Friday, 30 December 2011

THE GREAT OMI – Tattooed Gentleman

omi 734505 THE GREAT OMI   Tattooed GentlemanThe Great Omi was one of the most popular tattooed men of all time. He was primitively tattooed over much of his body including his head and face, which was tattooed in bold black zebra-like stripes. Sometimes referred to as the ‘The Zebra Man’, Horace Ridler – the man who would become The Great Omi – was born in Surrey, England around 1892 to a wealthy family. He served twice in the British Army as a commissioned officer but left the military after the First World War with the rank of major.
Ridler may have gotten some tattoos during his many years in the British Army, but in 1922, in some financial trouble, Ridler decided that show business was the key to fame and fortune. He approached an unnamed tattooist who claimed to be Chinese and started turning himself into a tattoo attraction. This early tattooing was extremely rather crude, but Ridler was able to make a modest living at music hall and fairgrounds
But Horace Ridler had bigger plans and in1927 he began to visit London’s famed tattooist – George Burchett – with a plan that would transform him into the greatest modern tattoo attraction in the world. After much discussion and written approval from both Horace and his wife Gladys, Burchett began to work on Ridler.

The design of the wide black stripes would cover his old work and, by Burchett’s account, 150 hours later Horace Ridler became The Great Omi. As soon as the tattoo work was completed the job offers rolled in from Bertram Mills Circus, Robert Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not”, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Bellevue Circus. Gladys Ridler worked with her husband and became the Omette, introducing the Great Omi to the audiences of the world.
In homage to the tattooed workers who came before him, Omi concocted an elaborate back story to explain his appearance and claimed he had been forcibly tattooed by New Guinea savages. The story really boosted his popularity and he soon became one of the highest paid circus performers of hi time.
As the years wore on the Omi’s appearance became more and more outrageous as did his personality. He took to wearing lipstick and nail polish and signed his pitch cards, ‘the Barbaric Beauty’. Despite his appearance, “underneath it all, I’m just an ordinary man,” he insisted shortly before his death in 1969.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

JAMES MORRIS – The Rubber Man

morris 774784 202x300 JAMES MORRIS   The Rubber ManJames Morris was born in Copenhagen New York in 1859 and used his unique talent to amuse friends and coworkers from a young age. His ability to stretch his skin as much as eighteen inches from his body, with no perceivable pain, made him incredible popular with officers when he joined the military. Those officers invited reporters and journalists to witness Morris’s unusual talent and from there Morris was recruited by several circuses, sideshow and dime museums. By 1885 he was world traveled and joined up with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
With Barnum and Bailey he was exhibited throughout North America and Europe and in 1898 he was featured in Scientific America as ‘The Rubber Man’. For the journal, he pulled the skin of his neck over his head to which it was reported to resemble ‘an elephant’s trunk’.

As detailed in an earlier post, ‘Rubber Men’ were afflicted with a condition known as cutis hyperelastica or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The syndrome results in a defect in collagen synthesis which in turn results in overly stretchable, and elastic, fragile, soft skin that easily forms welts and scars.

While Morris earned good money in his first season with Barnum and Bailey his popularity quickly dwindled and, do to a slight drinking and gambling problem, he took a second job as a barber opening a shop in New York City.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

MELVIN BURKHART – The Anatomical Wonder

melvin 727051 MELVIN BURKHART   The Anatomical WonderBy all accounts Melvin was a show off. Shortly after his birth in 1907 in Kentucky he began entertain people any way he could. Melvin was able to contort his body in fantastic ways. He was ale to suck in his stomach to his spine, he could elongate his neck to an incredible degree and make his shoulder blades protrude grotesquely from the profile of his back. He was also able to control his facial muscles to a startling degree and contort his face into a harlequin mask – smiling on one side and frowning on the other.
He debuted his unusual skills to the public with an appearance in a visiting vaudeville act in the early 1920’s. He impressed the promoters so completely that he was asked to join. While traveling he continued to redefine his skills and add new sideshow feats to his repertoire. He was able to swallow swords, eat fire and throw knives with razor precision. At one point during the Great Depression, he performed as nine of the fourteen acts advertised at a one-ring circus. He became quite the talker and eventually he debuted an entirely new and unbelievable feat. Due to the fact that much of his nasal cavity and cartilage was destroyed during his time as a boxer with a 0-6 record, Melvin was able to pound things into his nose – using a mighty large nail aided by a hammer. Thus was born ‘The Human Blockhead’ a feat that truly defines description. The term blockhead, by the way, was coined by Ripley

Burkhart spend thirty years in sideshow. He spent the bulk of that time with the James E. Strates sideshow but also did stints with Ringling Bros. and Ripley’s. Later in life, while in his eighties, he worked the Coney Island crowds. He became well know for his banter – cornball jokes between and during his stunts. He was also well known for his willingness to teach. He passed on his knowledge to perhaps hundreds.
While Burkhart officially retired to Gibsonton, Florida in 1989 with his wife Joyce, he continued to perform for tourists and journalists right up until his passing in November of 2001 at the age of ninety-four.
During his lifetime Melvin has a true professional and confidant to many fellow performers. He helped those less fortunate and entertained those who needed entertaining. Even in death, Melvin remains and inspiration to all who wander into the world of Sideshow.
Melvin was a true marvel among marvels.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Healthy two-headed baby born in Brazil

A two-headed baby born in Brazil is reportedly healthy

A Brazilian woman has given birth to a two-headed baby boy and doctors say the newborn appears to be in good health. Maria de Nazare has decided to name the pair, who share a heart, lungs, liver and pelvis, Emanoel and Jesus. "When doctors scanned her they realized that the baby had two heads and that a normal birth would be a great risk both for mother and baby," hospital director Claudionor Assis de Vasconcelos told Brazil's O Povo newspaper. "The caesarean took an hour because the baby was sitting down."
"Despite all the problems we have as a small interior hospital we managed to save both mother and baby, which was our aim," he said. "And for us it was a great surprise to find out that the child was in really good health."
De Nazare was expecting twins and only found out about the two-headed child minutes before doctors advised her to have a caesarean birth in order to save both her life and that of her baby. Along with two heads, the 9.9 pound newborns have separate spines.
In some two-headed births where one brain is less developed, one head is removed in order to save the child's life. But rarer cases like this one, where there are two functioning brains, complicates the decision making process for doctors.
"If both their brains are functioning, how are we going to choose which head to remove?" said Neila Dahas, director of the Santa Casa hospital. "We are not considering the possibility of surgery. What we've got to think about at this moment is to maintain the children in good condition and see how they will develop."

Conjoined twins sharing a body, but with separate heads, are extremely rare but not without precedent. This is the second such birth in Brazil this year. However, the other child died after a few hours because of a lack of oxygen to one of the child's heads.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


josef 701094 JOSEF BORUWLASKI   Midget MajestyIn his autobiography Memoirs, Count Josef Boruwlaski writes:
‘I was born in the environs of Chaliez, the capital of Pukucia in Polish Russia in November 1739. My parents were of middle size; they had six children, five sons and one daughter. Three of these children great to above the middle stature, whilst the two others, like myself, reached only that of children in general at the age of four or five.’ Toward the end of the seventeenth century it became incredibly fashionable for aristocrats and royalty to own a dwarf or midget for the purpose of entertainment. It was such a fad, in fact, that Catherine de’ Medici – the queen of France – attempted to breed a pair of her court dwarves. Many more attempts were made, most notable of which was done by Peter the Great in 1701 when he staged a grand wedding between two dwarves – an event not only attended by his courtiers, but by foreign ambassadors as well.
Therefore, one would expect the lives of those little people to be abject misery. However, the memoirs and life story of Count Josef Boruwlaski contradicts that assumption.
Boruwlaski was born a midget and into a very poor family. The financial situation only worsened when Josef lost his father at the age of nine. However through good fortune his mother happened to be of limited noble blood and had a patron in wealthy noblewoman, the Staorina de Caorliz. She took a shine to the tiny lad and convinced mother Boruwlaski to send the young man to live with her and be educated. Mother agreed and young Josef thrived in his new home. As a result, although he only stood two feet tall in his early teens, he possessed etiquette that would have shamed most artristrocrats and was a brilliant composer of music.
When the Staorina got married, Josef became the protégé of another even wealthier noblewoman, the Comtesse de Humiecka, and it is from there that Josef’s life became even more interesting.

