The story of Frank Lentini explains the saying, “every problem is a hidden opportunity.” It shows us how much determination and perseverance can do and how much we can achieve even when the odds are against us.
Maybe you watched the movie, The Greatest Showman and noticed a three-legged man and thought it was the writers being creative. Or you may have been surfing the internet and saw an article about the three-legged performer who had two penises, three legs, four feet, 16 toes, and assumed it was clickbait.
Well, Frank Lentini wasn’t just a myth but a man, the Italian-born showman that took America by storm.
Who Was Frank Lentini?
On the 18th of May, in a street of Rosolini, Sicily, a young Italian woman gave birth to a boy. Formally known as Francesco, Frank Lentini was born to local farmers Natale Lentini and Giovanna Falco. Immediately after the baby was born, they noticed he was different. The baby was born with three developed legs.
At four months, the parents worried, carried him to a specialist to determine the cause of this strange appearance. They found out that taking out his leg would result in him either being paralyzed or dead.
Having a child with three legs will be something that will cause constant worry and sometimes shame to any parent, and Frank Lentini’s parents weren’t an exception. He was discriminated against and harassed around the village, and his parents made the tough decision of sending him away to his aunt.
Frank Lentini was five years old when he started living with his uncle’s wife, Corrido Falco. She took him to an institution for the disabled. There, Frank Lentini learned to be himself. He saw children of different and worse disabilities live their lives as if they had none. From that time, he never complained. Instead, he saw life as a beautiful gift and started enjoying it.
Frank Lentini learned how to use his legs properly. He could walk and jump, run, swim, ride a horse, and even roller skate. To him, his third leg was no longer a liability but a unique asset. With his third leg, he could do some things twice as fast.
His stay in the institution shaped his life and later became a primary motivation in his later years.
Why Did Frank Lentini Have Three Legs?
Frank Lentini was born with a parasitic twin. This rare condition resulted from an identical twin that stopped developing in the womb and could not separate from its fully developed twin.
His parasitic twin has physically attached the base of his spine and had its separate pelvic bone and functioning male genitalia. His extra full-sized leg extended from the right side of his hips with a malformed small foot sticking out from its knee.
Frank Lentini’s legs were of different lengths. His functioning pair was 39 inches and 38 inches in length, and his third leg was 36 inches long.
Frank Lentini’s Career As The Three-Legged Sicilian
When Lentini was six years old, he met Magnano. A professional showman who was touring Italy for his puppet show and noticed how great an addition Lentini would make to his show. He met his parents and convinced them to let their son come with him to America.
That their son’s ailment was not a curse but a blessing in disguise and could make them not only rich but famous too, after so much consideration, his parents permitted Frank to go but only on the condition that they move with him.
Two years later, Frank Lentini arrived in America with his father, Natale, and his pregnant mother.
Lentini began his career as a showman with his stage name, The Great Lentini. Suddenly, he became a big sensation in all of America. People traveled from afar to see the three-legged wonder.
He began appearing in carnivals and, a few months later, was listed as one of the top performers in major shows and circuses like Ringling Brothers Circus and the world-famous Barnum and Bailey.
He gained names like The Three-Legged Sicilian because of his origin, and his most popular name was the Three-Legged Football Player because he always kicked a football across the stage during his shows.
Frank Lentini, The Charmer
Frank Lentini wasn’t only known for his peculiar appearance but for his jokes and wits too. He was an amusing man. He was known for granting interviews while using his third leg as a stool, joking that he was the only man that didn’t need one. He would answer different types of questions. From ones about innocent things like his hobbies to detailed questions about his sex life, Lentini answered all of them with a charm and intelligence that bypassed most.
Once, in an interview, he was asked how he managed to buy shoes for himself, especially since all his legs were different sizes. Lentini replied that he bought two pairs and gave the remaining one to a one-legged friend.
Lentini was also a businessman. He wasn’t shy to monetize the attention his condition gave him. He wrote a six-page booklet about himself titled The Life History of Francesco A. Lentini, Three-Legged Wonder, which he sold for 25 cents. He talked about his condition, his hygiene, and inside information about his sex life.
Adult Life of Frank Lentini
Despite Lentini’s unusual appearance, his charm was able to woo the ladies and attract undivided female attention.
In 1907, Frank Lentini fell in love with a young actress, Theresa Murray, and got married. Their union produced four children; Josephine, Natale, Francesco Jr., and Giacoma.
Unfortunately, Frank and Lentini didn’t last forever. They became separated in 1935, but this didn’t stop Lentini from falling in love again. He met a woman named Helen Shupe and spent the rest of his life with her.
The Last Days of the Three-Legged Man
Frank Lentini had a successful career, and in the early 1960s, he moved to Gibsonton in Florida, where other of his colleagues retired from the circus life.
“Gibtown” was home for popular performers who would have felt discriminated against and different in any other place. People like Priscilla the Monkey Girl, Dotty the Fat Lady, the Alligator Man, etc., all called this place home, and the Great Lentini became one of them.
A true performer, Lentini was still performing till the day he took ill. Lentini was hospitalized in Jackson, Tennessee after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in Florida on the 21st of September, 1996, at the age of 77.
The Memory of the Sicilian
Frank Lentini was a hero and role model to many youths, and over 50 years after his death, he is still remembered and celebrated.
In 2016, in his hometown, Rosolini in Sicily, he was celebrated in a memorial festival for two days. Relatives from across the globe came to celebrate the man that made them proud of their small town. Frank Lentini was a man who lived a happy life and died a happy man.
His legacy was more than just being the three-legged man. His legacy was about a story of a man who showed bravery and strength against all life threw at him.
Imagine being born in a world where everyone had one leg. How would you cope with two?