The Extraordinary Life Of The Three-Legged Man

July 3, 2024 | Sarah Ng

The Extraordinary Life Of The Three-Legged Man

He Was The Odd One Out

Born in 1889, Francesco Lentini was born into a large Italian family. He had 11 siblings, but he was undoubtedly the most unique child.

It was his shocking appearance that sealed his extraordinary fate.lentini-MSN.jpg

He Had A Parasitic Twin

You see, Lentini had a parasitic twin connected at the bottom of his spine—a rare condition that he developed inside his mother's womb. He became the dominant twin, while the other fetus ceased developing.

This gave him an extra leg and an extra set of nether regions. But that wasn't all.

Frank LentiniUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

The Man With Three Legs

Though Lentini eventually earned the moniker "The Man With Three Legs," he also had a fourth foot extending from his knee, which was a bit difficult to spot.

Frank LentiniEdena Studios, Wikimedia Commons

He Faced Challenges

Lentini's tiny, misshapen fourth foot extended from his third leg. His distinctive appearance undoubtedly presented him with an array of challenges—but on top of all this, every leg was a different length.

Frank LentiniEdena Studios, Wikimedia Commons

He Had A Clubfoot

One of Lentini's primary legs was 99 centimeters, while the other was 97 centimeters. However, his third leg was quite a bit shorter (91 centimeters) and had a clubfoot.

Francisco LentiniLibrary of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

His Parents Wanted To Cut Off His Leg

Lentini's parents were utterly distraught by their baby's condition, so much so that they even consulted a special doctor in the hopes of having his extra leg amputated... But they did not get the news they wanted to hear.

A baby crib collects dust in a little room.The U.S. National Archives, Picryl

His Life Was In Danger

Unfortunately, there was no way to amputate Lentini's leg without risking his life. Even if he survived, the procedure could cause major paralysis—a risk no doctor would take.

Frank LentiniUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

He Disgraced His Family

It seemed that Lentini had been dealt the cruelest hand imaginable. Not even his family could muster up an ounce of affection for him. It wasn't long before he was given some of the saddest nicknames imaginable.

Francisco LentiniM. Edena Photo Co., Wikimedia Commons

They Called Him "Little Monster"

People in his hometown came up with horrid names for young Lentini, such as "the marvel" or "little monster."

Frank LentiniUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

They Sent Him Away 

His family wanted nothing more than to wash their hands of Lentini as they were so ashamed of him—and so they sent him away to live with his aunt.

old trainPixabay, Picryl

He Hated His Differences

Growing up, Lentini deeply resented the additional limbs that set him apart from the rest of society. However, while living with his aunt, he had an experience that changed his life forever.

Closeup of beautiful boy eyesNataliia Zhekova, Shutterstock

He Grew Up With Disabled Children

Lentini's aunt tried to do what was best for him—and registered him in a home created especially for disabled children. Nothing could have prepared the young boy for what he was about to witness.

1718277564374.pngVidar Nordli-Mathisen, Unsplash

He Had A Revelation

While living with a number of disabled children, Lentini had something of a revelation. He saw that others faced even more harrowing challenges than he did. He became a sponge for the suffering around him, and it changed him on a deep level.

Boy painted with mudJulie Phipps, Shutterstock

He Gained An Appreciation For Life

Lentini saw that some children couldn't walk or engage in the same activities that he could. He felt a true sense of gratitude for his own abilities. He could do so much. His extra limbs didn't stop him from walking, running, cycling, or skating.

Man Sitting on Wheelchairalexandre saraiva carniato, Pexels

It Changed His Life Forever

As Lentini grew into adulthood, he never forgot his childhood—and he would often say that the perspective he gained in his youth was one of his greatest sources of motivation.

Motivational QuotesJack_Minimal, Shutterstock

He Moved To America

In 1898, Frank Lentini began a brand new chapter in his life—one that would lead to him making history... He journeyed to America.

Man with suitcase - B&W photoJ. Paul Getty Museum, Picryl

He Had Connections

Lentini was only nine years old when he and his father reconnected with an important acquaintance in Boston—an experienced showman named Guiseppe Magnano.

