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Before the Turkey, a Lobster Tale

November 23, 2000|ROBERT BURNS | robert.burns@latimes.com

Happy T-day, surfers. On this day of good tastes, we thought we'd hit you with the opposite.

The circus is always in town on the Net, so pony up a nickel and step up to the virtual sideshow. Be prepared to be awed by the oddities. And please don't feed the Lizard Girl.

Our journey must begin, of course, with the tragic tale of Lobster Boy. Grady Stiles Jr., who came from a long line of crustacean artistes (his dad was Lobster Man and his uncle was Howard the Human Lobster), spent more than 40 years traveling the country as Lobster Boy. And he was a mean drunk, physically and verbally abusive to his wife and kids. Mrs. Stiles, now serving time, paid a neighbor $1,500 to kill Grady. And no, he was not boiled alive.

That wasn't the end of the shellfish people, however. Grady Stiles III, who inherited his father's claw-like hands and flipperesque feet, has entered a more modern sideshow: He has his own program on public access cable called "Lobster Talk." You can read about his show and a brief history of his family at www.tcpalm.com/news/v17slast.shtml. A picture of the Lobster Boy is at www.atomicbooks.com/shocked/gallery/lobster.html. For more on the case, we recommend the book "Lobster Boy: The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles Jr." by Fred Rosen.

The Lobster Boy tragedy took place in the Florida town of Gibsonton (formerly known as Gibtown), which, just like Los Angeles, is a mecca for freaks. Circus and carnival folk used to winter there. Now, many are spending their golden years in Gibsonton, including Melvin the Human Blockhead, who likes to watch "The Price Is Right" but avoids the soaps. For those of you who don't know, a human blockhead hammers nails, spikes and other sharp objects up his nose. Jeanie Tomaini, the Half-Girl, runs the local bait shop. NPR's "Radio Diaries" has a nice tale of the town at www.radiodiaries.org/radiodiaries/gibtown.html. Some photos from a documentary about Gibsonton are at www.gibtown.com. You may also remember an "X-Files" episode, based on the Lobster Boy story, that took place there.

There's a nice selection of famous sideshow performers from the past at www.lukepl.8m.com/freaks.html. Oddly, this is one of the few places where you won't find a photo of Angelyne. The kids at the University of Arizona have their own freak show at www.u.arizona.edu/~jay/mar203/odd.html. Sort of reminds us of our freshman dorm.

Freaks modern and old can also be viewed at www.maxpages.com/thajunx/Sideshow_Freaks but the background is so busy we thought we were seeing double. One lady looked like she had four legs. Oh.

Nurple Dot Com (www.nurple.com/sideshow) offers up Pickled Punks, showing off more skill at graphics than real medical oddities.

Old-time sideshows used to have an unhealthful dose of those oddities. But those were the good old days. At the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the Mutter Museum (www.collphyphil.org), which has a huge collection of weird medical stuff. A gross-out tour can be found at savvytraveler.com/Show/Features/1999/08.28/bad-taste.html.

More medical weirdness is at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (www.mtn.org/quack). Hey, we have the perfect corner for that Battle Creek Vibratory Chair.

Not all the art is on the stage at sideshows. You can adorn your own walls with freaks at Sideshow Art (www.sideshow-art.com), which sells posters based on old sideshow signs and photos. Perfect for the guest room. Maybe next to a mirror.

Today's freaks don't just sit (or lie or swim or sometimes squirm) there to be stared at. They are performance artists. Coney Island, which has seen more than its share of the strange, has a modern sideshow at www.coneyislandusa.com. There you'll see Serpentina and all 4 feet of Koko the Killer Clown.

Probably the most famous of modern sideshows is the Jim Rose Circus (www.ambient.on.ca/jimrose). You know it's good because it was on "The Simpsons," just like Gerald Ford and Sting.

OK, we're now pretty much ready to face our family tonight.

*

Robert Burns is an assistant Business editor at The Times.

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