"May-Joe" was born
on a farm in Ashland County, Ohio, on October 16, 1905, the child
- or children - of Mr. and Mrs. Luther Ethinger. The child had
three buttocks, three legs, all poorly developed, two stomachs,
and two sets of kidneys. Most remarkable was the fact that he was
a hermaphrodite (or, more properly, a pseudohermaphrodite).
Despite this ambiguity, the parents assigned their baby a
masculine name, George Francis, and reared him as a male for the
first years of his life.
When George was
still less than a year old, his parents hired a team known only as
Bolus and Startzel to manage what they imagined would be a grand
exhibition career. No mention of this pair has been found outside
of May-Joe's promotional material, however. The mysterious
managers seem to have disappeared by the time the 1909 season of
Buffalo Bill's Great Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Great Far East
shows, May-Joe's first taste of sideshow life, ended, and he was
back in the hands of his parents. They attempted to exhibit him in
the town of Wooster, Ohio, but were shut down by the local Humane
Society. The Ethingers turned instead to the Starling-Ohio Medical
College (now part of Ohio State University) in Columbus, and
allowed their son to be shown to medical students by a Dr. J.A.
Very little is
known of what became of May-Joe after about 1910, but the
photographic record indicates that he lived at least to
adolescence. As May-Joe grew up, he spent a number of years living
as a she, under various feminine (but always double) stage names
such as Joe-Pearl, Josephine-Pearl and Elsie-Lynn. Photographs
suggest she may have lived in a hospital or sanitorium, and she is
often shown accompanied by nurses. Although May-Joe had three
legs, all of these were badly deformed and she could neither walk
nor stand. Additionally, severe scoliosis meant that she could not
even sit upright.
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