The Comtesse had a great lust for travel and brought Josef along. He was able to grace the courts of the highest crust of noble society. Marie-Theresa – Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of all Austria and Hungary – was so delighted to meet him that she gave him one of her own diamond rings. Prince Kaunitz, of Munich, gave Josef a pension for life. He also met and entertained the exiled king of Poland, King Stanislaus, and the Duc d’Orleans in Paris. When Stanislaus II acceded to the throne of Poland, he took Boruwlaski under his protection.
Josef eventually left the wing of the Comtesse and married a noble woman after being granted another pension and title by the Polish King. He fathered a daughter, wrote his autobiography, and began to settle in England where he toured and performed compositions for the public. He retired to Durham, England where he passed away on September 5, 1837 at the age of 98.
Perhaps his most interesting meeting occurred in a visit to London.
‘Soon after my arrival in London, there appeared a stupendous giant; he was eight feet four inches high, well proportioned and had a pleasing countenance, and what is not common in men of his size, his strength was adequate to his bulk; many persons wished to see us in company, particularly the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. I went and I believe we were equally astonished. The giant remained sometime mute. Them stooping very low he offered me his hand, which I am sure would have enclosed a dozen like mine. He paid me genteel compliment and drew me near to him, that the difference in our size might strike the spectators the better; the top of my head not reaching his knee.’
The giant is unknown although a writing of the times states that the man was named O’Brien and called himself the ‘Irish Giant’. Believe it or not, there were at least four ‘Irish Giants’ parading about the United Kingdom at that time. Two of them were named O’Brien.

Friday, 9 December 2011

MATTHEW BUCHINGER – The Little Man of Nuremberg

mb 738289 MATTHEW BUCHINGER   The Little Man of Nuremberg
‘The tricks he plays at cups and balls,
Tis wrong in any man, who calls,
Them slight of hand, as he gives out,
Their slight of stumps, and are no doubt …
I’m sure that’s the worst thing about his life,
that he had to suffer these terrible poems.’
- from a handbill dating from 1726
Matthew Buchinger was born in Anspach, Germany in 1674 and was one of the most well known performers of his day. He played over a dozen musical instruments, danced the hornpipe, and was an expert calligrapher, magician, and bowler, built magnificent ships in bottles, and stunning marksman with a pistol. All of those accomplishments are even more impressive when you realize that he had no arms or legs and stood only 28 inches high.

His skills certainly seemed to impress ladies as he was married at least four times and fathered eleven children. There is a story that one of his wives was abusive and insulting – he put up with the behavior until he simply snapped and he knocked her to the ground and thrashed her publicly. The event was immortalized in the form of a caricature published in the newspaper the following day.
During his lifetime, Buchinger performed for many kings – three successive kings of Germany – and several times before King George.
He died in Cork, Ireland in 1732

Thursday, 8 December 2011

ROBERT WADLOW – The Tallest Man

RWadlow 786742 ROBERT WADLOW   The Tallest ManThe tallest man in recorded history, Robert Wadlow, spent less than a year in the circus – and none of it officially in the sideshow. Wadlow, and those who today watch over his legacy, are adamantly against associating Robert with the sideshow or the word freak.
While Wadlow was a giant, he was far from being a freak. In fact aside from his remarkable height he was beyond normal. He was a kind, intelligent man who is still remembered as a gentleman some 60 years after his passing.
He was the first born of a normal sized couple and was born on Feb. 22, 1918. By all accounts, Robert was a normal sized baby at eight pounds and six ounces but he quickly began to grow – within twelve months he ballooned to just over forty-four pounds. At the age of five he was five and a half feet tall and at the age of 9 he stood six feet, two inches.
His family was constantly hounded by showmen begging for a chance to display the human marvel. However the Wadlow family insisted that Robert experience as average an upbringing as possible – given the circumstances. Wadlow even joined the Boy Scouts when he was thirteen and became the largest Boy Scout in history – he was seven feet, one inch and weighed 340 pounds.
In high school Robert was popular and active in many extracurricular activities, even serving as the advertising manager for the yearbook. He was completely accepted by his peers. However, when he attended college he lost that acceptance and struggled with the stares. It bothered him so much that he dropped out and returned to his parents quite penniless.

That is when his brief stint with Ringling Bros. began. His 1937 contract was brief and had strict conditions and terms. First, Robert would only attend shows at Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden. He would display himself only two times a day for three minutes. He refused to allow any exaggeration of his height via media releases or standard height enhancing sideshow trickery like platform shoes, top hats and trick photography. Furthermore, Robert would only display himself in the centre ring and refused any association with the sideshow. Despite all of these restrictions, Robert proved to be incredibly popular.
Robert was so popular that following his time with Ringling Bros. he signed a fabulous contract with The International Shoe Company. The deal included quite a bit of travel and personal appearances and in just under a year Robert had made over 800 appearances and traveled over 300,000 miles. Perhaps most importantly, the company provided Robert with free shoes – a big deal when you are a size 37 and your shoes cost over $100 a piece.
Robert’s feet always gave him a lot of trouble and due to the weight they had to support, they formed blisters often. Believe it or not, it was a blister that killed the gentle giant.
On July 4th, 1940 – after appearing in a Forth of July – Robert developed a blister. That blister became infected and Robert was unable to check into a hospital as they could not accommodate a man of his size. The infection progressed as Robert was attended to in a makeshift medical facility based in Robert’s hotel room. Surgery, antibiotics and blood transfusions were not enough and Robert passed away on July 15th, 1940 at 1:30am. He was only twenty-two and stood eight feet, eleven inches.
His funeral was attended by 40,000 mourners. It took twelve pallbearers to hoist his thousand pound casket. A life sized statue of Robert Wadlow still stands in his hometown of Alton, Illinois.
It is a testament to a man who was the very definition of a Human Marvel.

Monday, 21 November 2011

LAZARUS-JOANNES – Early Parasitic Twins

Lazarus 700950 LAZARUS JOANNES   Early Parasitic TwinsAmbrose Paré wrote in 1530 of a forty year old man with a headless parasitic body hanging ‘like a pendulum’ from his belly. He also wrote of a German man, ‘born the same year that peace was made with the Swiss and King Francis’ who had a parasitic head protruding from his abdomen. These accounts and the illustrations that accompanied them serve as the earliest confirmed documentation of an epigastric parasite. One can hypothesize that many mythologies – like the gods Vishnu (many arms) and Janus (two headed / many faced) resulted from the observation of human marvels born attached to a parasitic twin.
One of the most well documented cases of early parasitic twining is the case of Lazarus-Joannes Baptista Colloredo (pictured). The 17th century anatomist Bartholinus detailed the history of Lazarus-Joannes Baptista Colloredo quite diligently and personally observed the man for the purpose of documentation. Born in Genoa in 1617, Colloredo exhibited himself all over Europe because from his belly hung a parasitic twin that had one thigh, hands, body, arms, and even a well-formed head covered with hair. Lazarus was the name the complete twin was known by and his underdeveloped sibling was Joannes. It is highly unlikely that these were their giving names as Joannes Baptista translates to ‘John the Baptist’ in English. However, interestingly enough, it was the practice of the day to baptize both twins in a parasite or conjoined twin situation.

