Stephan Bibrowski, “Lionel, the Lion-Faced Boy”
P.T. Barnum’s circuses and ‘human curiosity’ shows almost always featured an excessively hairy individual. For several years, “Jo Jo”, a chap with hair growing all over his body amazed the crowds in New York City and elsewhere in the United States. When he left, the Great Showman recruited Stephan Bibrowski. He introduced him and then promoted him as ‘Lionel, the Lion-Faced Boy’. Stephan would stay with Barnum for five years.
Stephan was born in Poland in 1891. He suffered from hypertrichosis from birth, meaning thick hairs covered every part of his body, with the exception of the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. By the age of four, he had been ‘discovered’ by the circus. A German showman called Herr Sedlmayer took him to Germany and exhibited him. But Sedlmayer also paid for Stephan’s private education. The pair stayed in Germany until 1902, when they went to America and signed up with Barnum.
To add to the act, Barnum made up a fabulous story for his new act, whom he called Lionel. According to this, Lionel’s mother was pregnant with him when she witnessed her husband attacked and killed by a lion. This affected her unborn child and he was born with feline features. It’s possible some of the audience believed this. But even if they didn’t the crowds still paid good money to see him.
As part of the performance, Stephan was directed to growl and snarl. He was presented as wild, even though he was gentle, multilingual and a thoughtful soul. Stephan left Barnum’s circus in 1907. He returned to Germany but came back to work on Coney Island in the 1920s. He died of natural causes in 1932.