Sunday, 22 May 2011

Budhia Singh

Budhia Singh (born 2002) is an Indian boy and the world's youngest marathon runner. Generally considered an athletic phenomenon and India's Wonder Kid, Budhia has participated in (and finished) races of up to 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) in roughly six hours and thirty minutes.
Budhia's running ability has led to celebrity status and he has appeared in a number of television commercials. These commercials and Budhia's fame have allegedly lead to significant financial gains on the behalf of the late Mr. Biranchi Das, Budhia's coach. Controversy over the nature of these gains had led to accusations of exploitation against Mr. Das and an official inquiry by Indian child welfare officials was launched on 4 January 2006. It has since been proven that Mr Das never received the alleged money.
On 8 May 2006, a government statement had ordered that Budhia stop running until the age of 11. He has been awarded a sports scholarship for excellence.
On 13 August 2007, Biranchi Das was arrested by Indian police on suspicion of torture. Singh accused his coach of beating him and withholding food, and said he would give up running. The police said they had arrested and charged Das with criminal intimidation. Das claimed that Singh's family made up the charges because of financial reasons and petty rows. He said he recently expelled Singh's sister from a judo school he ran because she misbehaved, and he had refused to build Singh's mother a new house. However, Singh showed reporters scars he said were left by the coach's mistreatment. "He hung me upside down from a ceiling fan," he told reporters. "He locked me in a room for two days without food." Das denied the charges and said the scars are old, the result of the boy's tough early childhood in a slum in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar. After a full medical examination it was determined that there was no evidence against Biranchi Das and all charges were dropped.

Limca Book of Records

On 2 May 2006, Budhia Singh completed a 65 kilometres (40 mi) run from Chapandie temple to Bhubaneshwar in seven hours, two minutes. This feat was registered in the Limca Book of Records. Budhia completed 65 km distance, but collapsed 5 km shy of the target 70 km distance.

Murder of Biranchi Das

Biranchi Das was shot dead by unidentified assailants at Bhubaneswar on the evening of 13 April 2008. According to police, "Das, a judo coach, was sitting inside the judo centre in BJB College area along with some of his friends after a training session when the assailants struck". A trial is currently underway.
On December 13, 2010 Bhabeneswar fast track court found the murderers guilty and final sentence was passed on 17 December 2010. Both Sandeep Acharya alias Raja and his associate were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment.


MARATHON BOY is the title of the 2011 feature-length documentary movie on Budhia Singh & Biranchi Das. This acclaimed film spans 5 years and was funded by HBO & BBC Storyville.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Dede Koswara: The tree man of Java

Dede Koswara, who had more than a stone of warts cut from his hands and feet in 2008, has suffered a setback after the bark-like growths that doctors removed began to grow back.

Tree man's roots return

Dede Koswara's warts are growing back only months after operation to remove stone of them from his body.

'Tree man' leaves hospital

Indonesian fisherman known as “tree man” returns home after successful surgery to remove bark-like growths covering his body.

'Tree man' almost died from disease

Dede Koswara, who earned worldwide celebrity as the Tree Man of Java, would probably have died if he hadn't sought hospital treatment for the growths.

'Tree man' talks about his condition

The "Tree Man of Java" is shown pressing buttons on his phone and eating a banana in new footage filmed since operations to remove 4lb of warts.

'Tree man' regains use of hands

The "Tree Man of Java" is now able to send text messages and eat from his hands after operations to remove growths from his hands and feet.

Tree man hopes to marry

The 'Tree Man of Java' is hoping to get married after doctors performed four major operations to hack away 4lb of warts.

Human tree to tell his harrowing story

The extraordinary story of a man whose skin condition has left him with tree-like growths on his hands and feet has been told on terrestrial TV for the first time.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Johnny Eck

Born John Eckhardt, Jr.
August 27, 1911
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Died January 5, 1991 (aged 79)
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Years active 1932-1941
Johnny Eck, born John Eckhardt, Jr. (27 August 1911, Baltimore, Maryland – 5 January 1991, Baltimore, Maryland) was an American freak show performer born with the appearance that he was missing the lower half of his torso. Eck is best known today for his role in Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic film, Freaks. He was often billed as the amazing "Half-Boy" and "King of the Freaks".
Besides being a sideshow performer and actor, Johnny Eck was also an artist, photographer, illusionist, penny arcade owner, Punch and Judy operator, and expert model-maker.

Early life

Robert Eckhardt and John Eckhardt, Jr. were born on August 27, 1911 to Amelia and John Eckhardt, Sr. in Baltimore, Maryland. Eck was born with a truncated torso due to Sacral agenesis. Though Eck would sometimes describe himself as "snapped off at the waist", he had unusable, underdeveloped legs and feet that he would hide under custom-made clothing. At birth, Eck weighed two pounds and was less than eight inches in length. He would eventually reach a total of eighteen inches tall. Though Eck capitalized on the resemblance between himself and Robert, the twins were fraternal. Aside from the sacral agenesis, Eck was otherwise healthy.
Eck was walking on his hands before his brother was standing when he was a year old. Both of the Eckhardt twins could read by the age of four. The twins had an older sister named Carolyn who educated Eck at home until he and his brother enrolled in public school at age seven. He recalled that larger students would "fight each other for the 'honor' or 'privilege' of lifting [him] up the stone steps" to school, and that school windows were blacked out to discourage throngs of curious onlookers from peering in at Eck during his studies. In spite of the scrutiny, Eck remained consistently upbeat about his birth defect. When asked if he wished he had legs, he quipped, "Why would I want those? Then I'd have pants to press." He challenged those who did have legs by asking, "What can you do that I can't do, except tread water?"
Amelia Eckhardt intended that Eck go into the ministry, and the young Eck was often called upon to perform impromptu sermons for guests. "I would climb atop of a small box and preach against drinking beer and damning sin and the devil," Eck recalled in an autobiographical fragment. These sermons quickly came to an end when Eck began passing around a saucer for donations..
At an early age, Eck developed an interest in painting and woodworking, and would spend hours with his brother carving and painting elaborate, fully-articulated circuses.