There were allegedly some faint signs that Joannes had some independent existence as movements of respiration were evident as were occasional rapid eye fluttering movements. The mouth of Joannes was said to be in a state of near constant salivation and Bartholinus himself wrote that he had seen the arms of Joannes move in response to stimuli. The genitals of Joannes were said to be ‘imperfect’ and it is unclear if any regular eliminations occurred.
Bartholinus first examined Colloredo when the twins were aged at twenty-two however he later amending his report when he was able to examine the twins in Scotland in 1642 just before they were to visit Charles I. Most accounts of the time described Lazarus as courteous and handsome man even with Joannes in tow and that must have been true because Bartholinus reported that Lazarus was married and the father of several children who were fully and admirably developed.
It is believed that Lazarus-Joannes Baptista Colloredo died in the mid 1640’s, however the exact date is unknown.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

BLANCHE DUMAS – 3 Legged Courtesan

dumas 798267 BLANCHE DUMAS   3 Legged Courtesan
The strange story of Blanche Dumas is truly stranger than fiction.

It is believed that Blanche Dumas was born on the island of Martinique in 1860 to a French father and a mother was a quadroon (one quarter black). At the age of 25 Blanche was visited and documented by Bechlinger of Para, Brazil and consequently added to the pages of Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. According to Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine Blanche had a ‘modified duplication of the lower body’.

She purportedly had a very broad pelvis, two imperfectly developed legs and a third leg attached to her coccygeus and, in addition to normal well developed breasts, she also had two smaller rudimentary breasts – complete with nipples – close together above her pubic area. Furthermore Blanche also had two vaginas and two well-developed vulvas and, allegedly, both had equally developed sensitivity. Her sexual appetite was said to be very pronounced. She was know to have many male admirers and was know to ‘entertain’ men with both her vaginas.

So pronounced was Blanche’s libido that she eventually moved to Paris and became a courtesan. Also, upon hearing stories that a three legged man with dual genitalia named Juan Baptista dos Santos was in Paris on a European tour, she expressed a sincere desire to have sex with him. While there is no evidence that the two had illicit meetings, there is great rumor of a brief affair.

Saturday, 19 November 2011


baptista dos santos 702405 JUAN BAPTISTA DOS SANTOS   The Man With Two SwordsWhile there is scarce material on Blanche Dumas, her alleged lover Juan Baptista dos Santos was the subject of some fairly intense study.
Juan Baptista dos Santos was born in Portugal around 1843 in the town of Faro and was examined for the first time when he was only six months old. His parents and two siblings were well formed and it was said that his gestation and birth were uneventful. As a child, Juan was considered quite handsome, fit and well proportioned – except for the two distinct genitalia and extra fused limbs he possessed.
It was observed that urination proceeded simultaneously from both penises. What appeared to be a third leg dangling from the pubis was in fact two limbs fused together as one with a small and supernumerary anus. The compound limb had a patella but, while the limb joint was freely movable, it had no motor control or power of motion. A journal, published in London states that Juan Baptista dos Santos had been exhibited in Paris, and that the surgeons advised operation.
That operation never occurred as a further report from Havana, dated July, 1865, details a further detailed examination of Santos at twenty-two years of age. This report also brought forward the claim that Santos possessed an ‘animal passion’ and had a ravenous sexual appetite and permissive reputation. This same report claims that Juan Baptista dos Santos used both penises during intercourse and, after finishing with one he would continue with the other.

A further report details the physiology of Santos in full adulthood and is accompanied by a detailed illustration. This report also detailed Santos was in the habit of wearing this limb in a special sling or bound firmly to his right thigh. This not only prevented the limb from dangling, it also allowed him greater freedom of activity – he was said to be an avid horseback rider.
During his lifetime, Santos was perused by several sideshows and circuses. In 1865 – he turned down a contract worth 200,000 francs to perform in a French circus. However, Santos opted to exhibit himself to medical authorities and rare ‘special’ exhibitions. Despite his extensive medical examinations and relative fame in medial circles only one photo of Juan Baptista dos Santos and that to focuses mainly on his dual genitalia.

Friday, 18 November 2011


In 1790 the astute surgeon Everard Home wrote of ‘a species of lusus naturae so unaccountable, that, I believe, no similar instance is to be found upon record’. He was writing of the Boy of Bengal after observing drawings and collecting and reviewing the accounts of several of his peers. While the boy was remarkable for both his medical condition and perseverance, Home was actually incorrect in his initial assumptions.

The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal was born in the village of Mundul Gait in Bengal in May of 1783 into a poor farming family. His remarkable life was very nearly extinguished immediately after his delivery as a terrified midwife tried to destroy the infant by throwing him into a fire. Miraculously, while he was rather badly burned about the eye, ear and upper head, he managed to survive. His parents began to exhibit him in Calcutta, where he attracted a great deal of attention and earned the family a fair amount of money. While the large crowds gathered to see the Two-Headed Boy his parents took to covering the lad with a sheet and often kept him hidden – sometimes for hours at a time and often in darkness. As his fame spread across India, so did the caliber of his observers. Several noblemen, civil servants and city officials arranged to showcase the boy in their own homes for both private gatherings and grand galas – treating their guests to up close examinations. One of these observers was a Colonel Pierce who described the encounter to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks and it was Sir Banks who later forwarded the account to the surgeon Everard Home.

2headedhires5zp THE TWO HEADED BOY OF BENGALThe term ‘Two-Headed’ may be a bit misleading as rather that two heads side by side, the Boy actually had head atop the other. When compared to the average child, both heads were of an appropriate size and development. The second head sat atop the main head inverted and simply ended in a neck-like stump. The second head seemed to, at times, function independently from the main head. When the boy cried or smiled the features of the second head did not always match. Yet, when the main head was fed, the second head would produce saliva. Furthermore, if the second head was presented with a breast to suckle – it would attemp to do so. While the main head was well formed the secondary head did posses some irregularities. The eyes and ears were underdeveloped. The tongue was small and the jaw malformed but both were capable of motion. When the Boy slept, the secondary head would often be observed alert and awake – eyes darting about.

Despite the attention the Boy of Bengal received, none of it was medical in nature. There were no intensive first hand medical examinations of the Boy on record and the vast majority of the press attention given to the Boy focused no on his condition, but rather his ‘freakish’ appearance. The Boy, who seemed to suffer no serious ill effects in relation to his condition, died at the age of four from a cobra bite. It was only then, after much unseemly business, that medicine was able to examine the case.The Boy was buried near the Boopnorain River, outside the city of Tumloch but the grave was soon robbed by Mr. Dent, a salt agent for the East India Company. He dissected the putrefied body himself and gave the skull to a Captain Buchanan of the East Indian Company. Buchanan brought the skull to England, where it ended up in the hands of his close friend- Everard Home.

When Mr. Dent had dissected the heads he discovered that the brains were separate and distinct. Each brain was also enveloped in its proper coverings and it appeared as though both brains received the nutrition required to sustain life and thought. The skull of the Boy of Bengal can still be seen at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.

The classification of this condition is today known as Craniopagus parasiticus and technically falls under the category of parasitic twins however many of the early naturalists have attempted to classify the Bengal case as a case of conjoined twins due to the signs of independent life given by the secondary head.

