Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bill Durks - The Man with Three Eyes

Bill 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.

Onc 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.

The Alligator-Skinned Twins

Esther Parnell was born in Kenly, North Carolina on March 5th, 1926. She was one of six children and while her sister and three of her brothers were born with perfectly average skin, Esther and her brother William were afflicted with ichthyosis.

There are several forms of ichthyosis, a rare skin condition that derives its name from the Greek word for fish, but the siblings were particularly scaly and were quickly compared to the alligators found hunting in the Carolinas. Besides creating extremely dry and cracked skin, serious ichthyosis also impedes hair growth. As a result both siblings were made miserable due to sparse hair. Esther, especially, was devoid of a full head of hair and eyelashes. The hairless and scale-covered siblings furthered the unusual appearance of the siblings and, following their education at St. Mary’s College in Raleigh, the two alligator-skinned marvels began their exhibition career.

William was commonly known as Aloa the Alligator Boy and Esther was known as Alice. Together, they were often billed as ‘The Alligator-Skinned Twins’, despite not being actual twins. In fact, much of their promotion material harkened back to Barnum-like tall tales. According to one of their pamphlets, their appearance was due to their mother being frightened by an alligator while pregnant with ‘the twins’. In another, despite being twins, the pair were of different ages. Sometimes their first names or surnames were altered, sometimes they were orphans and sometimes the pair ‘baffled medical science’ with their condition. Together, the siblings travelled almost exclusively within the United States with West's World Shows, Endy Bros. Shows, Cetlin-Wilson Shows, Royal American Shows and Clyde Beatty's Circus Sideshow.

By all accounts, William was a good man who happened to drink too much. He eventually fell into alcoholism and his addiction shortened his life substantially. He passed away in 1959.

Esther, on the other hand, flourished with her charming smile and enchanting personality fascinating all who met her. She married Thomas Blackmon at the age of twenty-two and would come to be best known as The World’s Strangest Mother in 1928 when she gave birth to her first child. In total, Esther gave birth to a total of six children. All were born healthy and with perfect skin.

Professionally, Esther became a member of the Greater Tampa Showmen's Association and was officially involved in show business for 56 years. In addition to exhibition, she was also featured briefly in two movies. In 1973, Esther appeared opposite Dr. Who’s Tom Barker in ‘The Mutations’, also known as 'The Freakmaker' and later she appeared in 'The Sentinel' in 1977 with fellow marvels Bill Durks and Robert Melvin.

When Esther Blackmon passed away on August 24 in 2003 she left behind six children, 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

She passed away only twelve days after her beloved husband.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Lori and George Schappell

Lori and George Schappell, born September 18, 1961 in Reading, Pennsylvania, are American entertainers. George Schapell was born Dori Schapell, and was known for several years as Reba Schapell.As conjoined twins, Lori and George have acted in an episode of Nip/Tuck, playing Rose and Raven Rosenburg. They have also appeared in a number of television documentaries about their lives as well as talk shows.

As country singer Reba Schappell, George has performed widely in the United States, and has also performed in Germany and Japan. In 1997, she won the L.A. Music Award for Best New Country Artist. She also sang Fear of Being Alone as the voice-over to the credits of a spoof on conjoined twins, Stuck on You.[1]

Previously, George designed support equipment for people with physical handicaps, including her own specialized wheelchair, and a mobility aid for dogs. She is also a trophy-winning bowler.

Lori acts as George's facilitator. She works in a laundry, arranging her workload around George's singing commitments. Lori says that, as a fan of George's, she pays to attend her concerts, just like all the other fans, simply making herself quiet and "invisible" while her sister is on stage.[2]

On June 21, 2007, Lori and George Schappell, took part in grand opening of "Ripley's Believe It Or Not ! Odditorium" in Times Square in New York. This is the first time they were billed as Lori and George Schapell.[3]

[edit] Lifestyle

Born as Lori and Dori Schappell, the sisters are craniopagus conjoined twins, joined at the head and sharing 30% of their brain matter, but having very different personalities and living, insofar as possible, individual lives. As a mark of individuality, and disliking the fact that their names rhymed, Dori changed her name to Reba. By 2007 she was preferring to be known as George.

While Lori is able-bodied, George has spina bifida which has caused growth retardation of her lower body and severe mobility impairment. The two women are therefore of very different heights. There was no wheel chair that suited George's unique condition, as to move around, she must be raised to her sister's height, to avoid undue strain upon Lori's neck and back. The only thing on wheels that was the right height was a bar stool. Using this as the foundation, George designed the wheelchair that she currently uses. One of the benefits of having a high wheel chair is that, unlike most people in conventional wheelchairs, the user is raised to about the height of a standing adult, which better facilitates normal communication.

Lori and George spent the first twenty-four years of their lives living in an institution in Reading in which the majority of inmates suffered severe intellectual disability. Although neither is intellectually disabled, George's condition required special care. A court decision was made that their parents would be unable to care for them properly and they were removed and institutionalized. In the 1960s there were few hospital institutions for those people who had special needs that were unusual. In order that they might be placed in the institution, they were diagnosed as suffering from intellectual disability. When they reached adulthood, George, with the help of Ginny Thornburgh, wife of a former Governor of Pennsylvania, fought to have this diagnosis overturned and Lori and George were able to go to college.[4]

They live in an apartment, each maintaining their own private space. George has several pets. They respect each other’s privacy in terms of work time, recreation and friendships.

In 2006, George was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Reading, PA. Lori did not join the LDS Church, but has been supportive of her sister's decision.

Video Reba Schappell - "The Fear of Being Alone"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Robert Wadlow

Robert Pershing Wadlow

Street Parking Accessible Attraction

Robert Wadlow was a pituitary giant, someone who grows enormously due to an overactive pituitary gland. He was born in Alton, Illinois on February 22, 1918, a completely normal baby, 8 ½ pounds. However, by the time he was a year old he weighed twice normal, 44 pounds. By nine years he'd reached 6', 2", by sixteen he hit 7', 10", and weighed nearly 400 pounds. At the time of his death in 1940 he was 8', 11.1" tall and weighed 439 pounds making him the world’s tallest person in history, according to the Guinness Book of Records, surpassing the record previously held by an 8', 4" inch Irishman who died in 1877.

Robert was the first born of Addie and Harold Wadlow, who later had four other children. Despite Robert's size, all of his family members were of normal height and weight. He tried to maintain a normal life as a child. Robert enjoyed collecting stamps and matchbooks, joining the YMCA, and taking up photography. When he joined the Boy Scouts at age13, he became their tallest member at 7' 4". In 1936 Wadlow received a scholarship from Shurtleff College of Alton and planned to become an attorney. He found college life difficult due to his size. Pens and pencils were difficult for him to use. Lab instruments were a nightmare. He quit after one year mostly because he could scarcely walk in icy winter conditions and he had difficulty moving from building to building between classes. His bones were brittle, and a single fall could put him in the hospital.