Professional career

Johnny Eck doing his famous one-armed handstand.
In late 1923, Eck and his brother attended a performance of stage magic at a local church by John McAslan. When McAslan asked for volunteers for his act, 12-year-old Eck bounded onto the stage on his hands to the surprise of the magician. McAslan convinced Eck to join the sideshow with him as manager; Eck agreed, but only if his brother was also employed. Robert was charged with looking after his brother by their mother. His parents signed a one-year contract, which Eck claimed the magician later changed to a ten-year contract by adding a zero. In 1924, Eck left McAslan and signed on with a carny named Captain John Sheesley.
Eck was billed as a single-o (solo sideshow act), though he traveled with Robert and used Robert's normalcy to emphasize his own abnormal physique. His performance included sleight-of-hand and acrobatic feats including his famous one-armed handstand. Eck often performed in a tuxedo jacket while perched upon a tasseled stool. Eck performed for Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey and others.
Eck went to the Canadian Exposition in the summer of 1931. Eck was performing in Montreal when he was approached by a MGM Studios talent scout to be cast for his first feature film as the "Half-Boy" in Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks.
Eck got along quite well with Tod Browning and was often at his side while on set. Eck would later say that "Browning wanted me to stay as close to him as possible. He told me whenever I have an empty seat or chair, you are to sit alongside me while we shoot." Although he sometimes tried to socialize, he didn't feel comfortable mingling with his castmates, whom he described as a "happy, noisy crowd" and "childish, silly and in a world all their own." At one point he complained that they had gone "Hollywood" because of the film, "wear[ing] sunglasses and acting funny." When Pete Robinson had difficulty lying on a blanket in one scene, Eck made the comment that if he had legs, he would have lain on a fakir's bed of nails. Olga Baclanova would reminisce fondly of her costar (whom she described as "handsome"), "When we finished the picture, he came and gave me a present. He had made a circus ring made from matches. He said he had made it in my honor."
Eck claimed that Browning wished to do a follow-up picture with him and Robert where he would play a mad scientist's creation. However, Browning's career was irretrievably hurt by Freaks, and he no longer had the clout with studios to do many of the projects he wished to do. Eck was also disappointed by how much of his part had been trimmed from the film in the nearly thirty minutes that were cut by censors.
After Freaks, Eck was featured as a bird creature or "Gooney Bird" in three Tarzan movies: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941). In order to create the bird costume used by Eck for the Tarzan films, footage which was filmed during the production of Freaks in 1931, a full body cast was taken of him.
When the Eckhardt home was facing foreclosure due to the oncoming Great Depression, Eck performed for the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. It was there that Eck was billed as "the Most Remarkable Man Alive".
In 1937, Eck and Robert were recruited by an illusionist and hypnotist, Rajah Raboid, for his "Miracles of 1937" show. Robert Eckhardt would heckle the illusionist during a sawing-a-man-in-half illusion and be called on stage to be sawed in half himself. During the illusion, Robert would be switched with Eck and a dwarf, playing respectively the upper and lower halves of the body as Eck would chase his "legs" across the stage. Stage hands would pluck Eck up, set him atop the dwarf, and twirl them off-stage, replacing them with Robert, who would then threaten to sue Raboid and storm out of the theater. Though the act met with applause and laughter, Eck would later tell stories of audience members fainting, screaming, or fleeing the theater in terror.
In addition to film, sideshow and stage, Eck was also pursuing other interests in this period. He and his brother were musicians, having their own twelve-piece orchestra in Baltimore. Eck conducted while Robert played the piano. Eck continued his love of drawing and painting; early on choosing such subjects as pretty girls, ships and himself. He was also a race car enthusiast and the driver of his own custom-built race car that was street-legal in Baltimore, the "Johnny Eck Special". In 1938, Eck climbed the Washington Monument on his hands.

Later life

When sideshows lost popular appeal, the Eckhardt brothers settled in Baltimore. There, they bought and ran a penny arcade until a business tax forced them out of business. In the 1950s, the brothers bought and ran a used children's train ride in a local park; Eck acting as conductor. Eck also became a screen painter, having learned the craft from William Oktavec, a grocer and local folk artist who invented the art form in 1913.
Eck would sit on the steps of his porch with his Chihuahua, Major, telling stories about his life. He and his brother often performed Punch and Judy shows for the children who would come to visit. However, the Eckhardts' neighborhood was increasingly becoming less safe with drugs and crime. The 1980s brought more guests as the video release of Freaks attracted a new generation of fans with whom Eck wasn't entirely comfortable, telling a friend, "You'd be surprised to see these 'avid' fans. I say they are crazy." He also lamented not having the money to provide these visitors with a small sandwich or a Coca Cola as he was plagued by money troubles. Eck also had a long-time feud with his neighbor.
In January 1987, the then 76-year-old Eckhardt brothers were robbed in an ordeal that lasted several hours. One of the two thieves mocked and sat on Eck while the other took his belongings. Thereafter, Eck went into seclusion and the brothers no longer invited visitors into their home. Eck would go on to say, "If I want to see freaks, all I have to do is look out the window."
On January 5, 1991, Eck suffered a heart attack in his sleep, dying at the age of 79 at the North Milton Avenue home where he was born. Robert followed him on February 25, 1995, aged 83. They are buried under one headstone in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore.

