Friday, 28 October 2011


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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 October 2011

BILL DURKS – The Man with Three Eyes

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

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

Thursday, 6 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

JULIA PASTRANA – The Nondescript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia died five days later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 October 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 October 2011

GRACE MCDANIELS – The Mule-Faced Woman

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

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

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

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