At the age of 19 he joined the Ringling Brothers Circus and at age 20 he came a goodwill ambassador for the International Shoe Company. In a specially converted automobile Robert and his father made a goodwill tour of the West Coast. The company thereafter gave him complimentary size 37 shoes for which he had been paying $100!

While otherwise remarkably healthy, he did have considerable trouble with his big feet. He had little sensation in his feet and did not feel any chafing until blisters formed. While making an appearance at the National Forest Festival in Manistee, Michigan in July 1940, a fatal infection set in when such a blister formed. On July 4th, doctors had Robert confined to a hotel bed, unable to find suitable accommodations at the local hospital. On July 15th, after emergency surgery and blood transfusions, Robert passed away in his sleep.

His body was brought back to his hometown of Alton for burial two days later. The 1,000- pound casket required twelve pallbearers, assisted by eight other men. It was placed in a 12' long reinforced concrete tomb. Out of respect for Alton's "Gentle Giant," all city businesses closed for the funeral. Over 40,000 people attended the funeral and burial services. Robert's gravestone simply reads "At Rest." A life-size bronze statue of Wadlow was unveiled in 1985 on the grounds of SIUE’s Dental School. Wadlow's grave is in nearby Upper Alton Cemetery.

Ella Ewing The Missouri Giantess

Ella Ewing, the Missouri Giantess, was born on March 9, 1872. By the time she died on January 10, 1913, she had reached a height of 8 ft. 4 1/2 in., officially the world's tallest woman at that time.

During her lifetime, she gained for herself a nice living traveling with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. But years of touring had taken its toll, and on a cold and snowy January morning, she succumbed to tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Ben Ewing, Ella's father, contacted young Fred Gerth from Wyaconda. In those days of horse and buggies, it took Fred most of the morning to make the 8 mile trip from Wyaconda to Gorin. He took an apprentice with him to help with the embalming, which in those days was done in the home.

Frederick Gerth, Jr., recounted the story that his father told him, "He said that he got the call that Ella Ewing had died and that he had no idea how would be able to embalm her. She was so tall that there was no equipment available. He had a portable embalming table called a cooling board, which was at operating height. He went into her bedroom and opened up the folding table, which is about two foot wide and six feet six inches long, which was too short for her. He discovered that her specially made dining room chairs were so tall that the seat of the chairs was the same height as the table. He placed one at each end of the table and placed her body on it and was able to embalm her," Frederick Gerth recounted.

Ella Ewing had long wished that her body be cremated, so as she would not be made a spectacle by scientists or worse -- grave robbers. But Ben could not bear to do that to his beloved daughter. He was very insistent that Ella have a regular funeral, but that she also have a burial that would not be vulnerable to vandals. So Fred went about the task of embalming her 260 lb. body.

Fred suggested a cement-lined steel vault to permanently seal the remains, so as they could not be exhumed later. Ben Ewing then presented Fred with another request, find a casket large enough without crowding her. Fred had intended to just construct a pine box for her, but now it was a matter of pride to honor Mr. Ewing's wishes.

On the cold ride back to Wyaconda, Fred came up with an idea. He contacted the Embalming Burial Case Company in Burlington, Iowa, and they informed him that they had an oversized display vault for advertising purposes from the Baker Vault Co. The salesman said he would contact the foreman of the casket factory and see if they could make a casket to fit the vault.

After some time, the salesman called Fred Gerth back and said they could build the casket, but he would have to come to Burlington to give his authorization to it. Gerth then boarded the train for Burlington while the factory made the casket. When he arrived at Burlington, he checked it out to make sure it would work, and then he returned with the casket and vault to Wyaconda. He then loaded the casket and drove on to Gorin.

When Fred got to Gorin on the morning of January 12, 1913, he had not slept for two days. Upon arriving at the home, he and a group of Miss Ewing's friends and neighbors placed her body in the casket. They then prepared the room for visitation. A weary Fred Gerth, showered with praise and gratitude for the job he had performed, promised to return the next day for her ride to her funeral.

Before he could rest though, Gerth had another problem to deal with. The regular horse-driven hearse was not long enough to hold the large casket. But he did have a second hearse that had a seat high in the front. In order to make it work, Fred removed the lower half of the front wall of the hearse so that the casket could be slid all the way into the compartment and then under the driver's seat, so no part of it extended past the loading end. Thus, the rear doors could be closed and prevent the casket from falling out on the bumpy and muddy roads. This switching from the regular hearse to the second hearse, has over the years, led to many false claims as to whom actually has the real hearse used in the Ella Ewing funeral.

Ella Ewing's casket, with two representatives from the Embalming and Burial Case Company from Burlington, Iowa. One man is the salesman that called on Fred Gerth, the other the president of the company. They are holding a ruler which marks the length of the casket. In the top right hand corner, the sign reads," FRED GERTH, EMBALMER, WYACONDA, MO." Underneath is the steel burial vault.

So on the sunny morning of January 13, 1913, Fred Gerth arrived at the Ewing home to take Miss Ella to her final resting place. It required ten men to move the casket to the hearse. They stopped and placed the casket on a new church truck for just one minute so a photographer from the Gorin Argus newspaper could snap a picture.

"On the way to the church, (Fred Gerth) said that when they got a mile from the church, there were teams of horses and buggies all tied up to the fences on the side of the road," Frederick Gerth said. "When they got to the church, they found that neighbors had brought stoves and put them up in the church yard, keeping some of the large crowd warm."

After the service, Miss Ewing was buried in the cemetery adjoining the Harmony Grove Baptist Church. When they went to the cemetery and placed the casket in the vault, they poured cement on the vault before they covered it up so that no one could remove the body.

Ella Ewing is still remembered even today. George Baskett, while serving in the Missouri House of Representatives many years later, had a statue of her placed in the capital at Jefferson City. Around Northeast Missouri, there are still several reminders of her, including the lake that bears her name near Gorin. The Scotland County Historical Society, located in the Downing House in Memphis, has a large display of many of her personal effects. The Downing House used to be a hotel, which Ms. Ewing would stay in before returning home to Gorin after being on tour with the circus. One of her specially made shoes is a top attraction. This year a woven throw which features her image along with many other landmarks in the county is being sold to help raise money for the Historical Society.

The funeral of Ella Ewing presented a unique challenge to Fred Gerth, but the quality of service and high standards he set are still remembered. That devotion to professionalism and quality has been passed on through the generations, and it is still the cornerstone that Gerth Funeral Service operates on today

Ella Ewing's funeral leaving the specially designed house custom built for her size. Fred Gerth, in the fur hat and coat, is at the front left of the casket. Tragically, the house burned in 1965. Several attempts had been made to preserve it, but all failed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pauline Musters - The Little Princess

In the history of the world, little Pauline Musters is the smallest mature woman ever recorded. Pauline is currently listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having stood only 1 foot 11.2 inches in height.

