Historical story

Stefan Bibrowski - the lion man

He was known as Lionel in many countries. A rare genetic disease made Stefan Bibrowski famous. What was life like for a lion-faced man?

His hairy body was admired in Europe and the United States. A rare genetic disease made Stefan Bibrowski an international circus artist.

A child with a lion's face

Little Stefan could only dream of a carefree childhood in his family home. He was born in 1890. He was only 4 years old when he was sold to German showman Sedelmayer. For giving her son, the mother probably received a mill and a large piece of field.

The man was then finishing his tour in Russia. On his way back, while passing through areas that used to belong to Poland, he came across an unusual child. It was covered with hair the color of sand. These grew all over the boy's body, except for the inside of the feet and hands. As the mother recalled, they even grew up to 2.5 cm in a newborn baby. They got longer and longer with age. Sedelmayer called Stefan the lion-faced man and Lionel. He quickly began to include it in shows organized in Europe. The artistic pseudonym stuck to Bibrowski for good.

Sedelmayer called Stefan the lion-faced man and Lionel.

The boy grew up away from his mother and siblings. Even though Sedelmayer bought it with a potential earnings in mind, the man cannot be accused of treating Stefan badly. On the contrary - the artist fondly remembered his youth with an entrepreneur after many years. At the age of 6 he entered school. He grew up in the religion in which he was baptized. The German always tried to find time to play with the baby. And it provided him with an international career. On behalf of the then 12-year-old Lionel, he signed a five-year contract with the American circus Barnum and Bailey. This is how the lion boy ended up in the United States.

Theaters of singularity

Work in the circus took longer. The unusual appearance of the teenager gave him a fast career, which he did not give up after his contract expired. On the one hand, Bibrowski was extremely ambitious. He dreamed of working as a dentist. On the other hand, the then popular peculiarities shows ensured social advancement for the sick and disabled with body deformities. In their case, often the only alternative to being an "attraction" was ... complete exclusion from public life. This was also true of families more than once. The man in his autobiography , written at the age of 38, mentioned the ostracism his mother faced after giving birth to the "monster". As he grew up, it only got worse. It happened that a woman was thrown with stones, and other residents pressured her to leave the city.

Lionel's guardian has a five-year contract with the American circus of Barnum and Bailey.

Adult Lionel had money and fame. His Oktoberfest performances in Munich attracted around 200,000 people in just a few days. The painters wanted to portray him. As he grew up, he did not complain about the lack of interest from women.

Man in a beast's body

Bibrowski's activity quickly ceased to be limited to showing his illness. The man was a proficient circus acrobat . And when he spoke to the audience, he astonished them. The artist's calm voice and manner of speaking were completely different from his appearance. People described him as an endearing person in a beast's body. His conciliatory character and eloquence made it easier for him to win over others. Additionally, Bibrowski was extremely intelligent. He could speak five languages. He always made sure the clothes he wore fit properly.

His circus career proceeded without major complications. Only the year 1912 cast a slight shadow on it. The man experienced the harmfulness of smoking acutely at that time. Going out for a cigarette ended very painfully for him. Some of the hairs on his body caught fire and burned instantly. Lionel suffered severe burns and was excluded from the shows for months.

He probably settled in Italy towards the end of his life, although some sources mention Berlin. He died at the age of 41 of a heart attack.

Where did all this hair come from?

During Bibrowski's times, little was known about the ailment that affected the man. Presumably the same disease gave rise to the fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast" . The artist himself quotes in his autobiography the story of his birth:

Father (...) owned a small roaming zoo, and as a young man he was also a lion trainer and wildlife lover. One morning while he was working in a lion's cage, the most restless animal hurt its owner. His wife heard moans and agony and was shocked to see her husband's mutilated body. The widow sold all the animals and decided to live in Bielsko. A few months later she gave birth to a child whose body was covered with hair. Some people wondered if it was a small wild animal instead of a human.

The "lion-faced man" suffered from hypertrichosis, also known as the "werewolf syndrome"

Today it is known what caused Bibrowski's unusual appearance. And it had nothing to do with the tragic death of his father. The "lion-faced man" suffered from hypertrichosis , also known as "werewolf syndrome" . In extreme cases, apart from excessive hair growth, the disease is associated with gingival hyperplasia, unnaturally large head size or nose deformities. This condition may be the result of a genetic mutation or be associated with other medical conditions. In the first case, recovery is impossible.