Northeast Blackout (1965), BostonBoston Globe, Getty Images

He Became A Performer

Magnano was Lentini's connection to the world of show business—and once he got all four feet in the door, the world would never forget him.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey CircusThe Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

He Joined The Ringling Brothers Circus

By 1899, Frank Lentini had made a name for himself. In fact, better than that—he was one of the Ringling Brothers' most popular acts.

The Barnum & Bailey circus, people watching a performanceBoston Public Library, Picryl

He Became "The Great Lentini"

Lentini's extra limb made him a curiosity who audiences would pay to see. He was billed as many things: "The Three-Legged Sicilian," "The Greatest Medical Wonder of All Time, "The Great Lentini," and "The Only Three-Legged Football Player in the World."

BIg circus tentN i c o l a, Flickr

He Showed Off His Third Leg

On stage, Lentini made his third leg the star of the show. He would jump rope, cycle around, skate—and, of course, kick a soccer ball around. But these weren't his only talents.

circus tent near riverfer gomez, Unsplash

He Worked The Crowd

Lentini certainly knew how to work a crowd, and he topped off his physical feats with his ability to charm and engage an audience. He had a funny bone and knew how to flex his comedic talents.

image-from-rawpixel-id-14010349-jpeg-1.jpgUnknown Author, Rawpixel

He Was A Natural Comedian

Lentini gave some hilarious interviews—and the fact that he used his extra leg as a stool was just the cherry on top. He'd openly answer people's questions—some of which were quite harmless, while others were rather indecent.

Jenny Lind New York ConcertUnknown, Wikimedia Commons

He Was Quick-Witted

When asked personal—or even intimate—questions, Lentini had a knack for answering with his characteristic wit and humor. 

circus audienceIsaac Israëls, Wikimedia Commons

His Comebacks Were Iconic

On one occasion, someone asked how he went about purchasing shoes for three feet. Lentini had the perfect answer. He said that he always purchased two pairs of shoes, donating the "extra one to a one-legged friend."

Circus CentralJože Gal, Wikimedia Commons

He Was Very Confident

Lentini never let his challenges get him down. Instead, he was known to be very proud of his third leg. Better yet, it didn't define him. It was well known that "The Three-Legged Sicilian" was incredibly smart and self-assured.

Circus KMJ, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

He Became Rich And Famous

During his travels throughout America, Lentini learned the English language. He enjoyed a very successful career—and with his celebrity status came great wealth. But that wasn't all he managed to achieve.

Man Holding Paper MoneyTima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

He Found Love

You can bet that a man with such a renowned charm knew exactly how to seduce a lady. Lentini was also quite successful when it came to matters of the heart.

loving coupleOlegRi, Shutterstock

He Had Four Children

In 1907, Frank Lentini wed an actress named Theresa Murray—and they eventually had four children together. Their names were Natale, Giacomo, Josephine, and Francesco Jr. But sadly, the couple did not get their "happily ever after."

Victorian era children outside.Library of Congress, Picryl

He Had A Second Chance

Though they were together for many years, Lentini and Murray separated in 1935. But this wasn't truly an ending for Lentini—just a new beginning. He had a second shot at true love with his second partner, Helen Shupe.

CouplePixabay, Picryl

He Never Stopped Performing

Frank Lentini toured until the very end. He performed in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show—and, of course, with the Ringling Brothers Circus. But in 1966, his extraordinary run came to an end.

The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth circus and strange human exhibitLibrary of Congress, Picryl

His Lungs Gave Out

Frank Lentini passed away in 1966 from lung failure. He was 77 years old.

Jackson, TennesseeGarryharvey, Wikimedia Commons

Realizing The American Dream

Frank Lentini's life is the perfect example of what the American dream used to be. He rose above his circumstances—and what other people thought of him—and turned his supposed "weakness" into his greatest strength. 

A portrait of Francis Lentini who was born with a third leg.Bettmann, Getty Images

He Loved Life

Lentini's success story might be boiled down to his joyous outlook on life. He once said, "I've never complained. I think life is beautiful and I enjoy living it."

Frank LentiniMatthew Young, Flickr

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