“I only buy two regular pairs and just give the extra shoe to my one-legged friend.”
Those were the humorous words that Francesco Lentini answered with, whenever asked about how he chooses his shoes.
Born in 1889 in Sirocusa Italy, Frank was one of twelve children; technically, 12 and a half children as he was born with a parasitic twin attached to his body. The twin attached at the base of his spine consisted of a pelvic bone, a rudimentary set of male genitalia, and a full-sized leg extending from the right side of his hip, with a small foot protruding from its knee.
Thus, in total, he had three legs, four feet, sixteen toes, and two sets of functioning male genitals. To complicate his life further, all of Frank’s legs were of different lengths.
The removal of the extra leg would have resulted in paralysis due to its proximity to his spine, therefore he lived with all.
Photo Courtesy; Magwire Art
At first, his parents refused to acknowledge him so Frank was raised by his aunt who, meaning well, enrolled him in a home for disabled children. His time at the home for disabled children was an experience Frank considered for many years to be his major motivation.
While there, the young Lentini, saw children worse off than he. While he learned to walk, run, jump and even ice skate, he saw children who could not walk, talk, or see at all. This helped him gain a new appreciation for life.
“I used to cry no shoes until I saw a man with no legs”, became his philosophy.
When he was 12, a puppeteer by the name of Vincenzo Magnano discovered him and took him to America, where he joined the circus and became an instant sensation, and later gained US citizenship, at the age of 30.
Lentini performed splendidly at the sideshow business as The Great Lentini, joining the Ringling Brothers Circus. He used his third leg to kick a football across the stage—hence his show name, the Three-Legged Football Player.
On many occasions, during interviews, he would prop up on his extra leg, using it as a stool. His witty charm and great sense of humor was no different. Many of his peers actually referred to him as The King.
Frank Lentini married Theresa Murray and they had four children: Giuseppina (Josephine), Natale (Ned), Francesco (Frank) Junior, and Giacomo (James). They later separate and he remarried Helen Shupe, with whom he lived until his death.
To Frank, it was him against all odds, indeed he believed that three was never a crowd.