WILLIE & GEORGE MUSE – The Men From Mars

eko and iko george illie muse circus freaks
The Muse brothers had an incredible career. The story of the two black albino brothers from Roanoke, Virginia is unique even in the bizarre world of freaks and sideshow. They were initially exploited and then later hailed for their unintentional role in civil rights.

Born in the 1890’s the pair were scouted by sideshow agents and kidnapped in 1899 by bounty hunters working in the employ of an unknown sideshow promoter. Black albinos, being extremely rare, would have been an extremely lucrative attraction. They were falsely told that their mother was dead, and that they would never be returning home.

The brothers began to tour. To accentuate their already unusual appearance, their handler had the brothers grow out their hair into long white dreadlocks. In 1922 showman Al G. Barnes began showcasing the brothers in his circus as White Ecuadorian cannibals Eko and Iko. When that gimmick failed to attract crowds the brothers were rechristened the ‘Sheep-Headed Men’ and later, in 1923, the ‘Ambassadors from Mars’.

As the ‘Men from Mars’ the two traveled extensively with the Barnes circus. Unfortunately, while they were being fed, housed and trained in playing the mandolin, they were not being paid.

In the mid 1920’s the Muse brothers toured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1927, while visiting their hometown, their mother finally tracked them down. She fought to free her sons, some 20 years after their disappearance. She threatened to sue and the Muse brothers were freed.

The brothers filed a lawsuit for the wages they earned but were never paid. They initially demanded a lump-sum payment of 100,000. However, as time passed the Muse brothers missed the crowds, the attention and the opportunities sideshow provided. Their lawyer got them a smaller lump-sum payment and a substantial contract with a flat monthly wage. The pair returned to show business in 1928.

During their first season back they played Madison Square Garden and drew over 10,000 spectators during each of their performances. They made spectacular money as their new contract allowed them to sell their own merchandise and keep all the profits for themselves. In the 1930’s they toured Europe, Asia and Australia. They performed for royals and dignitaries including the Queen of England. In 1937 they returned to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for several years and finally ended their career in 1961 with the Clyde Beatty Circus.

The brothers returned to their hometown and lived together in a house they originally purchased for their mother. Neither brother married, though they were well known for their many extravagant courtships.

George Muse died in 1971 and many expected Willie to quickly follow his brother. Those people were wrong as Willie continued to play his mandolin and enjoy the company friends and family until his death on Good Friday of 2001.

He was 108 years old.

Image: from author’s collection.


  • Reply June 15, 2009



    To be a black albino with white dread locks and to live for 108 years is extremely lucky! =O

  • Reply July 2, 2009


    all of these different people are magnificent

  • Reply January 28, 2010


    I love this site! I am going to send my class here so they can get a view of some of the developmental pathways that they will (probably) never walk.

  • Reply March 4, 2010

    Dillon Grohs

    I have read about the guys before and they are very inspiring!! They have an excelent story

  • […] и умер в возрасте 108 планирование. Подробнее статья на англ., тож тут на русск, а в этом месте […]

  • […] до 2001 года, и умер в возрасте 108 лет. Подробнее статья на англ., или тут на русск, а здесь […]

  • Reply July 21, 2010


    GOLLY 108 years old! Wow

  • Reply August 12, 2011


    ha like everyone else i have to say it…ZOMG A 108 YEARS!!!

  • Reply January 17, 2012


    My grandmother is from Roanoke,VA. and this where I heard this story.My great grandmother knew these two and so did my grandmother but she was a little girl at the time.She said her and my great aunt was very afraid of them as little girls because of the way they looked.These men were nearly the same age as my great grandmother that also past away in 2001 at the age of 103.

  • Reply June 1, 2012


    Won’t be long before someone claims descent from these people

  • […] their hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, where their mother found them and stood up for their rights. Read the rest of the story of “the Ambassadors from Mars” at The Human Marvels. -via […]

  • Reply November 8, 2015

    Mae Belle

    White people have been capturing black people and making profit off of them without paying them since the 1500s. These men were abducted from their homes and put into a business that lied to them and didn’t pay them. There is nothing fantastic about that. And then lied to them about their mother being dead. Horrible.

    • Reply October 21, 2016


      Totally agree, @Mae Belle – these people are celebrating purely evil actions – the tearing apart of a family (just like during slavery), th kidnapping and enslavement of children – sick beasts

    • Reply October 24, 2016

      A B

      Agreed Mae Belle. Was just wondering why this practice of kidnapping and exploitation a pair of Black children is being heralded as some fabulous marvel by the author and comments section of this site.

      • Reply December 10, 2016

        J Tithonus Pednaud

        Absolutely horrible and tragic, certainly. However, the point of this article is to highlight human triumph in the face of adversity. Here you have two brothers, stolen and put on display because they were different. Then, in the course of their lives, they managed to turn their uniqueness into favour and fortune. They were eventually able to live on their own terms, dictate where and when they worked, made a great amount of money in the process and earned their freedom and even outlived those who caused them woe. Despite the adversity they encountered, they overcame and triumphed.

Leave a Reply