Born on February 26, 1876 in Ossendrecht in the Netherlands Pauline Munster’s was almost half of her final height straight from her mother’s womb. At birth, she was just over 12 inches. At age nine, the tiny dynamo weighed only three pounds and in adulthood Pauline Munster weighed less than nine pounds. Her measurements at age 19 were 181/2 -19-17, meaning she had curvy little figure and in truth she had no shortage of male suitors.

Pauline began her profession career as an infant at which time the public simply marveled at her tiny proportions, but as she grew older Pauline took to performing as well. She was eventually known for being an adept acrobat and for skilfully dancing with partners drawn from the audience. As her performances progressed in quality, Pauline took on many unique stage names. She was perhaps best known simply as Princess Pauline and on par with her name she took to wearing remarkable elegant gowns on stage, with details and stitching so minute that the garments themselves were a wonder to behold.

During her career, Princess Pauline toured Belgium, Germany, France and Britain before being invited to perform in the United States in 1894. She debuted in New York City’s Proctor’s Theatre on New Year’s Eve before and stunned and thoroughly charmed audience. She performed with a grace that moved those who saw her. She was a fairy, a tiny regal princess on a huge stage dancing out what she felt in her heart – and it was beautiful. Princess Pauline quickly became the darling of New York.

Tragically, while Pauline’s star burnt brilliantly, it expired far too quickly. Shortly after arriving in New York the diminutive Princess contracted pneumonia and meningitis. Pauline Musters succumbed to illness on March 1, 1895 in New York and the world lost its smallest but greatest miracle.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Joseph Merrick - The Elephant Man

The times and tribulations of Joseph Carey Merrick have long been the subject of books, films and theatre. As a result, ‘The Elephant Man’ is without a doubt the most famous human prodigy of all time. His story garnered the sympathy of Victorian England and after the span of one hundred years, his plight remains no less heart wrenching or inspiring.

Joseph Merrick was born on August 5, 1862 in Leicester to Mary Jane and Joseph Rockley Merrick. He had a younger brother and sister and was completely normal until the age of three. In an autobiographical note which appeared on the reverse side of his freak show pamphlet, Merrick noted that his deformity first manifested with small bumps appearing on the left side of his body. By the time he was 12, and his mother passed away, Joseph’s deformities were severe. When his father remarried, his stepmother expelled him from the house and young Joseph began struggling not only against his deformity, but starvation and homelessness as well.

For a time, Joseph Merrick attempted to earn a living by selling door-to-door and on the street. Despite hiding his face behind a burlap mask, Merrick still endured the constant harassment of local children and many adults. His sales attempts were futile and he eventually ended up in the Leicester Union workhouse.

Victorian workhouses were not friendly places. They were akin to prisons, where the unemployed and unemployable toiled in the most unwanted laborious tasks of the era. Due to his progressing deformity, Joseph was soon unable to manually work at all and on August 29, 1884 he took a job as a curiosity attraction.

Contrary to film accounts, Merrick was well treated as an exhibit and well paid for his time. While on exhibit on Mile End Road in London, now the London Sari Centre, his path first crossed with Dr. Fredrick Treves. Treves, who would later chronicle and befriend Merrick, gave him one of his business cards after Merrick politely declined an examination. When human curiosity exhibits were outlawed in the United Kingdome in 1886, Merrick travelled to Belgium for work. There he was indeed mistreated and ultimatly robbed and abandoned by his promoter. He also contracted a severe bronchial infection further complicated by his deformities.

Upon his return to London, Merrick was the involved in a disturbance at Liverpool Street train station when his masked appearance and twisted body caused hysteria. Merrick was unable to speak due to his bronchial infection but had retained the business card of Dr. Treves, which he presented to authorities. Treves was quickly summoned from the London Hospital and soon arranged for Merrick to be given permanent quarters in the hospital.

It was during this time that Joseph Merrick thrived.

Despite a living in constant physical and emotional pain, Merrick possessed an indomitable spirit. He quickly became the subject of much public sympathy and something of a celebrity in Victorian high society. Alexandra, then Princess of Wales and later Queen Consort, demonstrated a kindly interest in Merrick, leading other members of the upper class to embrace him. He eventually became a favourite of Queen Victoria. However, Treves later commented that Merrick always wanted, even after living at the hospital, to go to a hospital for the blind where he might find a woman who would not be repelled by his appearance and love him. In his later years, he found some solace in writing, composing remarkable heartfelt prose and poetry.

In the summer of 1887, Merrick spent time vacationing at the Fawsley Hall estate, Northamptonshire. Special measures were taken for his journey there as he was forced to travel in a carriage with blinds drawn. Merrick enjoyed his time away from urban London greatly and collected wildflowers to take back with him to London. He visited Fawsley Hall again in 1888 and 1889.

Merrick was cared for at the hospital until his death at the age of 27 on April 11, 1890. He died from the accidental dislocation of his neck due to its inability to support the weight of his massive head in sleep. Merrick, unable to sleep reclining due to the weight of his head, may have tried to do so in this instance, in an attempt to imitate normal behaviour.

Joseph Merrick was originally thought to be suffering from elephantiasis. In 1971, Ashley Montagu suggested in his book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity that Merrick suffered from neurofibromatosis type I, a genetic disorder also known as von Recklinghausen's disease. NF1 is still strongly associated with Merrick in the mind of the public; however, it was postulated in 1986 that Merrick actually suffered from Proteus syndrome, a condition which had only been identified in 1979.

In July 2003, Dr. Charis Eng announced that as a result of DNA tests on samples of Merrick's hair and bone, she had determined that Merrick certainly suffered Proteus syndrome, and may have had neurofibromatosis type I as well. As it stands, many people still mistakenly refer to his condition as elephantiasis.

Merrick's preserved skeleton was previously on display at the Royal London Hospital. While his remains can no longer be viewed by the public, there is a small museum focused on his life, which houses some of his personal effects and period Merrick memorabilia.

Note: While Joseph Merrick is better known as John Merrick, it is not his birth name. Sir Fredrick Treves recalled the name as such in his memoirs. It is unclear if Treves recalled details incorrectly or if Joseph Merrick went by John.

Julia Pastrana - The Nondescript

The 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.

Apparently it is still there – tucked away in some corner covered with a dusty blanket.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Talented Tongues.

When we saw these images we did try to stretch our tongue, just to see whether we can touch the tip of our nose, but it turned out we aren't one among them. Would it really make any difference if you have a longer tongue or if your boyfriend has it? Well we don't think so; then again some may disagree for various reasons!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Johann Petursson - The Viking Giant

At one point, Johann Petursson was the tallest man alive. He was officially dethroned during his lifetime by the colossal Robert Wadlow but he is arguably the better remembered giant due to his showmanship, personality and longevity.