Biographical film

A Hollywood feature film on the life of Johnny Eck has been pursued since the 1990s by Leonardo DiCaprio. A screenplay has been written by Caroline Thompson, the acclaimed scriptwriter of Edward Scissorhands. Production will be by Pelagius Films and Joseph Fries will produce while Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Rappa executive produce the film. Production notes include James Franco as a possible replacement to play the Eckhardt twins.
The screenplay has been described as "amazing" and includes a scene where Eck swims against Tarzan actor, Johnny Weissmuller.

In popular culture

The song Table Top Joe, which describes a man without a lower body who becomes a famous entertainer, by Tom Waits is based loosely on the life of Johnny Eck. He is also mentioned in the piece Lucky Day Overture on Waits' album, The Black Rider.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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 hands 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. Gripping 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’.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Romeo Dev, the world's smallest bodybuilder

At 2'9" and a mere one and a half stone, Aditya "Romeo" Dev is the world's smallest bodybuilder.

Using custom-built 1.5kg dumbbells, Romeo, 19, pumps iron daily to prove that small is beautiful.


Romeo is perfectly proportioned, and despite his diminutive stature has triceps, biceps, calves and thighs that would make many a full-grown man blush.
He was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records in 2006 following three months of intense exercise.
Large crowds regularly flock to watch him at his gym in Punjab, where as well as weight-training and push-ups Romeo is training to be a dancer.

"I've been training as a bodybuilder for the last two years and by now I think I must be the strongest dwarf in the world," said Romeo.
"I have always been fit but since I started working out I have become famous for my strength.

"My size has never stopped me. I train with dumbbells and do aerobics and dance. People are always pleased to see me – I have been invited on TV shows and dance on stage."
Ranjeet Pal, Romeo's trainer and a friend of his family who runs a gym in his home town of Phagwara, says that Romeo has never let his size get in his way. "Romeo trains more or less the same as anyone else and he's much more determined," he said.
"When he first started I insisted he did a month of basic exercises like aerobics, push-ups and basic gymnastics to prepare his body.

"After that I specially made lightweight dumbbells and taught him basic weight-lifting exercises to shape his biceps and triceps. His size and his weight were taken care of so that he never hurt himself."
Romeo is famous in his home country, and his father has spoken of his pride in his son's determination to overcome any difficulties in his path. "He has never been bothered at being so small. He has no inferiority complex. He is the jewel of our family."
Having made his way in to the record books, Romeo says that he wants to dance on stage. "My dream is to travel a lot – I want to perform in London with my idol, Jazzy-B," he says.

Monday, 16 May 2011

MYRTLE CORBIN – The Four-Legged Woman

Myrtle Corbin, was known as the Four-Legged Woman – however that moniker was slightly misleading. While at a glance one could plainly see four legs dangling beyond the hem of her dress – only one pair belonged to her, the other set to her dipygus twin sister.

Born in Lincoln County, TN in 1868 and spending most of her childhood in Blount County, AL – where she can be found in the 1880 census – her condition was incredibly rare. The tiny body of her twin was only fully developed from the waist down and even then it was malformed – tiny and possessing only three toes on each foot. Myrtle was able to control the limbs of her sister but was unable to use them for walking and she herself had a difficult time getting around as she was born with a clubbed foot. Technically, the ‘Four-Legged Woman’ only had one good, usable leg.

Myrtle was a popular attraction with P.T. Barnum, and later with Ringling Bros. and Coney Island. Her popularity was likely linked to her showmanship – she would often dress the extra limbs with socks and shoes matching her own and this gave her a truly surreal appearance. Myrtle was so popular that she was able to earn as much as $450 dollars a week.

At the age of 19 Myrtle married a doctor named Clinton Bicknell. It was then that other aspects of her bizarre anatomy became evident. It seems that her twin sister was also fully sexually formed – thus Myrtle possessed two vaginas. She had four daughters and a son and it has been rumored that three of her children were born from one set of organs and two from the other. Whether this is true or not; it is medically possible. In Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle it was observed that both vaginas menstruated – thus indicating both were possibly sexually functional.

Myrtle passed on May 6, 1928, surrounded by family and friends.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Lina Medina

Lina Medina (born September 27, 1933, in Ticrapo, Huancavelica Region, Peru) is the youngest confirmed mother in medical history, giving birth at the age of five years, seven months and 17 days. She now lives in Lima, Peru.

Early development

Born in Ticrapo, Peru, Medina was brought to a hospital by her parents at the age of five years due to increasing abdominal size. She was originally thought to have had a tumor, but her doctors determined she was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Dr. Gerardo Lozada took her to Lima, Peru, prior to the surgery to have other specialists confirm that Medina was pregnant.
A month and a half later, on May 14, 1939, she gave birth to a boy by a caesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. The surgery was performed by Dr. Lozada and Dr. Busalleu, with Dr. Colareta providing anaesthesia. Her case was reported in detail by Dr. Edmundo Escomel in the medical journal La Presse Médicale, including the additional details that her menarche had occurred at eight months of age (or 2½ according to a different article) and that she had prominent breast development by the age of four. By age five, her figure displayed pelvic widening and advanced bone maturation. When doctors performed the caesarean to deliver her baby, they found she already had fully mature sexual organs from precocious puberty.

