without doubt the greatest curiosity that has ever been placed on public exhibition. -- The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 03 September, 1888.
Leavenworth people are frequenting the dime museum to be horrified by the ‘demon child.’ -- Hutchinson Daily News, Hutchinson, Kansas, 21 October 1888.
A SICKLY EXHIBITION
In Funge’s old stand, a “New York Museum” has just opened. The hand bills announce a wild African gorilla. The spectator finds an idiotic child raving on a raised enclosure. Instead of being a wild African monster, it was stated by several railroad men, who had brought in the baggage, that she was the child of a woman who also exhibits in the show. A painter of the future husband or wife of the dope who pays his money for a photo on his hand is another attraction (?). Sitting Bull embalmed, a double child, a demon child and a supposed fortune telling “Circassian lady” completed the great show which which is announced to contain “Numerous Countless Conspicuous Curiosities,” which “Ladies and Children can visit with impunity. For charity’s sake, keep the children away. It is simply hideous. -- The Standard, Ogden, Utah, 15 October 1891.
A wagon fitted up for the combined purpose of travel and exhibition purposes drove in Piqua this morning. The outfit is the property of Cramer & Fox and contains a freak of nature called “the demon child,” which the proprietors claim is “half calf, half child, born of human parents in Cleveland, Ohio, three months ago.”
Owing to the carnival being in town this week, the “show” decided to move on to Fletcher. -- Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, Iowa, 12 July 1889.
GOOD INVESTMENT for a man with a little capital, experience not necessary. I want to strengthen and enlarge my show. The right man can make big money. Call at the “Demon Child” show, corner First street and Second Avenue. -- Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, Iowa, 12 July 1889.
The weird story of the “Celebrated Cleveland Demon Baby” appeared in the Bay City Daily Tribune of July 11, 1889, and was reprinted in a history book From Chalkboard to Computer. The Essexville-Hampton Story
The local history book was put together under the auspices of a historical development commission and the late Patricia Ankney, longtime drama teacher at Garber High School.
Some young men came to Essexville, as the story goes, and for $2 got a license to exhibit the “demon baby.” The largest available space was the engine house of the fire company located on Woodside Avenue, which they rented from owner Anthony Walraven.
Before the show could go on, the firemen steamed up because they were not to be admitted to the show unless they paid the 10 cents fee, raised Cain. They set a brush heap on fire, giving reason to enter the engine house and disrupt the baby show.
Although 16 members of the fire company rushed the engine house and broke up the show, Fire Marshall Frank Trudell foiled the scheme. Fifteen men, all except the Marshall’s brother, resigned in protest.
“The proprietors of the baby made tracks for Bay City,” the newspaper observed, being driven by one George Young despite threats from an angry crowd.
The following week the chagrined firemen met with the city council and decided to return to their posts. Trudell denied in a subsequent story that he ever received a penny from the demon baby promoters.