Johann was born in Dalvik, Iceland on February 9, 1913. He began life as Johann Svarfaelingur, the third child of nine and the only one of extraordinary size. By the time he was twenty-years-old, Johann stood a purported eight feet, eight inches tall and wore a size 24 shoe. He was a gentle man, a man of soft words and warmth. Despite towering over them, children loved Johann and he was more than happy to hoist them onto his shoulder.

During his adolescence Johann was a popular young man, due more to his outgoing personality than his height. In fact, he wasn’t treated as a ‘big deal’ in his town and the locals barely raised an eyebrow when the giant walked by. Petursson was just another one of the lads, well liked by all. Unfortunately, due to his height, he was unemployable in his hometown. Johann could not squeeze into the tiny local shops.

In 1934, Johann left for Denmark and it was there that he realized he could earn a living simply by exhibiting himself. He had a fine suit made to fit his mammoth frame, his measurements were taken by a team of three men, and he then set off in search of fame and fortune.

Johann Petursson proved to be quite successful throughout Europe. He performed in music halls in an act with two dwarfs. His tiny partners would play miniature accordions while Petursson stood between them and played instruments of enormous proportion. The act continued for several years until World War II. During the conflict Petursson found himself stranded in Copenhagen where he took a job in the shipyards and waited out the war.

Unlike many giants, who are actually quite physically frail, by all reports Johann was in good health and incredibly strong. His time at the shipyard went quickly and effortlessly. At the end of the war Petursson resumed touring Europe until he was discovered by John Ringling, of the Ringling Bros., and was contracted to appear in the United States.

Johann Petursson began touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show during their 1948 season. Dressed in his Edwardian top hat and tails he began to command a salary of $200 a week. He also began selling giant-sized rings as souvenirs. While these rings fit his finger, one could also pass a silver dollar through them.

Petursson’s time with Ringling Bros. was brief. He soon joined a sideshow managed by Glen Porter and it was under the management of Porter that Johann would develop his most famous trademark. Porter, aware of Johann’s Icelandic and Nordic roots had his wife craft a costume consisting of Viking regalia and a giant helmet. Johann became known as The Viking Giant and his marketability instantly soared.

Eventually, Johann proved so popular and such a shrewd businessman that he broke away from management and went into business for himself. Petursson created a ‘Single-O’ show, a travelling show in which he was the only attraction. He saved over $50,000 in just five years which was a sizeable amount considering the era. Johan then decided to exhibit his enormous dimensions on the movie screen. In 1950 he starred opposite Jayne Mansfield as the prehistoric giant Guadi in Prehistoric Women. Thirty years later, he was featured in Carny, opposite Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. In 1981, he was featured in the astounding documentary Being Different with fellow marvel Robert Melvin.
At the age of 69, an incredible age for a giant, Johann initially retired to Gibsonton, Florida. His health, however, proved to falter quickly and soon he joined his brother in his beloved hometown of Davlik. Johann Petursson died there on November 26, 1984. A museum now sits not far from his grave. His possessions still draw curious crowds and a stir sense of wonder.
Watch a video of Johann here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Smallest Girl in the World

14-year-old Jyoti Amge stands 1 foot 11 inches tall and weighs 11 pounds!

She has a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia and won’t grow any taller than her current height.

Due to her size, Jyoti has to have clothes and jewellery made for her. She sleeps in a tiny bed and uses special plates and cutlery to eat, as normal-sized utensils are too big.

Despite this, she goes to a regular school in Nagpur, central India, where she has her own small desk and chair, and her classmates treat her like any other student.

Jyoti is a celebrity in her hometown, and will soon release a musical album. She hopes to be a Bollywood actress someday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Charles Tripp - The Armless Wonder

During his time, Charles Tripp was not only the most well known armless wonder, he was also one of the most famous Canadian entertainers of his era. Born in Woodstock, Ontario on July 6, 1855 Charles Tripp owed much of his fame to his performance partner and dear friend Eli Bowen.

Charles Tripp was born without arms. But, as a young boy, he quickly adapted and became phenomenally adept at using his legs and feet as competently as a fully formed man would use their arms and hands. He was never exhibited during his youth but was well known locally for performing rather mundane daily tasks in extraordinary ways.

As a young man, Charles Tripp grew restless in his small hometown. As fortune would have it, at the age of seventeen, Charles heard of a showman in New York who exhibited special people with unusual talents. Seeing this as his opportunity for fame and fortune Charles Tripp packed his bags and headed to New York determined to meet the showman. All he had was a name, but that proved to be more than enough. The showman was P.T. Barnum.

Upon his arrival in New York, Tripp located Barnum’s office and marched in unannounced. Barefoot, he demonstrated his morning routine by combing his hair, folding his clothes and putting his socks on. Barnum hired Tripp immediately. His career would last more than fifty years.

Tripp performed many feats during his various exhibitions. Initially, most were of the daily mundane variety. His daily shave was always a crowd pleaser. But as Tripp grew into a learned and well traveled man his repertoire reflected his maturity. Eventually Tripp became well known for his elegant penmanship, woodcarving, paper crafts, painting and photography.

Charles Tripp spent the bulk of his career touring with Barnum and eventually Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey shows. Tripp was able to command as much as $200 a week during these tours, a figure supplemented by sales of his autographed cabinet cards.
It was during his partnership with Eli Bowen that Charles Tripp was truly able to attract public attention. Pairing an armless man with a legless one was surely a stroke of showman brilliance but it was a moment of jovial playfulness that would cement Tripp and Bowen into history. While the pair posed for promotional photographs one of them spotted a tandem bicycle. In no time at all the two gents not only mounted the bicycle-built-for-two, but rode off together laughing as boys would. The photographer quickly snapped the pair mid-ride and the resulting surreal photograph still draws perplexed smiles.

Tripp married late in life, in his early seventies. Following the marriage he limited his touring to North American dates. Aided by his wife, Charles Tripp toured until the day he died. In January of 1930 Tripp passed away due to asthma in Salisbury, North Carolina.

He was seventy-four years old.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Man Who Feels No Pain

Imagine having a giant spike stuck through your face, all the way from mouth to chin, or walking across a bed of broken glass. You'd have to be the ultimate masochist to endure such pain – unless you're Tim Cridland, otherwise known as Zamora, the "Torture King."

Cridland was born without the ability to feel physical pain. Though Cridland believes the strange phenomenon is due to his mental power, researchers who've studied others with the same condition believe that it may be caused by a rare genetic mutation, which prevents the brain from reacting to painful physical stimuli. Unfortunately, the condition doesn't prevent the sort of mental torture promised by Paris Hilton's new reality show. If you think you can take it, check out this video of Zamora's agonizing stage show.