Her son

Medina's son weighed 2.7 kg (6.0 lb; 0.43 st) at birth and was named Gerardo after her doctor. Gerardo was raised believing that Medina was his sister, but found out at the age of 10 that she was his mother. He grew up healthy but died in 1979 at the age of 40 of a bone marrow disease.

Later life

Medina never revealed the father of the child nor the circumstances of her impregnation. Dr. Escomel suggested she might not actually know herself by writing that Medina "couldn't give precise responses". Medina's father was arrested on suspicion of rape and incest, but was later released due to lack of evidence.
In young adulthood, she worked as a secretary in the Lima clinic of Dr. Lozada, who gave her an education and helped put her son through high school. Medina later married Raúl Jurado, who fathered her second son in 1972. As of 2002, they lived in a poor district of Lima known as "Chicago Chico" ("Little Chicago"). She refused an interview with Reuters that year.


There are two published photographs documenting the case. The first was taken around the beginning of April 1939, when Medina was seven and a half months into pregnancy. Taken from Medina's left side, it shows her standing naked in front of a neutral backdrop. This is the only published photograph of Lina taken during her pregnancy.
This photograph is of significant value because it documents her condition and the extent of her physiological development. The other photograph is of far greater clarity and was taken a year later in Lima when Gerardo was eleven months old.
Although the case was called a hoax by some, a number of doctors over the years have verified it based on biopsies, X rays of the fetal skeleton in utero, and photographs taken by the doctors caring for her. Extreme precocious puberty in children 5 or under is very uncommon; pregnancy and delivery by a child this young remains extremely rare. Extreme precocious puberty is treated to suppress fertility, preserve growth potential, and reduce the social consequences of full sexual development in childhood.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890), sometimes incorrectly referred to as John Merrick, was an English man with severe deformities who was exhibited as a human curiosity named the Elephant Man. He became well known in London society after he went to live at the London Hospital. Merrick was born in Leicester and began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life. His skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed an enlargement of his lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead. One of his arms and both feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness. When he was 11, his mother died and his father soon remarried. Merrick left school at 12, and had difficulty finding employment. Rejected by his father and stepmother, he left home. In late 1879, aged 17, Merrick entered the Leicester Union workhouse.
In 1884, after four years in the workhouse, Merrick contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. Torr agreed, and arranged for a group of men to manage Merrick, whom they named the Elephant Man. After touring the East Midlands, Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in a penny gaff shop on Whitechapel Road which was rented by showman Tom Norman. Norman's shop, directly across the street from the London Hospital, was visited by a surgeon named Frederick Treves, who invited Merrick to be examined and photographed. Soon after Merrick's visits to the hospital, Tom Norman's shop was closed by the police and Merrick's managers sent him to tour in Europe.
In Belgium, Merrick was robbed by his road manager and abandoned in Brussels. He eventually made his way back to London; unable to communicate, he was found by the police to have Frederick Treves' card on him. Treves came and took Merrick back to the London Hospital. Although his condition was incurable, Merrick was allowed to stay at the hospital for the remainder of his life. Treves visited him daily and the pair developed quite a close friendship. Merrick also received visits from the wealthy ladies and gentlemen of London society, including Alexandra, The Princess of Wales.
Merrick died on 11 April 1890, aged 27. The official cause of death was asphyxia, although Treves, who dissected the body, said that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. He believed that Merrick—who had to sleep sitting up because of the weight of his head—had been attempting to sleep lying down, to "be like other people". The exact cause of Merrick's deformities is unclear. The dominant theory throughout much of the 20th century was that Merrick suffered from neurofibromatosis type I. In 1986, a new theory emerged that he had Proteus syndrome. In 2001 it was proposed that Merrick had suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome. DNA tests conducted on his hair and bones have proven inconclusive. In 1979, Bernard Pomerance's play about Merrick called The Elephant Man débuted and David Lynch's film, also called The Elephant Man, was released the following year.

Early life and family

Joseph Carey Merrick was born 5 August 1862 at 50 Lee Street in Leicester to Joseph Rockley Merrick and his wife Mary Jane (née Potterton). Joseph Rockley Merrick (c. 1835 – 1897) was the son of London-born weaver Barnabas Merrick who moved to Leicester during the 1820s or 1830s, and his third wife Sarah Rockley. Mary Jane Potterton (c. 1834 – 1873) was the daughter of a Yorkshire agricultural labourer and had some form of physical disability. As a young woman she worked as a domestic servant in Leicester before marrying Joseph Rockley Merrick, then a brougham driver, in 1861. The following year, Joseph Carey Merrick was born, apparently healthy, and had no outward symptoms of any disorder for the first few years of his life. Named after his father, he was given the middle name Carey by his mother, a Baptist, after the preacher William Carey. The Merricks had two more children, William Arthur (born 1866) who died of scarlet fever aged four and Marion Eliza (born 1867), who was born with physical disabilities and died in 1891.
A pamphlet entitled "The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick", produced c. 1884 to accompany his exhibition, states that he started to display symptoms at approximately five years of age, with "thick lumpy skin ... like that of an elephant, and almost the same colour". According to a 1930 article in the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle, he began to develop swellings on his lips at the age of 21 months, followed by a bony lump on his forehead and a loosening and roughening of the skin. As he grew, a noticeable difference between the size of his left and right arms appeared and both his feet became significantly enlarged. Merrick's symptoms were explained by the family as having resulted from Mary's being knocked over and frightened by a fairground elephant while she was pregnant with her eldest son. The concept of maternal impression—that the emotional experiences of pregnant women could have lasting physical effect on their unborn children—was still common in 19th-century England. Merrick held this belief as the cause of his affliction for his entire life.
In addition to his deformities, at some point during his childhood, Merrick suffered a fall and damaged his left hip. This injury became infected and left him permanently lame. Although affected by his physical deformities, Merrick attended school and enjoyed a close relationship with his mother. She was a Sunday School teacher, and his father worked as an engine driver at a cotton factory, as well as running a haberdashery business. On 19 May 1873, less than three years after the death of her younger son, Mary Jane Merrick died from bronchopneumonia. Joseph Rockley Merrick moved with his two children to live with Mrs. Emma Wood Antill, a widow with children of her own. They married on 3 December 1874.