Previous to 1783 teratology texts listed no fewer that eight suspected cases of Craniopagus parasiticus however the Boy of Bengal case is not only the earliest well documented account, but also the first account of such a case surviving past infancy. Recently on December 10, 2003, Rebeca Martínez was born in the Dominican Republic with this rare condition and she was also the first baby born with the condition to undergo a surgical removal of the second head. She died on February 7, 2004, after the 11-hour operation. On February 19, 2005, Manar Maged – also born with the same condition- underwent a successful 13-hour surgery in Egypt, but died on March 25, 2006 due to repeated infection.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

PETRUS GONZALES – Wolf Boy of the Canary Islands

gonsal1 788232 PETRUS GONZALES   Wolf Boy of the Canary IslandsThe sixteenth- and seventeenth-century must have been a simply enchanting time as fairy-tales seemed to spring into reality and the shelves of cabinets of curiosities overflowed with unusual items. The old stories of wee folk, giants and misshapen monsters seemed to be confirmed reality and in 1556 it seemed as though werewolves were also a factual entity when Petrus Gonzales stepped forward into the light of history.
Little is know of the parents of Petrus Gonzales as he was taken, as an infant, from his home in the Canary Islands to be presented to King Henri II in Pairs. Why was Petrus of such interest? Petrus Gonzales’s entire body – including his face, was covered in long, wavy hair and he was an immediate medical sensation.
In 1557, the first formal report appeared, written by Julius Caesar Scaliger. In his report about the famed boy of Paris, Scaliger referred to the lad as Barbet – the same name used to identify a breed of shaggy dog. A second report in the same year confirms the arrival of Petrus in Paris and states that King Henri ordered that the furry boy was to receive a formal education – not to be kind but rather out of curiosity – the King believed that Petrus was a savage and incapable of learning. His progress was monitored closely and he proved the King quite incorrect by not only learning the basics of education but also becoming fluent in the noble gestures, etiquette and tact. He became quite fluent in the language of the affluent, Latin, and took to wearing splendid robes that actually further accentuated his furry covered face. It was in this way that Petrus became a sought after court guest, a prodigy royal dignitaries and ambassadors flocked to see. He became a great asset to the court of King Henri and was rewarded for his service.
At the age of seventeen, in 1573, Petrus married a young French lady and by 1581 he was the father of two children. Both of his children, one son and one daughter shared his unique appearance and the entire family became the most sought after curiosity of the era. In 1581 the family began a tour of Europe. In 1582 their portraits were painted in Munich by the order of Duke Albrecht IV of Bavaria. In 1583 the Gonzales family went to Basel where they were studied by the famed anatomist Felix Plater and he published a detailed account of the visit in his Observationum and further less detailed accounts followed the travels of the family until the early 1590’s.

In the mid 1590’s in Bologna another detailed account updates much of the information on the family as the eight year old daughter of Petrus was the subject of an examination by Count Aldrovandi. The count also commissioned a drawing of the family which now included Petrus, his twenty year old son and two young girls. It is assumed that his wife and eldest daughter had died.
The family seemed to break apart at this point and various members joined up with various European royal courts. A girl by the name of Tognina Gonzales – assumed to be the youngest daughter of Petrus came to public attention and the naturalist Ulysses Aldrovandi claimed in his Historia monstrorum that Tognina was eventually married in the court of Parma and had several children of her own.
For the next 40 years members of the Gonzales family ebbed and flowed from the course of history making brief appearance in noble courts. Considering their unique condition, it is unusual that more accounts and records do not exist. It is unknown what exactly happened to Petrus or his descendants. The last historical mention of a Gonzales can be found in a in a memorial plaque attributed to a Horatio Gonzales – an likely descendant of Petrus – and given to a certain Mercurio Ferrari from 1635 which reads:
Here you see Gonzales, once famous in the court of Rome,
Whose human face was covered with hair like an animal’s.
He lived for you, Ferrari, joined to you in love,
And in the portrait he lives on, still breathing although he is dead.

Friday, 28 October 2011


IG4474 1 708669 ZEBRA PEOPLE   PiebaldPiebald is a word often used to describe animals with large black and white spots, however in the golden age of sideshow – and even long before that – it was used to describe human beings with this unusual skin condition.
Contrary to what one may assume, piebalding is not related to albinism and is instead caused by dominant mutations of an altogether different set of genes in a condition known as Vitiligo These mutations can occur in persons of any color. However, persons of African heritage with vitilligo make up the bulk of sideshow performers – often called leopard or zebra people – and are the subject of most of the medical history – most of that early history is filled with racist statements and ignorance. The first image depicting ‘piebalding’ in a human being occurred in the pages of Histoire naturelle by Buffon. A lithograph features a young girl – around the age of five – standing amid an exhibit of curiosities with a two-tone body. Buffon never met the child first hand but owneda an original painting the lithograph was based upon. The painting was done by an unknown Columbian artist in 1740 and bore the following inscription:

The True Picture of Marie- Sabina who was born Oct 12 1736 at Matuna a Plantation belonging to The Jesuits in the City of Cartegena in America of Two Negro Slaves named Martianiano and Patrona.

Despite this rather detailed pedigree, many naturalist of the day insisted that the child was the result of a white and a negresse and that to preserve the honor of the Society of Jesus it was written that both parents were slaves. Later, that diagnosis was changed, by Buffon, to include the union of a slave and an albino.

Despite the fact that many other children were born with piebald – John Richardson Primrose Bobey (1774, Jamaica), Magdeleine (1783, St. Lucia) George Gratton (1808, St. Vincent) and Lisbey (1905, Honduras) – Buffons odd hypothesis stood as fact for nearly two hundred years.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

BILL DURKS – The Man with Three Eyes

billdurks 777320 BILL DURKS   The Man with Three EyesBill Durks understandably had a tough childhood. He was born in Jasper, Alabama on April 13, 1913 with a condition known today as frontonasal dysplasia. During gestation, the two halves of Bill’s face failed to come together completely and uniformly and as a result he was born with deep cleft lip, open palate and a split nose. According to some accounts, Bill was also born with both of his eyes sealed shut with hoods of skin and he had to have them opened surgically as a small child.

Due to his appearance, Bill was denied an education. The schools children would not accept him and his family was simply too poor to afford private schooling. Furthermore, by all accounts, the Durks family was ashamed of their son and didn’t want him attending school anyway. As a result, Bill was a socially awkward and introverted man. To make things even more difficult for poor Bill, his clef lip made him difficult to understand.
One day, in his early teens, Bill attended a local fair as a spectator. The showmen running the sideshow instantly invited him to go on tour and Bill left behind his bleak life for a chance at fortune and soon became the ‘Man with Three Eyes’.
In an added bit of showmanship, during exhibits Bill would paint a third eye into the divot between his noses. Likely the fakery was not noticed for the duration of his career because few could stare Bill directly in his face. In a bit of irony, Bill, the man billed as having three eyes, was in reality the man with one eye as he was blind in his right eye.
Bill was quite a successful Marvel and worked with numerous show including Kelly-Sutton Shows, Gooding’s Million Dollar Midway, Hall & Christ Shows, James E. Strates Shows and Hubert’s Museum making a good living. He was often taken advantage of and exploited due to his meek nature. Bill was also illiterate, which meant he could not read the contracts he signed.
Over time, Bill eventually became quite well liked by his fellow Marvels. Many of them began to look out for his interests. Most notable is the close friendship Bill developed with Melvin ‘The
Anatomical Wonder’ Burkhart. Burkhart took Bill under his wing and taught him how to interact with crowds, how to interact with people, gave him confidence and even taught Bill how to read. Bill began to love the sideshow and the crowds. He cherished the idea that while once he was shunned by society, now people were pay for the right to see him. Bill quickly soon became the star of the show and spent the remainer of his career with the Slim Kelly and Whitney Sutton shows. Bill was always grateful for the friendship he found in his fellow performers and his mentor Burkhart.
Burkhart eventually introduced Bill to Mildred the alligator-skinned woman. Mildred was born in 1901 and was a bit older than Bill but friendship quickly turned to love and, despite appearances, the two married. They spent several happy years together as the World’s Strangest Married Couple until Mildred passed in June of 1968. Bill was completely heartbroken and soon retired to Gibsonton, Florida where he joined his beloved wife on May 7, 1975.
Bill Durks was a man who began his life hidden from the world by parents who were ashamed of him. He turned to the sideshow and found the love and friendship he lacked his entire life. It was love and friendship he deserved as a Human Marvel and a testament to the perseverance of man.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


daniellambert 748445 MASSIVE HUMAN MARVELS   The Fat MenBelieve it or not, human corpulence was once an admired trait. Today, obesity is often looked at in disgust but, in the golden era of sideshow and in the 18th century – the Fat Man or Woman was a mainstay in the business of prodigious display. For some reason, persons of the time loved to see people of enormous stature – be it height or weight – and few Human Marvel exhibitions were complete without a rotund man or woman.

The first person exhibited due to sheer mass is lost in history. Although, history does tend to point out some of more prolifically portly persons – though few ever were sideshow attractions. Galen, a first century Roman physician, reported meeting Nichomachus of Smyrna – a man who was so heavy that he could not move nor be moved from his bed. Other ancient texts cite the case of an unnamed Roman senator who was only able to walk when two slaves carried his belly for him, and another yarn of an Egyptian pharaoh whose belly was broader than the ‘span of a man’s outstretched arms’.

Dionysius of Heracleia, who died around 305 BC, was well know in his time for his great appetite and he eventually grew so large that he could scarcely move. Furthermore, he allegedly suffered from sleep apnea and narcolepsy. His doctors feared that he would die sitting on his throne – thus servants were hired to prick him with needles should he nod off while squatting upon it. The strange treatment seemed to work as he lived to the age of fifty-five – even earning a noble reputation as large as his corpulence.

The Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave once observed a man who took his meals at a table that ‘had been cut away in a semicircle to accommodate his circumference’. Furthermore the man ‘not having slaves to help him, used a sling worn around his shoulders to carry his belly’. In 1789 a popular Gentleman’s magazine told of a man who hadn’t left his bed under his own power for three years. Allegedly pulleys were needed to accommodate a maid in changing the sheets. In 1889, an attempt was made to put a young French woman in Plaisance on exhibit. It was said that ‘eight men could not move her from her room’. As it turned out, she couldn’t fit through the door and the idea of exhibition was abandoned.

The problem with all of these tales, even those of the largest man to even walk the earth – Mills Darden – is that it is human nature to exaggerate. Even in cases where exaggeration is not evident – estimation is, thus this presented information is somewhat unreliable. So, is there any case in history where the bulk of evidence matches the human stature?

On March 13, 1770 a man was born in Leicester in England whose name would enter into the English language to be synonymous with colossal. Daniel Lambert was a fairly rotund man in his youth; healthy and stout. He was of average height and born unto average parents, he had two sisters and a younger brother – all of whom were average as well. He was an active man and unusually strong. At the age of 20, as his mass started to grow – he consciously remained active and watched his diet. However, in the 1790’s Daniel took over his father’s position as keeper of Leicester prison – and took up a stationary lifestyle. In 1793, he weighed 448 pounds – in a time when the greatest weight ever medically recorded in England was around 616 pounds. Despite his weight, Lambert was still quite strong and showed little sign of fatigue as he gave swimming and hunting lessons. However, his weight continued and in 1801, at 560 pounds, he could no longer hunt, his horse simply could not bear his weight. In 1805, his prison closed down and, after a brief time as a recluse and ballooning to a legitimate 700 pounds, he took to exhibiting himself for profit.Lambert was an exceptionally bright man, possessed of a razor wit and while most came to see him out of interest and respect – he did have to deal with the occasional heckler. His retorts were legendary. On one particular occasion an obnoxious fellow was persistent and adamant in knowing the cost of Lamberts waistcoat – a rather rude question in that era – when Lambert politely refused to answer the question the heckler remarked that since he had paid a shilling (the cost of admission) toward the cost of the coat, he had a right to demand any information about it. ‘Sir,’ replied Lambert, ‘I can assure you that if I knew what part of my coat your shilling would pay for, I would cut out that piece.’

During his lifetime, Lambert was the subject of many writings including the Medical and Physical Journal, countless flyers, newspapers and caricatures and even appeared in the Memoirs of Charles Mathews (a popular actor of the era). He rubbed elbows with the affluent in influential of the time. He met King George III, visiting officers of Napoleon, royalty, ambassadors and even an elderly Josef Boruwlaski – certainly a stunning meeting as the biggest man of that time met the smallest.When Lambert died in 1808, still in relative good health except for nagging knees, he weighed in at 739 pounds. His waist measured 9 feet and 4 inches. He was immensely popular due to his wit and easy going nature. People were in awe of not only his size, but of his spirit as well. Many regarded him as a true jovial, gentle giant – a reputation that would carry to the big jolly sideshow men and women who would follow in his ample shoes for decades.

Following his death, Lambert was featured in his own biography: The Life of that Wonderful and Extraordinary Heavy Man, the late Daniel Lambert. He was also featured in Granger’s Wonderful Museum and Magazine Extraordinary, Smeeton’s Biographia Curiosa. He is referred to in great novels like Barry Lyndon, Vanity Fair and even Charles Dickenson’s Nicholas Nickleby. Lambert’s popularity even spread to America following his death as P.T. Barnum displayed a wax version of Lambert, dressed in a suit of clothing purchased from the Lambert estate. During Barnum’s museum fire of 1865 – the wax representation was fittingly too heavy to rescue.

It was also Dicken’s who, in his magazine Household Words forever cemented the name Daniel Lambert with hugeness. Even today, there are numerous Pubs, Taverns and Inns named after Lambert – with the keepers hoping the clientele will associate the name with ample portions of food and drink. Oddly enough, Lambert likely suffered from a pituitary obesity – he reputedly never ate a large meal or drank beer.

The Mountainous Human Marvel is all but gone now, with only one Fat Man, Howard Huge, still traveling. The obese are no longer looked upon in wonder, interest and awe – rather with disgust and insensitivity. In fact just a few short years ago, at St. Martin’s churchyard in Stamford, someone spray-painted the word FATTY on Lambert’s tombstone.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

JULIA PASTRANA – The Nondescript

julia 793796 JULIA PASTRANA   The NondescriptThe prodigious Julia Pastrana was known by many monikers during her life and perhaps just as many names in death. Both her life and her death are rather sad tales, but they hold a very special place in sideshow history because, for a time, she was not considered a member of the human race.

Julia’s origins are shrouded in mystery. It is believed that she was born in 1834 to a tribe of ‘Root Digger’ Indians in the western slopes of Mexico. However, what is highly obvious is that Julia had appearance unlike any marvel before her on record. In addition to excessive hairiness over her body – predominately in the face – Julia also possessed a jutting jaw and swollen gums. In odd juxtaposition to her ape like features, Julia possessed great poise, and a well developed a buxom four and a half foot figure.

Her documented career began in 1854 as she was exhibited in New York at the Gothic Hall on Broadway as ‘The Marvelous Hybrid or Bear Woman’. Her ‘handler’ was one M. Rates who allegedly discovered the young Julia as a servant girl to the governor of Sinaloa, Mexico. While in New York, Julia attracted the attention of many scientific minds and media moguls. One newspaper described her as ‘terrifically hideous’ and possessing a ‘harmonious voice’ – which gives evidence that she sang during her exhibition. One of the members of Medical society to examine her was Dr. Alexander Mott who declared her ‘the most extraordinary beings of the present day’ and ‘a hybrid between human and orangutan’.

Julia then moved on to Cleveland with a new promoter, J. W. Beach, and it is there that Dr. S. Brainerd declared her a ‘distinct species’. That analysis was, of course, quickly added to all subsequent promotional materials.

Julia impressed many with her charm and grace. When invited to attend a military gala, she waltzed with many of the braver men there and, while in Boston – billed as the “Hybrid Indian: The Misnomered Bear Woman – Julia again impressed with her grace and singing voice. So much so that she was put on exhibition by both the Horticultural Society and the Boston History Society.

Julia was preceded in London, England by impressive newspaper announcements touting her as ‘a Grand and Novel Attraction’. Now going by the epithet ‘The Nondescript’ – a term that in this era mean something unexplainable – Julia was now being show by one Mr. Theodore Lent and was a rousing success. In fact, the bulk of the documentation on Julia comes from this time period, when London reporter could not stop debating her origins and describing her appearance in lengthy articles. In these articles, Julia is described as being very civilized and domestic. In addition to her native language, she also spoke Spanish and English quite well. She loved to travel, cook and sew. She willing gave herself to medical examination and was said to have an eager thirst for knowledge. These articles also seemed to emphasize that she was both happy and content with her situation and she did not covet wealth – though her ‘handler’ Mr. Lent surely did. During her performances in London, Julia sang romances in both Spanish and English and danced what are described as ‘fancy dances’ – likely traditional Spanish numbers.

After London Mr. Lent secured a tour of Berlin and in Leipzig, Julia played the leading role in a play called Der curierte Meyer. In the play, a young German boy falls in love with a woman who always wears a veil. When the young man was not on stage, Julia would lift her veil to the great amusement of the audience. The play ends with the young man finally seeing his beloved – and being cured of his infatuation. Following the play, the weekly magazine Gartenlaube published an extensive interview with Julia – an article published with a fantastic life sketch by the artist H. Konig (pictured above). The article consisted of Julia speaking on her tours of America and London and of the numerous marriage proposals she had received. She claimed to have turned down over twenty admirers because ‘they were not rich enough’. That was a response that the reporter suspected Mr. Lent had coached – in the hopes of attracting a rich suitor.That notion was short lived and Mr. Lent, wary of loosing his investment in Julia to rivals, married her in 1857. While there is evidence that Julia was infatuated with her husband, Mr. Lent was not a kind man. While in Vienna he forced Julia to undergo sensitive physical examinations and barred her from leaving their apartment during daylight. As their tour through Poland and on to Moscow continued, Mr. Lent became more and more controlling. In late 1859, while in Moscow, it was discovered that Julia was pregnant. The doctors feared a difficult childbirth due to Julia’s stature and narrow hips; however Julia was more concerned that the baby should take after its father. On March 20, 1860 her fears were confirmed when she gave birth to a hair covered newborn boy. The child lived only thirty-five hours.

Julia died five days later.

During her lifetime Julia, though treated little more than an object by her promoters, did meet many influential people. She was visited by P.T. Barnum himself and even Charles Darwin acknowledged her in his book The Variation of Animal and Plants under Domestication with the words ‘Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman – she had a thick and masculine beard’. Her condition at the time was unknown, yet given all the evidence: excessive hair, melodic voice, dental deformations and a child born with excessive hair– it is likely that she suffered from a form hypertrichosis lanuginose. All of her interviews and personal anecdotes promote the idea that she was a happy and content woman – pleased with her lot in life. Yet, one is left with a sour feeling when reflecting on the events of her life.

However, that is nothing compared to the feeling one suffers when recounting her afterlife.

Shortly after her death, Mr. Lent continued his commercial aspirations with Julia. He sold her corpse, as well as the body of his son, to Professor Sukolov of Moscow University. The Professor took the bodies to his Anatomical Institute, dissected them, and then – using unknown embalming techniques – mummified the bodies of Julia and her son. The entire process took six months and the results, while macabre, were impressive. Unlike the mummies of ancient Egypt, these mummified remains retained their color, texture and form and appeared very lifelike. Sukolov placed the mummies in the anatomical museum of the University where they attracted great crowds.

When Mr. Lent heard of the profit his wife and child were earning in death he went about legal proceedings to reclaim them. He presented his marriage certificate to the American consul and Sukolov was forced to release the remains. Lent tried to put the mummies on display in Russia but the authorities refused as they were outside the confines of a scientific institute. Thus, in February of 1862 Lent return to England to show Julia Pastrana again. The price was only a shilling and, with the added attraction of the mummified infant, the exhibit was packed with onlookers. Inside it was said that the ‘Embalmed Nondescript’ stood dressed in one of her many dancing costumes while her son stood to her left – atop a small pedestal and dressed in a sailor suit.

When the popularity of the exhibit began to fade, Lent rented the mummies to an English traveling museum of curiosities. In 1864 they were taken on a tour of Sweden. Most unbelievably, during that same time, Lent met a young lady with a condition very similar to Julia. In fact, unbelievably, the two looked so much alike that Lent married her as well and began touring her as Zenora Pastrana – Julia’s sister. The mummy rejoined Lent for a time and the four of them toured together, however Lent rented to mummies to a Vienna museum and began to claim that Zenora and Julia were one and the same.

Lent and Zenora retired to St. Petersburg in the early 1880’s and purchased a small waxworks museum. Lent was quite wealthy by this time however he was unable to enjoy his wealth as, shortly after retirement, he experienced a mental breakdown and disappeared behind the walls of a sanitarium. It is assumed that he died shortly thereafter.

Zenora left Russia for Munich in 1888 where she reclaimed the mummies and toured with then – this time to ‘prove’ that she was not Julia. In 1889 Zenora gave the mummies to an anthropological exhibit in Munich run by a man named J. B. Gassner before she retired again and remarried to a much younger man.

Gassner took the mummies to various German fairs and, in 1895, he took them to a large circus convention in Vienna and sold them to the highest bidder. In the next twenty-five years the mummies changed hands several times and showed up again in 1921 when a Mr. Lund bought them for his Norwegian ‘chamber of horrors’. At this point, it is unclear if Lund knew these mummies were real as the medical community considered them lost.

In 1943, during the German occupation, the chamber of horrors collection was ordered to be destroyed however Lund was able to convince authorities that a tour of the ‘Apewoman’ – as Julia was now called – would prove beneficial to the treasury of the Third Reich. For several year, Julia and her son toured German occupied territories.

In 1953, Lund stored his chamber of horrors collection, including the mummies, in a large warehouse just outside of Oslo. For several years rumors spread that the warehouse was occupied by a strange ape-like creature and one night in the mid 50’s teens broke into the warehouse and Julia terrified them – some 80 years after her death. The experience and rumors that followed grew so popular that Lund’s son Hans (Lund had since passed away) took the chamber out of storage and back on popular display until the mid 60’s. Still, no one truly realized that these mummies were actual human beings.

That changed in 1969 when Judge Hofheinz, a very wealthy American collector of the unusual hired a small team of detectives to track down the mummies of Julia and her child. It was a circus director named Rhodin who eventually tracked down some pamphlets and posters and made contact with Hans. Now aware of the priceless relic he now possessed, Hans instigated a bidding war only to decline all offers and put the mummies back on exhibit himself. The press picked up the story of Julia and the exhibit proved so popular that it toured Sweden and Norway in 1970. In 1971, they made their way back to the United States – over one hundred year after the living Julia began her career there. The tour was cut short in America due to public outcry and when Hans attempted to return to Norway – he was denied exhibition rights. Undeterred, Hans rented the mummies to a Swedish traveling show until good taste arrived and the exhibition was banned there as well. Defeated, Hans placed the mummies in storage in 1973.

In August of 1976, the storage facility was broken into and the mummies vandalized. The child was badly damaged as its jaw and arm were torn off. His remains were thrown in a ditch outside and before it could be located – it was almost entirely eaten by mice – only scraps remained. Julia now stood alone.

In 1979, the storage facility was again broken into and this time Julia was stolen. It was presumed that it too was destroyed.Then, in February of 1990, a Norwegian journalist discovered the mummy in the basement of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Oslo. In 1979 police responded to a call involving some children who found an arm in a ditch. A search of the area revealed the mummified body of Julia, badly mangled. Unsure of what to do or even what it was, the police brought the mummy to the institute where it remained limbo – no one really paying it any attention.

Monday, 3 October 2011


zip 722664 ZIP THE PINHEAD   What is it?So, what exactly is a pinhead?

A pinhead is a person born with a condition known as microcephaly. It is a neurological disorder and is characterized by a smaller than average head. Biologically, during conception the head fails to grow in time with the face – which continues to develop at a normal rate; this produces a person with a small head and a receding forehead. As the individual grows older, the smallness of the skull becomes more obvious, although the entire body also is often underweight and dwarfed. It is very common that the development of motor functions and speech are also usually delayed and mental retardation is common in persons with microcephaly. The term Microcephaly is really a blanket term for many similar disorders. It may be congenital or the result of various syndromes associated with chromosomal abnormalities. What is known is that pinheads have always been a very popular draw.

Most pinheads are shorter than average and have a very distinct appearance thus, during the early years of sideshow, many pinheads were exhibited as a variant species – The Missing Link or ‘The Last of the Aztecs’ were common monikers. There was one individual during the Golden Age of sideshow who was simply considered indescribable. Those who looked upon Zip the Pinhead simply had to exclaim, ‘What is it?’

Born in 1842 as William Henry Johnson, Zip was technically a pinhead – however his condition was not nearly as pronounced as many of the other pinhead performers. However he enjoyed an incredibly long and profitable career and over those many years he was known by many names. At various stages in his career he was ‘The Monkey Man’ or ‘The Man-Monkey’. He was also known as ‘The Missing Link’, the ‘What is it?’ and Zip the Pinhead.

While William was actually born in New Jersey, those who saw him on stage would swear that he was from another planet. When P. T. Barnum recruited him in 1860 and transformed him into Zip Barnum shaved William’s head –except for a small tuft on the top of his head – and dressed him in a bizarre fur suit and then pitched Zip as a missing link. Barnum claimed that zip was ‘found during a gorilla-hunting expedition near the Gambia River in western Africa’ and he also claimed that Zip was the member of a ‘naked race of men, traveling about by climbing on tree branches’.

Zip dove into his character. He would never speak during a performance and would only grunt when addressed or questioned. Legend actually has it that Barnum paid Zip a dollar every day to keep quiet and in character. By all accounts Zip earned that dollar by acting like a complete and total madman.

Charles Dickens visited and attended a performance by Zip in 1867 as a personal guest of P. T. Barnum. As he watched Zip on stage behaving like a lunatic – with his pointed head a hair suit – Charles learned into Barnum and asked quite seriously, ‘Barnum, what is it?’. Barnum was ecstatic at this reaction and repeated the ‘What is it’ phrase on posters, pamphlets and billboards so extensively that for a time many people thought the character William portrayed was actually named ‘What is it’, and not Zip at all. Regardless of the confusion, Zip became Barnum’s most consistent draw and due to that position Zip became one of the better paid performers – $100 a week in addition to that $1 a day ‘hush money’.

Zip outlasted Barnum’s solo ventures and continued to work with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey shows. He was often featured at Coney Island and in dime museums across the U.S. William’s character gradually evolved considerably from the Wildman persona and into more of a comedy act. Zip would carry around a pop gun a fired it off at other performers who threatened his popularity and he later took to playing a violin enthusiastically and so poorly that patrons would pay him to stop. It was also during this time that Zip assumed another nickname – he was known as ‘The Playful Pinhead’. During this time he was very well know for his comedic behavior. When patrons tossed coins onto the stage – as was common at the time – Zip would scurry about and toss the coins back, as if insulted by having someone throw something at him. As a publicity stunt, he came forward during the Scope monkey trial of 1925 and offered himself as evidence.

As he became older and a senior member of the sideshow community Zip became known as the ‘Dean of Freaks’ and he continued to perform into his 80’s until he passed on April 24, 1926 of bronchitis. His funeral was attended by hundreds of fellow performers as he was loved and respected by his peers. The funeral home on that day was filled to capacity with his fellow freak performers – all paying their last respects to the greatest marvel of the era. The funeral must have been quite the sight as mourners included giants like Jim Tarver, the Texas Giant and Jack Earle, the Tallest Man in the World and Fat Lady’s, like Jolly Irene, who required entire pews just to be seated. Other marvelous mourners were not as easily identifiable as Frank Graf, The Tattooed Man wore a modest suit and Joe Kramer, the man with the rubber neck, stood facing forward for a change. Many other human marvels attended the service – from swordswallowers to midgets- and all of them had known Zip for many years.

But there is a lot of speculation as to how well anyone knew Zip. There are a number of questions in regards to the true level of intelligence. Most pinheads suffer from serious mental retardation. However, many of the things Zip did during his lifetime hints that he was highly intelligent. First, and perhaps most convincingly, he maintained his public character 24 hours a day for 66 years. In 1925, Zip became a real hero as he saved the life of a drowning woman during a break from a Coney Island Dime Museum.

His manager through much of his career, Captain O. K. White, helped him save money and Zip died a wealthy man. He owned several houses –one bought and paid for as a gift from Barnum. He left his fortune to his beloved sister and died a famous icon that continues to live on. His manager Captain White claimed he never saw Zip unhappy except when he wasn’t on tour. ‘He amuses the crowd and the crowd amuses him,’ White once said.

Finally, rumor has it that on his deathbed, his final words to his sister were, ‘Well, we fooled ‘em for a long time’.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

GRACE MCDANIELS – The Mule-Faced Woman

gracemcdaniels 735272 GRACE MCDANIELS   The Mule Faced WomanGrace McDaniels was born in 1888, the same year that Jack the Ripper was terrorizing London, on a farm near Numa, Iowa to perfectly average parents. After winning an ‘ugliest woman’ contest in 1935, Grace joined up with F.W. Miller’s sideshow.
Grace likely suffered from Sturge-Weber Syndrome. Sturge-Weber Syndrome is a genetic condition which, in Grace’s case, caused a large, port wine coloured birthmark to thicken and distort the flesh of her face. Her condition was degenerative in nature and became worse with age. Shortly before her death, the fold of skin on her face hung more than four inches below her chin. Eventually, Grace had difficulty speaking due to the growth that enveloped her face.Grace was very sensitive about her appearance. She often tried to hide her disfigurement with makeup and then later, as her condition worsened she took to wearing a veil. Grace also greatly disliked being called a freak and hated the ‘World’s Ugliest Woman’ epithet used to advertise her appearances. She was often seen backstage covering her ears as not to hear the ballyhoo – the outside sales pitch – and the talker calling her a freak and detailing her deformities. However, as time went on and she began to make a good living with the sideshow, she became more and more comfortable with her condition and position in life. Eventually, she was able to convince the talkers and promoters to refer to her by the moniker she is know by today – Grace McDaniels the ‘Mule Faced Woman’.

Those who knew Grace said she was a wonderful, if shy, person. Later in life, Grace became a mother. A great deal was made of the event and for quite some time an almost fairytale mythology sprung up around the birth of her son Elmer. Contrary to those charming stories of love and marriage, the truth is that a carnival handyman – allegedly named Johnny – impregnated Grace while he was intoxicated and was never heard from again.

While Elmer was born a normal child, he grew into a physically and emotionally abusive alcohol and morphine addict who regularly stole from both Grace and from the sideshow – to pay off dangerous gambling debts. Acting as his mother’s manager, it wasn’t long before sideshows stopped hiring Grace due to the reputation of her son.

The sad life of Grace McDaniels ended peacefully in 1958 – and the true monster, her son Elmer, soon followed due to sclerosis of the liver.

Friday, 30 September 2011

ELLA HARPER – The Camel Girl

camelgirl 731920 ELLA HARPER   The Camel GirlMost sources indicate that Ella Harper was born in Hendersonville, Tennessee in 1873 – though there are some conflicting reports. What is not argued, however, is the fact that Ella was born with an unusual orthopedic condition resulting in knees that bent backwards. The nature of this unusual affliction is exceedingly rare and relatively unknown, however most modern medical types would classify her condition and a very advanced form of congenital genu recurvatum – also known as ‘back knee deformity’. Her unusually bent knees, coupled with her preference of walking on all fours resulted in her moniker of ‘The Camel Girl’.

In 1886, Ella was the star of W. H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus, often appearing accompanied by a camel when presented to audiences and she was a feature in the newspapers of every town the circus visited. Those newspapers touted Ella as ‘the most wonderful freak of nature since the creation of the world’ and that her ‘counterpart never did exist’.

The back of Ella’s 1886 pitch card is far more modest in its information:
ubl01016ej ELLA HARPER   The Camel Girl

‘I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation.’

It appears that Ella did indeed move on to other ventures and her $200 a week salary likely opened many doors for her. After 1886, no further references to Ella ‘The Camel Girl’ can be found.

PASQUAL PINON – The Two Headed Mexican

pinon8ip 775056 PASQUAL PINON   The Two Headed MexicanPasqual Pinon, was known as The Two-Headed Mexican and he was a featured attraction with the Sells-Floto Circus in the early 1900s.

The story went that Pinon had fled Mexico after loosing his family ranch to Pancho Villa. Due to his unique deformity he was able to display himself for a substantial amount of money and support his family of seven. The secondary head was immobile – its mouth constantly agape and its eyes blank and expressionless. The lack of movement was attributed to being paralyzed after Pinon suffered a stroke at the age of 20. Pinon was not an entertainer and the bulk of his performance consisted of simply sitting and occasionally lifting his chin into the air to better display the tuberous connection between his natural head and his tiny secondary.

The entire story of his origin was, of course, false. While it is quite possible to have two complete heads, a condition known as craniopagus parasiticus, a true parasitic head is always situated upside-down on top of the main head – as is the case with The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal. The second head of Pinon was a gaff – a fake.The true story of Pasqual Pinon is actually more interesting in its strangeness. Pinon was actually a railroad worker from Texas who had a large benign tumor growing from the top of his head. He was discovered by a sideshow promoter in 1917 while splitting rails. For some reason the promoter decided that the huge tumor protruding for the head or Pinon was not odd enough and decided to create a fake face – a mask of wax. That mask was placed over the growth and The Two-Headed Mexican was born. There have been some rumors that the mask was made of silver and was actually surgically implanted under the skin of the tumor – however, that is highly unlikely. Further rumors claim that this silver plate caused Pinon to go insane. Again, this is most likely nothing more than a promoter’s embellishment.

What is factual is that after several years of popular touring, the Sells-Floto Circus manager paid to have the cyst removed and Pinon returned to Texas. What happened to Pinon after that is unknown. It is assumed that he either retired or returned to his life as a laborer – with a little less on his mind.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

NICHOLI – The Little Prince

nicholia 749785 NICHOLI – The Little PrinceMany have claimed to be ‘The World’s Smallest Man’ but The Little Russian Prince may have actually lived up to that billing. Allegedly, the tiny man weighed less than sixteen pounds and stood only eighteen inches in height.
According to ‘A Sketch of the Life of the Russian Prince’ – a lengthy biography found on the back of his pitch card – Nicholi was born in Siberia in the 1870′s to a Russian Military Officer implicated in an assassination plot against the Czar. Found guilty, his father and mother were moved into a Siberian penal settlement and 14 months later, little Nicholi was born. He was discovered at the age of 28 when the Governor of the colony observed that the boy had never reported for mandatory military enlistment at the age of 21. When the tiny Nicholi was brought before him, the Governor was amazed. Eventually the Czar heard of the tiny man and demanded that Nicholi be brought to him. While before the Czar little Nicholi begged so convincingly for the freedom of his family that stunned Czar granted his request.
Despite his well-padded biography, very little is known about Nicholi. His appearance is somewhat unusual when compared to other ‘midgets’ of the era and there has been much speculation that Nicholi was not a midget at all. Rather, some believe that Nicholi was actually a child afflicted with the rare aging condition known as progeria.Progeria causes children to undergo physical changes associated with aging but at a highly accelerated rate. Children afflicted loose their hair, their teeth, and develop physical ailments and conditions commonly attributed to the elderly. Stunted growth and a fragile appearance are also major symptoms of the syndrome.
While Nicholi was billed as being in this mid-thirties, if he did indeed have progeria, he was likely no older than 10. Most people with progeria die before the age of 13. Thus, as his pitch card claims that Nicholi spoke Russian, Hebrew, English, and German – skills very unlikely in a 10 year old – his entire biography comes into question. The modern diagnosis does answer several questions and observations and would also explain Nicholi’s sudden disappearance – he likely only had a career of one or two years.
It is also possible, and much more plausible, that Nicholi had primordial dwarfism. Most primordial dwarfs, in addition to being short in stature, also exhibit several skeletal and endocrine disorders. Their appearance is not unlike Nicholi’s. Furthermore, on average, the lifespan of a primordial dwarf is quite short as well.Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, there have been less than 100 confirmed cases of progeria since its discovery in 1886 and while primordial dwarfism is more common, it is still quite rare. The Little Russian Prince, born in the 1870′s, predated the discovery of one of the syndromes that possibly afflicted him. He may very well be the first photographed case of progeria.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

CARRIE AKERS – The Warthog

carriefc7 787687 CARRIE AKERS   The WarthogEvery once in awhile, a Human Marvel comes along who is a multiple attraction. Often a Human Marvel may learn a few traditional sideshow feats to pad their status as a crowd draw. The Tattooed Sword Swallower, the Fat Man Fire Eater, The Singing Midget or The Armless Man who can paint a portrait are all example of this trend and all were often quite successful. However, few persons have actually encapsulated the characteristics of two separate traditional human marvel displays into one presentation. There have been no ‘hairy giants’ for example or ‘dwarf stone men’. However, Carrie Akers was a double feature in the world of sideshow – she was both a midget and a Fat Lady.
While the date of her birth is not certain, Carrie did hail from Virginian. She weighed a purported 309 pounds and stood only 34 inches tall. These traits qualifed her as both a midget and a Fat Lady, thus a ‘double feature’. Unlike the usually ‘Jolly’ copious performers of her time Carrie, as evident in many of her cabinet cards, was considered a very sour and bitter person. So poor was her reputation that she was eventually shunned from the sideshow community and she had a serious falling out with P. T. Barnum – serious enough for the showman to drop the potentially profitable Carrie from his roster of performers. Furthermore, her unfortunate epithet of ‘The Warthog’ was given to her not only because of her dimensions but also due to this hot temper and extremely rude reputation.There exist a few rumors that Carrie was also becoming a legitimate bearded lady, whether via biological or gaffed means. This would have made her a triple feature in sideshow – however it appears that she retired from show business shortly after her problems with Barnum.Most of her cabinet photos date between 1888 and 1889 and few photos of her exist today. This indicates that her career was not a successful one, likely due to her gruff personality. Not much else is known about Carrie following her short carrier. However, if she had gotten a few tattoos she could very well have been a complete sideshow all on her own.

Monday, 26 September 2011

FANNY MILLS – The Ohio Bigfoot Lady

bigfoot6cz 779878 FANNY MILLS – The Ohio Bigfoot Lady
Fanny was born in England in 1860 and immigrated to to Sandusky, Ohio shortly after her birth. From an early age, Fanny began to show signs of Milroy’s Disease. Milroy’s is essentially a Lymphedema – a gross swelling, fluid building and discoloring of the soft tissue – localized only to the lower extremities. It is most common in women, with seventy to eighty percent of all those afflicted being female, and the severity of the inherited condition varies.
Although Fanny was a tiny woman, weighing in at a lithe 115 pounds, her feet expanded to require a size 30 shoe.
Fanny’s feet were said to have measured more that nineteen inches long and seven inches across. Her shoes – rumored to be made from the skins of three goats – were slipped on over pillowcase socks. She was unable to walk without assistance and, when she began exhibiting herself at Dime Museums in 1885, she brought along her friend Mary Brown to serve as a nurse and attend to her special needs.
It did not take very long for promoters to label fanny the ‘Ohio Bigfoot Lady’ and litter the areas surrounding the dime museums and the carnivals Fanny attended with posters and pamphlets. Promoters also began to issue a strange promotional challenge. A reward of five thousand dollars was put up to any man willing to marry the Ohio Bigfoot Lady.
The challenge was successful as droves of bachelors came out to the show to take a look at Fanny – all paying an admission fee to see her. Many of these men were hoping to marry Fanny. However Fanny was already married to a man named William Brown – a man who happened to be the brother of her friend and nurse, Mary Brown. Furthermore, he married her free of charge.At her peak she was earning more than $150 a week – a small fortune at the time. However after giving birth to a stillborn child in 1887, Fanny’s health began to fail. Her health eventually forced her to retire in 1892.
Fanny returned home to Ohio with her husband William. She died that same year.