Toddler with super human strength

Toddler Has Superhuman Strength

By Kathryn Hawkins
Gimundo Correspondent

You know those hulking gorilla-men who lift cars above their heads, toss cannonballs, and drag airplanes in a competition to be named World’s Strongest Man? Those guys better start stocking up on their spinach — there’s a new contestant on the scene, and his name is Liam Hoekstra.

Imagine an amped-up version of Michaelangelo’s David statue, and you’ve got Liam. He’s got almost no body fat, 40 percent more muscle mass than the average person and Superman-level strength and speed. Granted, he’s not hauling airplanes down the street just yet — but give him a break: He’s only 19 months old.

The ultra-brawny toddler from Roosevelt Park, Mich., was born with myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, or muscle enlargement. Because of this incredibly rare condition, Liam’s muscles develop at a rate much faster than the average person’s — only two days after his birth, the infant was able to stand up with support. More recently, he’s moved onto Olympic-caliber iron crosses.

Fortunately, doctors aren’t aware of any negative side effects to Liam’s bizarre condition. "He's a normal kid. He's just got that lucky twist," Liam’s doctor, Erlund Larson, told The Associated Press. "It's going to be fun to watch him grow."
The Strongest Man competition may still be a while off for little Liam. But in the meantime, he can amuse himself by bending the monkey bars in half at his preschool playground, maybe juggling a few pianos. You know, normal kid stuff.

The Ice Man

He's run a half-marathon in the Arctic Circle region – in bare feet. He's been entombed in ice for 72 straight minutes. He's swum 80 meters beneath a layer of ice. He's climbed partway up Mount Everest, clad only in a pair of shorts.

This man is known, unsurprisingly, as The Iceman. And no, he's not a new character on Heroes – he's a 48-year-old Dutchman named Wim Hof, who has the ability to control his body's temperature through an ancient form of meditation known as Tummo. Though Tummo is normally practiced only by monks, Hof has mastered the art form to such an extent that he never feels cold, even in sub-zero temperatures that could cause severe hypothermia, or even death, should us normal people attempt such stunts.

Hof's incredible abilities confound common scientific beliefs, and the Iceman has been the subject of many studies to see whether there is anything unusual about his body that allows him to embrace freezing temperatures. But as far as they can tell, it's really all in his mind: "It's very easy to speculate that the same mind control that you use to control your heart when you're scared also can be called upon to control the other organs in the body. And maybe that's how Wim Hof does this," Dr. Ken Kamler told ABC News. "That's … it's speculation, but it sort of makes sense, and a lot of scientists are working very hard to try to figure this out now."

It's a bitterly cold winter day and students on the University of Minnesota campus are bundled up, hurrying to their next class. Wim Hof, dressed in shorts, sandals and nothing else, appeared from the doorway of a school building.

He's known as 'The Ice Man."
Submerged In Ice

Scientists can't really explain it, but the 48-year-old Dutchman is able to withstand, and even thrive, in temperatures that could be fatal to the average person.

From the Arctic Circle to Mount Everest

It's an ability he discovered in himself as a young man 20 years ago.

"I had a stroll like this in the park with somebody and I saw the ice and I thought, what would happen if I go in there. I was really attracted to it. I went in, got rid of my clothes. Thirty seconds I was in," Hof said. "Tremendous good feeling when I came out and since then, I repeated it every day." It was the moment that Hof knew that his body was different somehow: He was able to withstand fatally freezing temperatures.

Hof began a lifelong quest to see just how far his abilities would take him. In January of 1999 he traveled 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle to run a half-marathon in his bare feet. Three years later, dressed only in a swimsuit, he dove under the ice at the North Pole and earned a Guinness World Record for the longest amount of time swimming under the ice: 80 meters, almost twice the length of an Olympic-sized pool.

When he didn't experience frostbite or hypothermia, the body's usual reactions to extreme cold, his extraordinary ability started to get the attention of doctors who specialize in extreme medicine.

Dr. Ken Kamler, author of "Surviving the Extremes," has treated dozens of people who tried to climb Mount Everest, and instead nearly died from the frigid temperatures. He couldn't believe it when he got word of a Dutchman making the ascent with no protection other than a pair of shorts.

"People are always looking for new firsts on Everest. It's been climbed so many times now, people climb it without oxygen, they … they climb it with all different kinds of handicaps. But no one has come close to climbing Everest in those kinds of conditions," Dr. Kamler said. "It's … it's almost inconceivable."
Hof made the expedition in shorts.

"It was quite easy," Hof said. "I was in a snowstorm before, say, on the fifteen, sixteen thousand feet up 'til eighteen thousand feet."

"I know my body, I know my mind, I know what I can do," Hof said. And he says he can withstand heat as well as cold.
Nearly Naked, Surrounded by Ice

Dr. Kamler met Hof for the first time at the Rubin Museum in New York, where Hof was set to break another Guinness World Record, this time for remaining nearly naked in ice poured up to his neck.

Hof came out of the museum, stripped to his swim trunks and climbed in a 5-foot tall plexiglass container filled with ice. Once he got in, they poured more ice into the container until it reached his chin.

All the while, Dr. Ken Kamler monitored Hof from outside the tank.

Normally, when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures for a prolonged period of time, the body goes into survival mode, as its liquids begin to freeze.

Frostbite sets in, and in order to save the major organs, the body sacrifices blood flow to the extremities, cutting circulation from the fingers, toes, ears and nose to keep the blood flowing to the organs necessary for survival.

If not treated immediately, the damage to these extremities is irreversible. The other danger is hypothermia, an abnormally low body temperature. At about 90 degrees, body functions start shutting down, and once that starts, you could be dead within minutes.

But Hof stayed in his tomb of ice for one hour and 12 minutes. Then, the ice was poured out of the tank, and Hof emerged, his skin still pink.

"He's not moving, he's not generating heat, he's not dressed for it, and he's immersed in ice water. And water will transmit heat 30 times faster than air. It literally sucks the life right out of you. And yet, despite all those negative factors, Wim Hof was very calm, very comfortable the entire time that he was immersed in that water," Kamler said.

It was a new entry for the Guinness World Records, but really, no one else out there seems able to compete with him. He just keeps breaking his own records.
Response to Cold 'Completely Obliterated'

At the hypothermia lab at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, scientists who've studied the cold for years say they've never seen anything like it.

Dr. Robert Pozos and Dr. Larry Wittmers, director of the lab, hooked up Hof to heart rate and core temperature monitors to evaluate his body's response after being submerged in an extremely cold water tank.

A normal response might include intense pain, cardiovascular stress and mounting hysteria, but with Hof, it's a much different story.

As he went into the tank, Dr. Wittmers explained, "What you're seeing basically is a situation in which the usual response to a shock or a cold was completely obliterated. There was no — none of the usual response you would see. And those responses that you see in most individuals that are exposed to that type of situation are uncontrollable."

From inside the tank, Hof said, "I feel the cold is a noble force, as they always say, and for me, right now, these readings are important but this is what I do every day in the winter, because I like it."