Life as a curiosity

Merrick concluded that his only escape from the workhouse might be through the world of human novelty exhibitions. He knew of a Leicester music hall comedian and proprietor named Sam Torr. Merrick wrote to Torr, who came and visited him at the workhouse. Torr decided that he could make money exhibiting Merrick, although to retain Merrick's novelty, he would have to be a travelling exhibit.[22] To this end, he organised a group of managers for Merrick: music hall proprietor J. Ellis, travelling showman George Hitchcock, and fair owner Sam Roper. On 3 August 1884 Merrick departed the workhouse to start his new career.

The shop on Whitechapel Road where Merrick was exhibited. Today it sells saris.
The showmen named Merrick the Elephant Man, and advertised him as "Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant".
They showed him around the East Midlands, including in Leicester and Nottingham, before moving him on to London for the winter season. George Hitchcock contacted an acquaintance, showman Tom Norman, who ran penny gaff shops in London's East End exhibiting human curiosities. Without a meeting, Norman agreed to take over Merrick's management and in November, Hitchcock travelled with Merrick to London.
When Tom Norman first saw Merrick, he was dismayed by the extent of his deformities, fearing his appearance might be too horrific to be a successful novelty. Nevertheless, he exhibited Merrick in the back of an empty shop on Whitechapel Road. Merrick had an iron bed with a curtain drawn around to afford him some privacy. Norman observed Merrick asleep one morning and learned that he always slept sitting up, with his legs drawn up and his head resting on his knees. His enlarged head was too heavy to allow him to sleep lying down and, as Merrick put it, he would risk "waking with a broken neck". Norman decorated the shop with posters that had been created by Hitchcock, depicting a monstrous half-man, half-elephant. A pamphlet titled "The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick" was created, outlining Merrick's life to date. This biography, whether written by Merrick or not, provided a generally accurate account of his life. It contained an incorrect date of birth but, throughout his life, Merrick was vague about when he was born.
Ladies and gentlemen ... I would like to introduce Mr Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. Before doing so I ask you please to prepare yourselves—Brace yourselves up to witness one who is probably the most remarkable human being ever to draw the breath of life.
—Tom Norman
Norman gathered an audience by standing outside the shop and drawing a crowd through his showman patter. He would then lead his onlookers into the shop, explaining that the Elephant Man was "not here to frighten you but to enlighten you." Drawing aside the curtain, he allowed the onlookers—often visibly horrified—to observe Merrick up close, while describing the circumstances leading to his present condition, including his mother's accident with an elephant.
The Elephant Man exhibit was moderately successful, and made money primarily from the sales of the autobiographical pamphlet. Merrick was able to put his share of the profits aside, hoping to earn enough to one day buy a home of his own. The shop on Whitechapel Road was directly across the road from the London Hospital, an excellent location, as medical students and doctors visited the shop, curious to see Merrick. One visitor was a young house surgeon named Reginald Tuckett. Like his colleagues, Tuckett was intrigued by the Elephant Man's deformities and told his senior colleague Frederick Treves.

Merrick's cap and hood
Frederick Treves first met Merrick that November at a private viewing, before Norman opened the shop for the day. Treves later recalled in his 1923 Reminiscences that Merrick was "the most disgusting specimen of humanity that I had ever seen ... at no time had I met with such a degraded or perverted version of a human being as this lone figure displayed." The viewing lasted no more than 15 minutes after which Treves returned to work. Later that day, he sent Tuckett back to the shop to ask if Merrick might be willing to come to the hospital for an examination. Norman and Merrick agreed. To enable him to travel the short distance without drawing undue attention, Merrick wore a costume consisting of a huge black cloak and a brown cap with a hood that covered his face, and rode in a cab hired by Treves.
At the hospital, Treves examined Merrick, observing that he was "shy, confused, not a little frightened, and evidently much cowed." At this point, Treves assumed that the Elephant Man was an "imbecile". He measured Merrick's head circumference at 36 inches (91 cm), his right wrist at 12 inches (30 cm) and one of his fingers at 5 inches (13 cm) in circumference. He noted that his skin was covered in papillomata (warty growths), the largest of which exuded an unpleasant smell. The subcutaneous tissue appeared to be weakened and caused a loosening of the skin, which in some areas hung away from the body. There were bone deformities in the right arm, both legs, and, most conspicuously, in the skull. Despite the corrective surgery to his mouth in 1882, Merrick's speech remained barely intelligible. His left arm and hand, although small, were not deformed. His penis and scrotum were normal. Apart from his deformities and the lameness in his hip, Treves concluded that Merrick appeared to be in good general health. Norman later recalled that Merrick went to the hospital for examination "two or three" times and during one of their meetings, Treves gave Merrick his calling card. On one of the visits, Treves had photographs taken and he provided Merrick with a set of copies which were later added to his autobiographical pamphlet. On 2 December, Treves presented Merrick at a meeting of the Pathological Society of London in Bloomsbury. Eventually, Merrick told Norman that he no longer wanted to be examined at the hospital. According to Norman, he said he was "stripped naked, and felt like an animal in a cattle market."
During this time in Victorian England, tastes were changing in regard to freak show exhibitions like the Elephant Man. Shows like Norman's were a cause for public concern, both on the grounds of decency and due to the disruption caused by crowds gathering outside them. Not long after Merrick's last examination with Frederick Treves, the police closed down Norman's shop on Whitechapel Road, and Merrick's Leicester managers withdrew him from Norman's care. In 1885, Merrick went on the road with Sam Roper's travelling fair. He befriended two other performers, "Roper's Midgets"—Bertram Dooley and Harry Bramley—who on occasion defended Merrick from public harassment.

