Thursday, July 16, 2009
Hypertrichosis is a rare genetic condition that results in extreme hairiness. It is sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome”. Only about 50 cases in history have been documented. There is some speculation that Esau, son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, may have had hypertrichosis. He was described in the Old Testament as born covered in red hair, and was referred to as a hairy man by his brother as an adult. Here are several more cases.
Petrus Gonzales was born in the Canary Islands around 1556 and taken to be presented to French King Henri II due to his unusual appearance. As a member of the court, he was educated and showed great intelligence. He married and produced five hairy children, three daughters and two sons. A grandchild was also reported with hypertrichosis, and possibly more descendants were affected.
Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834 with hypertrichosis terminalis, meaning her entire body was covered with hair several inches long. She also had a deformed mouth with huge teeth, leading one doctor of the day to declare that she was ‘a hybrid between human and orangutan’. Pastrana was only four and a half feet tall but had a womanly figure. She began a career in freak shows at age 20, and was “managed” by several other handlers before she met exhibitor Theodor Lent, who eventually married her. At venues all over Europe, she was billed as part human, part animal but charmed audiences with her intelligence and grace. Pastrana spoke three languages and sang and danced on stage. At age 26, Pastrana gave birth in Moscow to a son who was also covered with hair, and who died within two days. Julia herself died five days later. Pastrana’s body was traded around for exhibit and is profiled in the post 6 Restless Corpses.
Shaolin Grand Master Tai Djin
Tai Djin was born in Fukien, China in 1849. His parents, not knowing what caused their baby’s hairiness, abandoned him in a forest. Tai was found by a monk who took him to the Shaolin Temple where he was cared for by the Shaolin Masters. Tai grew up to be highly educated, knowing he wouldn’t have much of a life outside the temple. He threw himself into learning martial arts -not just one discipline, but all of them! Tai achieved the title of Grand Master and is known from that point on as Su Kong Tai Djin. He was revered by his many students until (and even after) his death in 1928.
Fedor Jeftichew was billed as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1868 to a father, Adrian Jeftichew who also had hypertrichosis. The father and son appeared in sideshows together until P.T. Barnum brought the younger Jeftichew to the US in 1894. The sideshow story was that Jo-Jo was raised in the wild and captured by hunters. Although Fedor could speak three languages, he played his part and barked for the audience. In his time, Jeftichew was one of the highest-paid sideshow attractions in the world. He died in Turkey in 1904.
Lionel, the Lion-faced Man was born Stephan Bibrowski in Poland in 1891. Rejected by his mother as an “abomination”, he was taken in by a German sideshow exhibitor when he was four years old. Bibrowski was a very intelligent man who spoke five languages and once aspired to become a dentist. His side show act included gymnastic tricks. Bibrowski appeared with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in the early part of the century, and at Dreamland Circus in Coney Island in the 1920s. He moved to Germany upon retiring from show business, and died of a heart attack in 1932. He was only 40 years old.
Percilla Lauther Bejano was born in 1911 in Puerto Rico, the only one of five children to be born with excessive hair. Her mother consulted with doctors, but could find no treatment for her. Percilla was adopted by exhibitor Karl L. Lauther after her own father was killed and she toured with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition. She was educated and articulate, and sang and danced in her exhibit. Percilla fell in love with another sideshow exhibit named Emmitt Bejano, who suffered from ichthyosis and was billed as the Alligator-Skinned Man. The two married in 1938 and remained madly in love until Emmitt’s death in 1995. They were billed as “The World’s Strangest Married Couple” when they toured with Ringling Brothers. Percilla and Emmitt appeared in the 1980 film Carny. Percilla was introduced to a new generation of admirers when she appeared clean shaven on The Jerry Springer Show in 1997. Percilla passed away in 2001 at age 89.
The Ramos Gomez Brothers
Larry and Danny Ramos Gomez are brothers born in Mexico, both with hypertrichosis. They were exhibited in a sideshow from infancy. They later joined a circus and learned to perform as magicians, acrobats, and trapeze artists. Their siblings and about 20 members of the extended family are affected by hypertrichosis. Danny’s daughter is affected, but Larry’s son is not. A production company is working on a reality TV show featuring Larry Ramos Gomez, who is divorced, in which he will look for a new love.
Times have changed, although there is still no cure for hypertrichosis. Pruthviraj Patil of India and Supatra Sasuphan of Thailand are accepted by their peers despite their hairy appearance, and hope to live normal lives with everyday occupations. Other stories of hairy people include Barbara Urslerin, Shwe-Maong of Burma, and Alice Dougherty the Minnesota Wooly Baby, among others.