Since there's nothing abnormal about his body, all doctors can tell is that Hof's secret must lie in the wiring of his brain.

"It's very easy to speculate that the same mind control that you use to control your heart when you're scared also can be called upon to control the other organs in the body. And maybe that's how Wim Hof does this," said Kamler. "That's … it's speculation, but it sort of makes sense, and a lot of scientists are working very hard to try to figure this out now."

One answer might lie in an ancient Himalayan meditation called "Tummo," which is thought to generate heat. Hof began practicing the ritual years ago.

"Legends abound of practitioners of Tummo sitting out on the ice naked except for wet sheets that they have draped around them, and as they meditate, the sheets dry and the ice melts around them, even though it's freezing temperature," Kamler said.

The Mystery of Swimmer Lynne Cox

If there's one ice-lover who has baffled scientists as much as Hof, it's American swimmer Lynne Cox.

At 15, Cox swam the English Channel in 14 hours, a Guinness World Record. She has also written two books about her adventures: "Grayson" and "Swimming to Antarctica."

Like Hof, Lynne soon discovered that she had an almost super-human ability to survive in frigid water. In 1987, she became the first person to swim across the Bering Strait, from Alaska to what was then the Soviet Union, in 38-degree water.

And in 2002, she set a new goal: to swim a mile through the massive icebergs of the Antarctic.

Like Hof, Cox prepares herself by somehow using her mind to control her body's temperature.

"I went into the cabin and sat down and focused and breathed and thought about how I was gonna enter the water, how I was gonna do the swim. I sort of … I went through a mental rehearsal of it all. And that preparation, my body knew that I was going to jump into very cold water," Cox said. "Before I went in the water, one of the doctors took my core temperature, my internal temperature, and found it was 102.2."

The water was 32 degrees and hovering near the freezing point.

Without a wet suit or a dry suit, in wind gusting 35 knots, Cox used metal steps to enter the water.

"As I came down, it was like stepping on ice trays," she said.

She began swimming between the icebergs.

"That was amazing to be able to physically do it," she said.

But how do they do it? Kamler said the answer lies deep in the brain. "It's a mystery that we have not yet come close to solving, although we do have tantalizing clues," he said. "It tells us that there's enormous potential within the brain that is going untapped. And if we can study them more, and study people like them more, maybe we can unleash that potential for the rest of us."

11-Year-Old Kid Bound for NBA

A fifth-grader who belongs in the NBA. Or better yet, the Harlem Globetrotters!

11-Year-Old Kid Bound for NBA Of course, if he doesn`t make the NBA, he can always join the Harlem Globtrotters with all those moves he has.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jeffrey Hudson - Lord Minimus

The tale of tiny Jeffrey Hudson is unique, to say the least. The tiny man famously known as ‘Lord Minimus’ and considered one of the ‘wonders of the age’ was a member of the royal court, fought in the English civil war, killed a man in an illegal duel, was eventually reviled and spent over 25 years as a slave.

Jeffrey Hudson was born to average sized parents in England’s smallest county, Rutlan, on June 14, 1619. His three brothers and half sister were all of average height and Jeffrey’s tiny, yet perfectly proportioned, dimensions quickly became apparent. His father tended the cattle of the Duke of Buckingham, George Villers, 1st and on his seventh birthday young Jeffrey Hudson was presented before the Duchess of Buckingham as a ‘fine rarity of nature’. The Duchess was so smitten the little man who stood only 18 inches tall that she invited him to join the household. His father approved.

Only a few months after joining the household, the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles and Queen Henrietta in London. At the climax of the celebration, during an opulent banquet, a pie was placed before the Queen. Jeffrey arose from the crust of the pie dressed in tiny suit of armour to the shock of all in attendance. The Queen was known as a collector of rarities and simply had to add Jeffrey to her collection. Jeffrey was invited into the Queen’s royal household and, in 1626, he accepted by moving into Denmark House in London.

Jeffrey was one of several human marvels residing in Denmark House. The Welsh giant William Evans was among his housemates, as were two other dwarves. It is important to note that dwarves were not an uncommon sight in royal courts of Europe, but Jeffrey’s dwarfism was rare and unique. His perfect proportions were likely due to hypopituitarism, a lack of growth hormone, giving him the appearance of a man in miniature. In carnival slang he was a midget, in medical and correct terms he was a pituitary dwarf. Jeffrey proved to be a charming, humorous and light-hearted boy and he quickly became the Queen’s favourite member of court and a favourite of artisans and writers. In fact, he was celebrated in several poems and narratives during his early years.

Jeffrey was educated in the Queen's household and learned the manners of the court. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church of her household and he learned to ride a horse and shoot a pistol. He was originally something of a jester but as he grew older, and displayed examples of intellect and cunning, he began to serve the court in diplomatic affairs. In 1630 he was included in a mission to the Queen’s home nation of France and in 1637 he travelled to the Netherlands to observe the siege of Breda.

By 1642 the relationship between King Charles and the Parliament had deteriorated and armed conflict broke out between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. As Charles led the Royalist army, the Queen and Hudson returned to the Netherlands to raise money and support for King Charles. When they returned to England, they found it in the midst of a full-blown civil war.
They were able to join Royalist forces at Oxford and there the Queen appointed Hudson a ‘Captain of Horse’ rank and Captain Jeffrey Hudson presumably commanded troops in cavalry raids orchestrated by Prince Rupert.

By 1643 it became apparent that England was no longer safe for the Queen and Hudson escorted her to France and later he helped establish a new court in exile at Nevers. By this time Hudson had shed his previous clownish reputation and he took his rank and social position quite seriously. He tolerated no insults or entertainment at his expense and when insulted by the brother of William Crofts he challenged the man to a duel. Hudson chose pistols on horseback and shot Crofts through the head. Despite winning the duel, the episode proved to be the downfall of Hudson. Duelling was illegal in France and the murder of Crofts was regarded as a transgression again the hospitality of France. Adding to that William Crofts, who served as the Queen’s Master of Horse and head of her lifeguard, was livid and petitioned the Queen to administer justice. The Queen herself was both embarrassed and outraged by Hudson’s outburst and subsequently expelled Hudson from her court.

Hudson’s life continued its downward spiral and shortly after leaving the court in 1643 he was aboard a ship captured by Barbary pirates. The Muslim pirates were well known for raiding the coasts and shipping lanes of Western Europe for plunder and slaves and, as was their custom with European captives, Hudson was taken to North Africa as a slave. There he spent the next 25 years of his life labouring.

The date and circumstances of his rescue are not known but in the 1660’s several missions were sent from England to Algeria and Tunis to ransom English captives. During one of these routine ransom missions Captain Jeffrey Hudson was likely amongst a group of slaves release was negotiated for. His first documented presence back in England was in 1669.

