I still remember when American Horror Story: Freak Show aired. I was in the thick of my obsession with American Horror Story, and had been waiting very impatiently for the new season that would feature a "carney" theme, which we'd all soon discover would develop to cover the troubles lives of freak show performers in Jupiter, Florida, trying to simply live in a world that despises them.
It's one of my favorite seasons for so many reasons we won't get into except for one: it was so real. The tears I cried for Pepper being abandoned by Elsa were real. The pain I felt for the freaks being taken was real, because, though fantastical, so much of the show was and is a reality for more people than you realize.
And while it has been confirmed Jupiter, Florida never had ties with "Freak Shows", there is one town that is heavily thought to have inspired the AHS: Freak Show, and that would be the very real town full of retired "Freak Show" performers.
That's right. There's a Florida town literally full of retired professional freaks.
So what is this incredible place?
Gibsonton, Florida, or Gibtown, is a community in Hillsborough County, Florida that is known as: the "Home of the Freaks". But why?
Historically, Gibsonton was a popular location for circus performers who needed a place to live during the "off season". Some fun facts: There was a fruit stand run by Siamese twins and they were the only post office at one point with a service counter for little people. The "World's Strangest Couple", Al Tomaini the giant and his two-foot-tall wife Jeanie, ran a famous fishing hole called the "Giant's Camp".
This quote from former side show performer and historian Todd Robbins, to me, really seems to sum up the incredible vibe of this place: “For the first hundred years of us as a nation, the majority of people came from elsewhere,” he explains. “Everyone here was the other; an outsider. They came here because they had a dream and an idea that tomorrow was gonna be a better day if they only worked hard enough and were smart. Sideshow was only an extreme version of that. Anything is possible and here’s a good example: if it’s possible to eat fire, then I can be president of the USA.”
Multiple notable "freaks" spent their time their, such as, Percilla the Monkey Girlthe Anatomical Wonder, and the famous Lobster Boy, Grady Stiles.
But it was unfortunately Grady's death that was the end for Gibtown's popularity. One night after his daughter told him she was going to get married, Grady shot and killed her fiancé, though he was not placed in prison for his crimes due to his "condition". Instead, his cold justice came later as he was watching television in his trailer by way of three bullets to the head. His wife, Mary Teresa, to escape his abuse, convinced her son-in-law to shoot him, and both did heavy time in prison.
So what is Gibtown now? Though most of the famous performers have died, some of their descendants are still holding down Gibtown. And if you're interested in a blast from the carnie past, it seems very much worth a visit. My only question is: Who's coming with me?