London Hospital

With Merrick admitted into the hospital, Treves now had time to conduct a more thorough examination. He discovered that Merrick's physical condition had deteriorated over the previous two years and that he had become quite crippled by his deformities. Treves also suspected that Merrick now suffered from a heart condition and that he had only a few years left to live. Merrick's general health improved over the next five months under the care of the hospital staff. Although some nurses were initially upset by his appearance, they overcame this and cared for him. The problem of his unpleasant odour was mitigated through frequent bathing and Treves gradually developed an understanding of Merrick's speech. A new set of photographs was taken. The question of Merrick's long-term care had to be addressed. Francis Carr Gomm, the chairman of the hospital committee, had supported Treves in his decision to admit Merrick, but by November, long-term plans needed to be made. The London Hospital was not equipped or staffed to provide care for the incurable, which Merrick clearly was.
Carr Gomm contacted other institutions and hospitals more suited to caring for chronic cases, but none would accept Merrick. Carr Gomm wrote a letter to The Times, printed on 4 December, outlining Merrick's case and asking readers for suggestions. The public response—in letters and donations—was significant, and the situation was even covered by the British Medical Journal. With the financial backing of the many donors, Carr Gomm was able to make a convincing case to the committee for keeping Merrick in the hospital. It was decided that he would be allowed to stay there for the remainder of his life. He was moved from the attic to two rooms in the basement adjacent to a small courtyard. The rooms were adapted and furnished to suit Merrick, with a specially constructed bed and—at Treves' instruction—no mirrors.
Merrick settled into his new life at the London Hospital. Treves visited him daily and spent a couple of hours with him every Sunday. Now that Merrick had found someone who understood his speech, he was delighted to carry on long conversations with the doctor. Treves and Merrick built a friendly relationship, although Merrick never completely confided in him. He told Treves that he was an only child, and Treves had the impression that Merrick's mother, whose picture Merrick always carried with him, had abandoned him as a baby. Merrick was also reluctant to talk about his exhibition days, although he expressed gratitude towards his former managers. It did not take Treves long to realise that, contrary to his initial impressions, Merrick was not intellectually impaired.

The only surviving letter written by Merrick
Treves observed that Merrick was very sensitive and showed his emotions easily. At times Merrick was bored and lonely, and demonstrated signs of depression. He had spent his entire adult life segregated from women, first in the workhouse and then as an exhibit. The women he met were either disgusted or frightened by his appearance. His opinions about women were derived from his memories of his mother and what he read in books. Treves decided that Merrick would like to be introduced to a woman and it would help him feel normal. The doctor arranged for a friend of his named Mrs. Leila Maturin, "a young and pretty widow", to visit Merrick. She agreed and with fair warning about his appearance, she went to his rooms for an introduction. The meeting was short, as Merrick quickly became overcome with emotion. He later told Treves that Maturin had been the first woman ever to smile at him, the first to shake his hand. She kept in contact with him and a letter written by Merrick to her, thanking her for the gift of a book and a brace of grouse, is the only surviving letter written by Merrick. This first experience of meeting a woman, though brief, instilled in Merrick a new sense of self-confidence. He met other women during his life at the hospital, and appeared taken with them all. Treves believed that Merrick's hope was to go to live at an institution for the blind, where he might meet a woman who could not see his deformities.
Merrick wanted to know about the "real world", and questioned Treves on a number of topics. One day he expressed a desire to see inside what he considered a "real" house and Treves obliged, taking him to visit his Wimpole Street townhouse and meet his wife. He filled his days with reading and constructing models of buildings out of card. He entertained visits from Treves and his house surgeons. He rose each day in the afternoon and would leave his rooms to walk in the small adjacent courtyard, after dark.