Upon his return, Hudson was a changed man. Most remarkable was that during his captivity he had added forty-five inches to his height. Such growth spurts are not unheard of in cases of pituitary dwarfism but the added height was not a blessing to Hudson as he was now simply a short man and not a tiny miracle.

Few records of Hudson's years between 1669 and his death in 1682 exist, likely due to the fact that he was no longer a marvel. It is evident that he received a few grants of money from the Duke of Buckingham and the new King, Charles II. In 1676 he personally returned to London seeking a pension from the royal court. His timing was again disastrous as he arrived during a period of great anti-Catholic activity. He was imprisoned at the Gatehouse prison for the ‘crime’ of being Roman Catholic and he was not released until 1680.

The ‘wonder of the age’ Captain Jeffrey Hudson died only a couple of years later, a penniless pauper. The exact date and circumstances of his passing, and his place of burial remain unknown.

Dick Hilburn – The Quarter-Man

Man is often greater than the sum of his parts.

On January 15, 1918 an infant named Dick Hilburn was born in Bladenboro, North Carolina. He was born physically incomplete.

Dick Hilburn was born with a single arm and physically little else. He possessed no left arm and no legs, only a vestigial two-toed foot protruded from his left hip. Yet, despite what would normally be considered a crippling handicap, Dick Hilburn possessed an unconquerable spirit and indomitable work ethic which allowed him to not only surpass expectations but to also exceed the ambitions of many able-bodied men.

Dick Hilburn conquered his mobility limitations with little more than a rolling board. He used his arm to propel and steer his body and in the process developed great physical strength. That strength allowed him to hoist his body wherever he willed it with relative ease.

Having dealt with his mobility issues, Hilburn focused on developing his mind and ingenuity. He proved to be a talented artist and became fairly well know for his skills with a tattoo needle. He was also sought after as a commercial painter of signs, banners, trucks and semi trailers.

He possessed a natural business sense and rather than rely on showmen for exhibition purposes, Hilburn developed and operated his own show. He exhibited himself on his own terms and, later, added a second attraction. A young parastremmatic dwarf, a dwarf with twisted limbs, named Carl ‘Frogboy’ Norwood joined the venture and Hilburn generously provided for the both of them. During the off season the two operated a local diner, which was also owned by the one-armed wonder Dick Hilburn.

Successful in life, art and business Hilburn was also successful in love. He later married an average woman who had all her fingers and toes.

Dick Hilburn ran his sideshow until the day he died in June of 1971. He lived his life as any man free of handicap would. His only limitation in life was his mortality.

As for Carl Norwood, he was managed my Hilburn’s widow for a short time before joining up with the great showman Ward Hall. He toured for a few more seasons before retiring and passing on in Atlanta on Feb. 24, 1976.

Robert Melvin - The Man with Two Faces

The moniker ‘The Man with Two Faces’ has been given to many Marvels during the history of sideshow. While few actually had two faces, Robert Melvin came pretty close. Born in
as one of six children, it quickly became evident that Robert was different. He was examined quite extensively by doctors during his childhood and yet his condition remained undiagnosed for many years. I wasn’t until later in life that Robert was finally diagnosed with neurofibromatosis; a disorder that causes the spontaneous growth of fibrous tumors.

Neurofibromatosis, or NF as it is commonly referred to, is quite varied in its visible symptoms. Some patients are greatly deformed, some grown small nodules or ‘knots’ on their bodies, and some have little more than a few small brown birthmarks. There has been great speculation that Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man, had NF. One look at the facial deformities Robert possessed and their similarity to those of The Elephant Man gives some merit to those assumptions - although, it is still mere speculation. For a time, Robert was even known as ‘The Modern Elephant Man’. Many people were so shocked at Robert's appearance that many believed he was a fake - even a few noted doctors and sideshow historians.

The tumors that afflicted Robert completely distorted the features on the right side of his face. While Robert was not allowed to attend school as a child due to his appearance, he did receive a full education and - through the power of his unbelievably outgoing personality - he became rather well known, respected and loved by his small town neighbors. He never considered his appearance a handicap. In fact, once he entered the world of Sideshow in 1949 at
, his appearance became a great advantage.

Robert made a comfortable living with the sideshow both as an attraction and serving as the show accountant. During the off season, Robert kept busy doing the books for a hardware store. He also enjoyed a minor film career, appearing as a sanitarium inmate in Sisters (1973) - along with fellow Marvel Bill Durks - as a surreal demon in The Sentinel (1977) and also in the documentaries Being Different (1981) and I Am Not a Freak (1987).

In 1952, Robert returned to his hometown and married his longtime girlfriend Virginia – a girl he had know since his mid teenaged years - and despite rumors that ‘it would never last’ the pair were married for more than forty years. The two had a daughter, who later gave Robert a grandson and granddaughter.

Robert was known by friends and family – including the extended family he met in the sideshow – as a friendly, gentle, charming and intelligent man. When he passed away on November 19 in 1995, his funeral was well attended by those who loved and respected ‘The Man with Two Faces’ for the Marvelous man that he was.

Rosa & Josepha Blazek - The Bohemian Twins

The conjoined sisters Rosa and Josepha Blažek were born in Skrejšov, Bohemia on January 20, 1878. The two were pygopagus - joined at the posterior. They shared tissue and cartilage but were also joined at a thoracic vertebra. It was that delicate fusion that negated any possibility of separation and when their mother took them to Paris at the age of thirteen, doctors told her just that.

It was in Paris were the twins began their career in professional exhibition. Depending what story you believe, until that point their mother was either adamantly against displaying her daughters for profit or limited their publicity to local fairs. But the twins themselves saw Paris as an opportunity to get out of their tiny village. They found a manager, learned to sing and play the xylophone, and began drawing crowds.

Like many conjoined performers, much was made of their differences in personality and tastes. Rosa was considered the sharper of the two. She was witty and talkative while Josepha was introverted. Physically Rosa was the more dominant of the two sisters. Josepha was slightly more deformed than her sister, with her left leg being substantially shorter than her right. In matters of promotion the pair was heavily sexualized and posters for their appearance at the Theatre Imperial de la Gaiete featured with bared midriffs and tight corsets. As a result the public conjectured on their sexual activity and the complications their physical condition posed.

The Blažek sisters were famous in the 1890’s as they toured Europe. They eventually become quite skilled on the violin and stunned crowds with their enthusiastic duets. But, by the turn of the twentieth century, their popularity quickly evaporated due to poor management and overexposure.

Their obscurity was shattered in 1909 when Rosa claimed to be pregnant. Controversy spread like wildfire and rekindled their celebrity.

To the public, the idea of such a liaison was bewildering. Although the twins had separate vaginae, their physical proximity seemingly made any tryst a ménage à trois. The newspapers filled with rumour laced articles. Some believed the twins were sex crazed harlots; others depicted Josepha as an unwilling victim. Rosa claimed she had only had intercourse once and she refused to name the father. There was much speculation that their manager was the father and legend has it he gave the girls 95,000 marks for three years to keep the duo quiet. Regardless of the paternity, on April 16 1910 ‘Little Franz’ entered the picture.

