Medusa Van Allen: The Woman Who Couldn’t Grow

A pitchbook sold by Medusa Van Allen.

A pitchbook sold by Medusa Van Allen.

Medusa Van Allen was nothing like the mythical Medusa, though she was equally as strange.

Born in Ohio on March 19, 1908, the bones in Medusa’s body never grew, with the exception of her head. Because of her undeveloped bones, Medusa could never sit or stand. She could only lay flat. Doctors could do nothing for her bizarre condition.

As an adult, Medusa’s head was a normal size, yet her body remained like that of a baby. With the help of a private tutor her brain also reached an adult level. She exhibited herself as one of Ripley’s human oddities in the 1930s. In a pamphlet sold at shows, Medusa said, “I enjoy life in much the same way as any normal person, and find life filled with really worthwhile pleasures.”

An article about the 1933 Ripley’s Odditorium echoed this sentiment. The reported asked several performers, “Would you want to trade places with an average person?”

Medusa’s response: “Absolutely not. I can’t move my body, with the exception of my head, still I wouldn’t be willing to trade places with the average girl. Never having been able to get around like others, I would be completely lost if I were able to do as others do. I know that I never will be able to move and naturally I rarely give it any thought.”

She passed away ten years later while on tour with A. J. Budd’s “Freaks on Parade” show in Sacramento. Medusa had just rejoined the show after missing a few seasons due to illness.

This article was originally published on and was written for the book, American Sideshow, but cut before publication.