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.

Eli Bowen - The Legless Acrobat

The remarkable Eli Bowen was born in Ohio on October 14, 1844 as one of ten children. While his siblings were physically average, Eli was born with his disproportional feet attached directly to his pelvis.

In essence, Eli Bowen was a man born with feet but no legs.

Despite his physical configuration, or perhaps because of it, Eli strived to live an extraordinary life. He endeavoured to not only overcome the limitations of his deformity, but strived to be the best in a profession know for its perfect physiques and physically taxing routines.

Eli Bowen wanted to be an acrobat.

Eli learned early to use his arms and legs to compensate for his lack of legs. Eli would hold thick, wooden blocks in his palms and use them as ‘shoes’, elevating his torso in order to walk on his hands. As a result of that process as well as steady farm labour Bowen developed enormous strength and even in adulthood he was able to navigate his 140 pound frame anywhere he chose. He started his professional career at the age of 13 in various wagon shows before eventually touring independently, performing in dime museums and finally touring Europe with Barnum and Bailey Circus. He garnered a reputation for being a magnificent and effortless tumbler and acrobat and for his phenomenal feats of strength.

Billed as ‘The Legless Acrobat’ Eli Bowen was known for his remarkable tumbling abilities but was applauded internationally for his extraordinary routine known simply as ‘the pole routine’. While Eli stood only twenty-four inches in height he had no reservations about climbing a thirteen foot pole in order to balance on a single hand at its peak. Griping the pole Eli would stretch his torso straight, parallel to the ground, and spin around the pole. Eli would then hold himself parallel to the pole using only his right arm. The routine not only displayed Bowen’s strength, but was also unusually graceful. Soon, Eli Bowen was commanding a salary of over $100 a week.

As he grew into adulthood, Eli Bowen also became well known for his handsome looks and, at one point, he was considered by many to be the most handsome man in show business.

Eli Bowen’s good looks drew many female fans to his performances. At the age of 26 Eli married 15-year-old Mattie and together he eventually fathered 4 healthy sons. He took great pride in his family and the majority of the photos featuring Eli feature his family as well. In fact, as Eli was so regularly photographed a collector can actually watch his children grow into young men and, eventually, adults.

Bowen continued to perform into his 80’s simply because he loved performing. His sons were prosperous, one became a merchant and another became a lawyer and judge and Eli owned property, specifically two farms in Michigan, and so money was never much of a concern. Eli simply loved life in the public eye and could not give up performing.

On May 2, 1924 Eli Bowen passed of pleurisy just days before a scheduled performance for The Dreamland Circus at Coney Island. During his long career he was regarded with great reverence by his fellow performers. They lovingly referred to him as ‘Captain Eli’.

Friday, March 14, 2008