Today is the birthday of Charles B. Tripp (1855-1930). Born without upper limbs, he taught himself to do nearly everything a person with arms can do: dress himself, shave, write with a pen, cut paper with scissors, and earn his living (in his case, he was a carpenter and cabinet-maker, apparently capable of high end work). In 1872 he began to work for P.T. Barnum’s circus, where he would demonstrate his ability to do all of these things and some newly acquired skills like painting and photography. After his stint with Barnum, he worked for James A. Bailey’s circus (then a different organization) and then for Ringling Brothers (yet another! The three circuses weren’t all completely merged as one until 1919). After his time with the major circuses, Tripp worked the sideshows of small carnivals. All told, he was in show business for over half a century.
Circa 1910 he made this popular publicity picture with Legless Wonder, Eli Bowen, circa 1910:
To find out more about the history of variety arts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous