Saturday, 13 August 2011
STANLEY BERENT – Sealo the Seal Boy
Stanislaus Berent was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 24, 1901. ‘Stanley’s’ stunted arms, a condition known as phocomelia, were due to a genetic fault and likely not due to chemical exposure. Phocomelia is a common defect associated with exposure to the drug thalidomide. Over 10,000 children were born with severe malformations due to prescription of the drug during the 50’s and 60’s.
According to many accounts, Stanley was discovered selling newspapers. He went on to appear in every major sideshow and dime museum in the United States. Calling himself ‘Sealo’, as phocomelia literally translates to ‘seal arms’, his performance consisted of completing mundane tasks without the use of full limbs. An ingenious stick and hock device often allowed Sealo to complete nearly any task. Furthermore, what truly set him apart from the other limbless marvels was his spectacular personality. He was loved by everyone, from colleagues, to spectators and even members of the animal kingdom. While touring with Ward Hall, Sealo befriended a young chimpanzee. When spectators mocked or teased Sealo, the chimpanzee was known to attack.Perhaps due to orthopedic issues, or just a matter of comfort, Sealo often stayed in hotels rather than camp on the fairgrounds like many other performers. This practice, which may have seemed elitist, was simply accepted by his peers and no issue was ever made of it. Again, his character likely got him off the hook.
In 1972 Ward Hall’s show came under attack from a political correctness group who believed the workers were being exploited. An obscure 1921 Florida law that banned the exhibition of the ‘handicapped’ was cited. Sealo, Ward Hall and a band of performers sued the State of Florida and the law was eventually repealed.
In 1976, Sealo retired to Gibsonton and eventually returned to Pittsburgh when his health began to falter. He passed away in 1980. His career spanned over 30 years.