Card church built by Merrick
As a result of Carr Gomm's letters to The Times, Merrick's case attracted the notice of London's high society. One person who took a keen interest was actress Madge Kendal. Although she probably never met him in person, she was responsible for raising funds and public sympathy for Merrick. She sent him photographs of herself and employed a basket weaver to go to his rooms and teach him the craft. Although Kendal never visited Merrick, other ladies and gentlemen of high society did, bringing him gifts of photographs and books. He reciprocated with letters and hand made gifts of card models and baskets. Merrick enjoyed these visits and became confident enough to converse with people who passed his windows. A young man, Charles Taylor, the son of the engineer responsible for modifying Merrick's rooms, spent time with him and played the violin. Occasionally, he grew bold enough to leave his small living quarters and would explore the hospital. When he was discovered, he was always hurried back to his quarters by the nurses, who feared that he might frighten the patients.
On 21 May 1887, two new buildings were completed at the hospital and the Prince and Princess of Wales came to open them officially. Princess Alexandra wished to meet the Elephant Man, so after a tour of the hospital, the royal party went to his rooms for an introduction. The princess shook Merrick's hand and sat with him, an experience that left him overjoyed. She gave him a signed photograph of herself, which became a prized possession, and she sent him a Christmas card each year.
On at least one occasion, Merrick was able to fulfil a long-held desire to visit the theatre. Treves, with the help of Madge Kendal, arranged for him to attend the Christmas pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Treves sat with some nurses, concealed in Baroness Burdett-Coutts's private box. According to Treves, Merrick was "awed" and "enthralled". "The spectacle left him speechless, so that if he were spoken to he took no heed." For weeks following the show Merrick talked about the pantomime, reliving the story as if it had been real.

Last years

On three occasions Merrick left the hospital and London on holiday, spending a few weeks at a time in the countryside. Through elaborate arrangements that allowed Merrick to board a train unseen and have an entire carriage to himself, he travelled to Northamptonshire to stay at Fawsley Hall, the estate of Lady Louisa Knightley. He stayed at the gamekeeper's cottage and spent the days walking in the estate's woods, collecting wild flowers. He befriended a young farm labourer who later recalled Merrick as an interesting and well-educated man. Treves called this "the one supreme holiday of [Merrick's] life", although in fact there were three such trips.
Merrick's condition gradually deteriorated during his four years at the London hospital. He required a great deal of care from the nursing staff and spent much of his time in bed, or sitting in his quarters, with diminishing energy. His facial deformities continued to grow and his head became even more enlarged. He died on 11 April 1890, at the age of 27. At around three o'clock in the afternoon, Treves' house surgeon visited Merrick and found him lying dead across his bed. His body was formally identified by his uncle, Charles Merrick. An inquest was held on 15 April by Wynne Edwin Baxter, who had come to notoriety conducting inquests for the Whitechapel murders of 1888.

He often said to me that he wished he could lie down to sleep 'like other people' ... he must, with some determination, have made the experiment ... Thus it came about that his death was due to the desire that had dominated his life—the pathetic but hopeless desire to be 'like other people'.
—Frederick Treves
Merrick's death was ruled accidental and the cause of death entered on his death certificate was asphyxia, caused by the weight of his head as he lay down. Treves, who performed an autopsy on the body, said that the cause of death was a dislocated neck. Knowing that Merrick had always slept sitting upright, out of necessity, Treves came to the conclusion that he must have "made the experiment", attempting to sleep lying down, trying to sleep like other people.
Treves dissected Merrick's body and took plaster casts of his head and limbs. He took skin samples, which were later lost during the Second World War, and mounted his skeleton, which remains in the pathology collection at the Royal London Hospital. Although the skeleton has never been on public display, there is a small museum focused on his life, housing some of his personal effects.

Medical condition

The skeleton of Joseph Merrick
Ever since Joseph Merrick's days as a novelty exhibit on Whitechapel Road, his condition has been a source of curiosity for medical professionals. His appearance at the meeting of the Pathological Society of London in 1884 drew interest from the doctors present, but none of the answers nor the attention that Treves had hoped for. The case received only a brief mention in the British Medical Journal and the Lancet declined to mention it at all. Four months later, in 1885, Treves brought the case before the meeting for a second time. By then, Tom Norman's shop on Whitechapel Road had been closed, and the Elephant Man had moved on. Without Merrick, Treves made do with the photographs he had taken during his examinations. One of the doctors present at the meeting was Henry Radcliffe Crocker, a dermatologist who was an authority on skin diseases. After hearing Treves' description of Merrick, and viewing the photographs, Crocker proposed that Merrick's condition might be a combination of dermatolysis, pachydermatocele and an unnamed bone deformity, all caused by changes in the nervous system. Crocker wrote about Merrick's case in his 1888 book Diseases of the Skin: their Description, Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment.
In 1909, dermatologist Frederick Parkes Weber wrote an article about von Recklinghausen disease (now known as neurofibromatosis type I) in the British Journal of Dermatology. He gave Merrick as an example of the disease, which German pathologist Friedrich Daniel von Recklinghausen had described in 1882. Symptoms of this genetic disorder include tumours of the nervous tissue and bones, and small warty growths on the skin. One characteristic of neurofibromatosis is the presence of light brown pigmentation on the skin called café au lait spots. These were never observed on Merrick's body. Neurofibromatosis type I was the accepted diagnosis through most of the 20th century, although other suggestions included Maffucci syndrome and polyostotic fibrous dysplasia (Albright's disease).
In a 1986 article in the British Medical Journal, Michael Cohen and J. A. R. Tibbles put forward the theory that Merrick had suffered from Proteus syndrome, a congenital disorder identified by Cohen in 1979. They cited Merrick's lack of reported café au lait spots and the absence of any histological proof that he had suffered from neurofibromatosis type I. Unlike neurofibromatosis, Proteus syndrome affects tissue other than nerves, and it is a sporadic disorder rather than a genetically transmitted disease. Cohen and Tibbles said that Merrick showed the following signs of Proteus syndrome: "macrocephaly; hyperostosis of the skull; hypertrophy of long bones; and thickened skin and subcutaneous tissues, particularly of the hands and feet, including plantar hyperplasia, lipomas, and other unspecified subcutaneous masses."
In a letter to Biologist in June 2001, British scientist Paul Spiring speculated that Merrick might have suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus syndrome. This hypothesis was reported by Robert Matthews, a correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph. The possibility that Merrick had both conditions formed the basis for a 2003 documentary film entitled The Curse of The Elephant Man that was produced for the Discovery Health Channel by Natural History New Zealand. During 2002, genealogical research for the film led to a BBC appeal to trace Merrick's maternal family line. In response to the appeal, a Leicester resident named Pat Selby was discovered to be the granddaughter of Merrick's uncle George Potterton. A research team took DNA samples from Selby in an unsuccessful attempt to diagnose Merrick's condition. During 2003, the filmmakers commissioned further diagnostic tests using DNA that was extracted from Merrick's hair and bone. However, the results of these tests proved inconclusive and therefore the precise cause of Merrick's medical condition remains unknown.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Chang and Eng Bunker

