Grace McDaniels

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Rose Lewiston (far left), Eli Lewiston (child on left), Harry Lewiston (far right), and several of their performing "freaks." Identified performers include Grace McDaniels the "Mule-Faced Woman" (just left of center in the back row; most of her face is hidden) and Tony Marino the sword swallower (in suit and tie).

Grace McDaniels (March 14, 1888 – March 17, 1958) was a freak show star known as the "Mule-Faced Woman" due to a severe facial deformity known as Sturge–Weber syndrome. She joined Harry Lewiston's Traveling Circus, where she was paid $175 per week.[1]


McDaniels was born on a farm in 1888, near the small town of Numa, Iowa. Her parents were described as "perfectly normal" and had no facial irregularities. As a young child, she had difficulty speaking, but learned to speak more fluently in later years. After winning The Ugliest Woman contest in 1935, Grace joined Harry Lewiston's sideshow, traveling around the country and some parts of Canada. Although she embraced her disability, McDaniels never liked having her picture taken, because she felt that advertising herself would show a lack of self-respect.

McDaniels was married briefly in the 1930s. She had a son, Elmer and a daughter Stella four years later, who she called "her greatest treasure." Grace was described as an incredible mother who would go to great lengths to make her children happy. Elmer and Stella McDaniels served as her business managers and traveled with her until her death in 1958. McDaniels died of natural causes in between tours, at her home in Gibsonton, Florida. She was buried in her town, and her grave became a Florida landmark.

In popular culture[edit]

Grace McDaniels is mentioned in Tom Waits' song Lucky Day (Overture) from his album The Black Rider, about sideshow performers.[2]


  1. ^ Harry Lewiston and Jerry Holtman (1968). Freak Show Man: the Autobiography of Harry Lewiston, as told to Jerry Holtman. Holloway House Publishing Co. LCCN 68-56374.
  2. ^