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Frank Lentini, the curious story of the man with three legs

5 min read

Francesco Lentini was born in rural Sicily at the end of the 19th century and, only a few months after his birth, his parents moved to the United States.
That’s when “Frank” was born, even if his story is shrouded in mystery, from the very beginning.
He was born at home, on May 18th, 1889, in Rosolini, in the province of Syracuse. His parents were simple parents, father Natale Lentini and mother Giovanna Falco. But, as soon as he was born, everybody noticed something was different. More specifically, Francesco had three legs, two functioning sets of genitals, four feet (the fourth, incompletely formed, was attached to the calf of his third leg), and sixteen toes.
Without any doubt, he wasn’t like any other baby.
How was that possible?

Right from the beginning, his fellow townspeople, with a mix of fear, derision and superstition, nicknamed him ’u maravigghiusu, literally, “the marvel”. It was said that when his mother visited the carriage maker during pregnancy, she was “influenced” by his worktable, which had a hole in the middle and three legs.
But, folk legends apart, some researchers have found the old, original medical records. And, according to the doctor, Francesco had a twin who didn’t develop fully during the pregnancy and his upper body was mutilated. Hence, the lower part of the body did develip and it united to Francesco’hip, almost like a tail.
The family, superstitious like many others at the time, didn’t take this has a good omen.
On the contrary, his parents were ashamed.
So, they started looking for a way to make their son “normal.” Relatives remember that his father did everything he could to try and find a solution, and even considered taking him to Malta, where it was rumoured there was a surgeon capable of amputating the unnecessary appendage. But the specialist did not want to take the risk, believing that the consequences could lead to paralysis if not the child’s death.

Francesco and his dad embarked on a journey to reach Boston on June, 28th, 1889. At the time, the newborn was barely one-month old, and apparently the mother reached them at a later time. Their arrival in Boston was registered on 8 July, in the company of a certain Giuseppe Magnano, a professional showman who said he was Francesco’s uncle and had worked for three years in America. According to documents, the three of them, who travelled in second class with $30 between them, were planning to go and stay with Magnano’s brother, who lived in Middleton, Connecticut.
These were the decades of the mass emigration to the United States, a place that many poor Italians considered the land of promise and possibilities.
Away from the struggles of rural life in Sicily, the family could have a new beginning.
And they did.
Francesco quickly became Frank Lentini and, in the new, promised continent, his family didn’t have any reason to be ashamed. The young boy from Italy soon became a sort of myth, something unbelivable that people paid to see.
Everyone heard about the boy with three legs and four feet and, of course, everyone wanted to see him.

In fact, soon after, in 1899, Frank was already being listed as one of the attractions of the Ringling Bros circus and its traveling show. This was one of the most famous of its time, whose freak show, in addition to Francesco, included a fat lady, an albino, a snake charmer and a tattooed woman.
In 1907 in Boston, Frank married a very beautiful actress, Teresa Murray, with whom he had four children: Josephine, Natale, Frank and James, none of them had extra limbs, and he had by now become “The Three Legged Sicilian”, “The Only Three Legged Football Player in the World”, “The Greatest Medical Wonder of All Time” or simply “The Great Lentini”, with promotional posters showed him dribbling a football with his third leg.
He was a growing success, was hired by Barnum Bailey, and worked with Buffalo Bill, until he started to tour the United States on his own, and went to Cuba, South America and back to Europe, London, Paris and Berlin, in the company of elephant men, monkey men, bearded women, dwarfs and a giant almost three metres tall. Frank became the star of circus freaks, running, jumping over ropes, riding bicycles and skating. He learnt English, and was presented as a kind, educated, noble, and self-deprecating. His deformity, which he exhibited now without any problem, was his fortune, and he joked that he was the only man who didn’t need a chair, because he could always use his third leg as a stool. He also smiled when he said that he always bought two pairs of shoes, but that he gave the spare one, a left foot, to a friend who had lost his right leg.
His career lasted until the 1950s, until he decides to retire to Florida.

He toured the whole world and local legends say he even went back to his Rosolini in 1908. While there weren’t many interviews with Frank Lentini, he did write a mini auto-biography for his fans.
In the booklet, the Sicilian wrote that his third leg never bothered him. In fact, he could move like a normal person and he could anything, like jump or run. But he had to buy two pair of shoes every time. Finally, he writes about his parents and their initial shock when they saw their abnormal son. However, when they understood that Frank could do anything, they started accepting it.
Frank Lentini was happy of his life, spent traveling around the world and with a supportive family. He never regretetd anything. And he died just as happy in Jacksonville, Florida, on September, 21st, 1966, at the age of 77.

Still today, his native town of Rosolini still celebrated and remembers the Three Legged Sicilian.
Fifty years after Frank’s death, his hometown celebrated the Memorial Day to honor his memory. Even his family from the United States showed up, and they toured the town, visiting Francesco’s places, and even inaugurating a painting exhibition. On the exact day of his death, locals and curious visited the cemetery, for a final homage.
Everyone in Rosolini is proud of Frank Lentini, and locals are proud of his strenght and bravery.
Moreover, they are proud of him because he never forgot where he had come from, as he was a Sicilian at heart.

Images from web – Google Research