Chang Bunker (May 11, 1811 – January 17, 1874) (Thai: จัน Chan) and Eng Bunker (May 11, 1811 – January 17, 1874) (Thai: อิน In) were the conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term "Siamese twins".


The Bunkers in their later years
The Bunker brothers were born on May 11, 1811 in Siam (now Thailand), in the province of Samutsongkram, to a fisherman and a mother (Nok or นาก [Nak] in Thai). Because of their Chinese heritage, they were known as the "Chinese Twins" in Siam. They were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. Their livers were fused but independently complete. Although 19th century medicine did not have the means to do so, modern surgical techniques would have easily allowed them to be separated.
In 1829, they were "discovered" in Siam by British merchant Robert Hunter and exhibited as a curiosity during a world tour. Upon termination of their contract with their discoverer, they successfully went into business for themselves. In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the twins were attracted to the area and settled on a 110-acre (0.45 km2) farm in nearby Traphill, becoming naturalized United States citizens.
Determined to start living a normal life as much as possible, the brothers settled on a plantation, bought slaves , and adopted the name "Bunker". On April 13, 1843, they married two sisters: Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Sarah Anne Yates. Interestingly, this made their respective children double first cousins. In addition, because Chang and Eng were identical twins, their children were genetically equivalent to half-siblings, thus making them genetically related in the same manner as half-siblings who are also first cousins.
Their Traphill home is where they shared a bed built for four. Chang and his wife had 10 children; Eng and his wife had 11. In time, the wives squabbled and eventually two separate households were set up just west of Mount Airy, North Carolina in the community of White Plains – the twins would alternate spending three days at each home. During the American Civil War Chang's son Christopher and Eng's son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy. Chang and Eng lost part of their property as a result of the war, and were very bitter in their denunciation of the government in consequence.
After the war, they again resorted to public exhibitions, but were not very successful. They always maintained a high character for integrity and fair dealing, and were much esteemed by their neighbors. The twins died on the same day in January 1874. Chang, who had contracted pneumonia, died rather suddenly in his sleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead, and called for his wife and children to attend to him. A doctor was summoned to perform an emergency separation, but Eng refused to be separated from his dead brother. He died three hours later. (An urban legend claims that Eng died of fright upon finding Chang dead, but this was not the case.) Chang's widow died on April 29, 1892 and Eng's widow died on May 21, 1917.


Grave of Eng and Chang Bunker near Mt. Airy, North Carolina
The fused liver of the Bunker brothers was preserved and is currently on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Numerous artifacts of the twins, including some of their personal artifacts and their travel ledger, are displayed in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This includes the original watercolor portrait of Chang and Eng from 1836.
The short story The Siamese Twins by Mark Twain was based on the Bunkers. In 1996, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 90-minute radio play called United States about the lives and deaths of Chang and Eng Bunker. The writer was Tony Coult and the director was Andy Jordan. Transmission was on June 17, with a cast that included Bert Kwouk and Ozzie Yue as the twins. A Singapore musical based on the life of the twins, Chang & Eng, was directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham and written by Ming Wong, with music by Ken Low. Chang & Eng premiered in 1997 and has since been performed around Asia, starring Robin Goh as Chang Bunker, Sing Seng Kwang as Eng Bunker, and Selena Tan as their mother, Nok. Subsequent productions starred Edmund Toh as Chang Bunker and RJ Rosales as Eng Bunker. The best-selling and multiple-award-winning 2000 novel Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss was based on the life of the famous Bunker twins. The film rights to the novel were purchased by award-winning filmmaking team Gary Oldman and Douglas Urbanski. Oldman is currently working on the screenplay and will also direct.
Chang and Eng Bunker had at least 21 children between them; their descendants, including several sets of non-conjoined twins, now number just over 1,500. United States Air Force Major General Caleb V. Haynes was a grandson of Chang Bunker through his daughter Margaret Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bunker. Haynes's son, Vance Haynes, earned a doctorate in geosciences, performed foundational fieldwork at Sandia Cave to determine the timeline of human migration through North America, and served as professor at several universities. Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer of Florida, is a great-granddaughter of Chang Bunker, and was the Democratic nominee in the 2010 Florida gubernatorial election.
A play by noted Bay Area playwright Philip Kan Gotanda and based on the lives of the Bunker Twins is currently being produced in workshop form at UC Berkeley and will be produced on their main stage in the spring of 2011.