At the time, circuses were among the most popular sources of entertainment in the United States. And one of their biggest draws were the freak shows – displays of people with unusual physical characteristics, which the operators often embellished with fictional stories regarding these individuals’ supposed exotic origins.
It’s unknown how Stokes found out about Willie and George, but nonetheless their albinism undoubtedly made them attractive to an industry that cashed in on apparent peculiarities. Allegedly, Stokes used candy to lure the impoverished brothers into a waiting carriage before whisking them away from their family.
And although the full details are unclear – indeed, some claim that Harriet willingly gave her boys away to Stokes – we do know that Willie and George eventually came to the attention of a freak-show proprietor known as James “Candy” Shelton. Then, from 1914, the boys were on their way to becoming stars of the circus world.