As Franz grew, he joined the twins' travelling show as ‘The Son of Two Mothers’ and with their newfound celebrity the three of them left Europe and appeared in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in New York. The twins set their sights on vaudeville and established a base in Chicago but their dream of the American stage was cut short when Rosa fell ill with influenza. As Rosa recovered, Josepha became sick and her illness soon overcame her. Doctors were uncertain of the diagnosis and shortly after being admitted into Chicago’s West End Hospital on March 22, 1922, Rosa fell into a coma.

A brother, Frank, appeared out of nowhere and once Rosa also succumbed to a coma Frank spoke for the sisters. Newspapers disagree on the final days of the Blažek twins. Some claim Frank would not allow any attempt at surgical separation and others claimed Rosa was adamant about remaining joined or just as adamant about being separated. All newspapers agreed that Frank was a gold digger who only had his eye on their fortune.

Josepha Blažek died on March 30, 1922. Rosa followed her twelve minutes later. With their death, another media frenzy began around who was entitled to their fortune. Soon after they were laid to rest, the matter was a moot point. It was discovered that the pair only had a savings of $400 between them.


Even today, much controversy exists regarding the origins of Franz. Many historians and authors believe that the boy was nothing more than a well timed publicity stunt. When an autopsy confirmed that the two had separate uteri, it fails to mention any evidence of pregnancy. In fact, any evidence points to the contrary.

In addition, stories of the paternity of Franz changed during the time the boy toured. At one point it was claimed that the baby boy was named after his father, a soldier named Franz Dvorak. It was claimed that Rosa married the soldier shortly before his death in 1917. But there is no record of the marriage, nor did the man ever appear publicly with his family. It was likely a story engineered to evoke sympathy and further attendance.

It is known that Franz did spend time in an orphanage, and some believe that is where the boy originated from in the first place.

The fate of Franz is currently unknown as he disappeared into history following the death of the Blažek twins.

Millie-Christine - The Two-Headed Nightingale

Millie and Christine were born into slavery on July 11, 1851 in the town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. The girls were joined at the spine and their owner, a blacksmith named Jabez McKay, was not sure what to do with the girls. Their parents, Monimia and Jacob, had previously sired seven children but clearly the twins would be of little use to McKay due to their bizarre appearance and sickly constitution. Eventually McKay opted to sell the eight-month-old girls and their mother to Carolinian showman John Pervis for $1000.

Pervis began exhibiting Millie and Christine immediately but within four years the girls were sold to showmen Joseph Pearson Smith and Brower and then kidnapped. The kidnappers exhibited the twins privately, mostly to members of the medical community, for over three years while Smith and Brower frantically searched for their investment. They eventually located Millie and Christine while they were on exhibit in Birmingham, England. The law became involved in the situation and, as slavery was illegal in England, the girls were released into the custody of their mother. She, however, had no idea how to proceed with the girls in a foreign country and as a result she gave custody and 'ownership' back to Smith.

While Smith continued to exhibit Mille and Christine, he found the public was not very interested. At the time, the anatomical novelty of conjoined twins simply was not enough to capture public attention. Smith decided to develop Millie and Christine as a performing act. Furthermore, he endeavoured to make the girls as extraordinary in skill as they were in appearance. To that end, he and his wife tutored the girls in music and languages. Millie and Christine were taught etiquette, social graces and were given music lessons. It came to pass that the girls developed impressive singing abilities and their singing prowess soon became the focal point of their careers.

As ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ the conjoined girls started to gain a remarkable reputation. While Millie was a contralto and Christine a soprano, the girls were able to blend and harmonize their voices in incredibly appealing ways. By 1860, Millie and Christine were on the cusp of stardom.

In 1862 Smith died. The girls were willed to his son Joseph Jr. and it was Joseph who catapulted the girls to stardom by using a clever bit of showmanship.

Throughout much of their life, Millie and Christine were often considered one person. Due to their shared body, it was often unclear if the girls were legally and physically a single being or individuals. The girls themselves often referred to themselves in the singular, using ‘I’ in the place of ‘we’. Joseph Jr. saw opportunity in this confusion and opted to advertise the girls from a new perspective.

The girls became Millie-Christine, a girl with two heads, four arms and four legs.

The concept of such an incredible phenomenon drew immediate crowds and Millie-Christine enjoyed immediate and world-wide popularity. Furthermore, it was the singing of ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ that quickly gained predominance over appearance and Millie-Christine eventually performed for European royalty, including the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria. Mille-Christine became renowned for singing, playing the guitar and piano in unison and dancing the waltz in front of thousands of people in the greatest halls and venues of the world.

Soon, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and Millie-Christine was free. During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than $250,000.

Millie-Christine preformed until the age of fifty-eight. Once retired, Millie-Christine became Millie and Christine once again. The sisters built a home in Columbus, North Carolina where they lived quietly until their passing on October 8, 1912. Millie went first, succumbing to tuberculosis, and her sister followed seventeen hours later.

They were sixty-one, the oldest conjoined twins on record.

Jean Carroll - Love Hurts

What would you do for love?

In her time, Jean Carroll was a popular bearded lady. More importantly, Carroll was the real deal. Born in 1910 in Schenectady, New York Jean Carroll possessed the genuine foundation of a fine silken beard at the age of ten, when she joined the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. As she aged, that foundation of follicles flourished and soon provided Carroll with a stable career in carnival exhibition.

As a young lady Carroll met a charming young Ohio man and quickly fell in love. The object of her affection was John Carson. Carson was a charming and handsome man. He was a contortionist and sideshow talker and he was actually quite taken by the sweet-hearted bearded girl. He was certainly attracted to Carroll but the beard was simply too much for him to overcome. While he continued to be friendly with Carroll, he pushed aside any romantic aspirations and focused on friendship.

For fifteen years the two saw each other almost daily. As Carson got to know Carroll for the woman she was, behind the whiskers, he fell deeply in love with her. Carroll saw that love in him and it pained her. She knew he would never be able to accept the beard and she, in turn, could not give up her source of livelihood and her home in the carnival. As she cried one night, sword swallower Alec Linton suggested a painful solution.

“Shave the beard and become a tattooed woman.”

Soon, the beard was gone and in its place were over 700 intricate designs by famed tattooist Charlie Wagner. The pain involved in the process was likely excruciating but the investment was wise. John Carson was completely smitten, apparently having no problems with illustration over facial hair, and the two wed almost immediately following the ‘close shave’.

They remained with the carnival. John continued on in his old job as a charming sideshow talker and Jean Carroll exhibited her new tattoos quite thoroughly, as a burlesque dancer.

The two remained inseparable until John’s passing in 1951.