Thursday, 30 June 2011


The pain proof man has existed in one form or another for centuries. From Fakirs walking on hot coals, to persons of extraordinary physiology like the greatMirin Dajo, to persons driving nails deep into their various facial orifices. However few individuals have captured the imagination of the modern pop culture audience than The Amazing Frank ‘Cannonball’ Richards.
In 1932 ‘Cannonball’ Richards exploded onto the vaudeville entertainment scene with his remarkable act and his bombastic belly. Frank’s claim to fame was his seemingly ironclad gut and his act consisted of little more that taking heavy blows to his belly.
However, these were no gentle taps. Richards subjected his belly to physical abuse that would put the average man into hospitalized traction for days – if not weeks.
Richards began his strange journey into belly abuse by allowing his friends to punch him in the gut. His perceived imperviousness to the trauma prompted him to take the act a step further until, eventually, he was enduring and absorbing body blows from heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey.
‘Cannonball’ Richards steadily increased the level of distress he subjected his belly too. He soon allowed spectators to jump on his stomach. Following that he allowed himself to be struck by a two-by-four and then, later, he was able to endure repeated sledgehammer blows. From all reports and records, there were no gimmicks at work during these performances.
Finally, in a feat that ‘Cannonball’ Richards would forever be remembered for, Richards took to being shot in the belly with a cannonball.
It is important to note, however, that ‘Cannonball’ Richards used a spring-loaded cannon to fire his cannonball. But equally, the velocity at which the ball traveled was still beyond the limits of sanity and would likely have killed or severely injured an average man.
The image of this feat, performed twice daily during his time of greatest popularity, remains a near iconic photograph demonstrating the extremes possible in physical pain tolerance. It is also regarded, incorrectly, and the epitome of stupidity and ultimate example of a fame without talent or ability. So much so that during its the seventh season an episode of The Simpsons animated television series the idiotic and chronically tallentless Homer Simpson is hired into a traveling freak show, to be shot by cannonballs in the stomach.
It is a shame that most modern audiences have not realized the dedication and daredevil spirit required to perform the stunts Cannonball Richards performed. So unique was his ability that no comparable act has existed since.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

BEN DOVA – The Drunk Daredevil

Ben Dova was born in Strasbourg on March 14, 1905 as Joseph Späh. After immigrating to the United States, as a young man, he took an interest in vaudeville and became quite an adept acrobat and contortionist.
Ben Dova was perhaps best known for his signature ‘convivial inebriate’ act. His act consisted of Dova playing a quirky drunkard. He would swaggeringly stagger out onto the stage, dressed in a rumpled top hat and wrinkled tails, and would feign falling into the audience while perform wonderfully limber moves. It appeared to the audience as though Ben Dova would topple at any moment and he teased such a disaster, only to steady himself and proceed. He would search, for a comical length of time, through his pockets for a cigarette which was in his mouth during the entire time. Then, at this point, he would climb a street lamp to light his cigarette.
While perched atop the lamp the lamp would begin to sway back and forth, eventually to an alarming degree. Dova would hold on and begin an astounding acrobatic routine heighten by his seemingly intoxicated state.
To some, Dova’s act was comedic and entertaining fluff, however in 1933 that all changed. For the benefit of American newsreels Ben Dova performed his act atop New York’s 56 storey Chanin Building with no net, no wires and no camera tricks. Theatre audiences were terrified by what they saw and genuinely feared for Dova’s personal safety. Fainting at the sight of the newsreel was documented.
Here, in all its unbelievable glory is the great Ben Dova performing atop the Chanin Building.
Dova’s remarkable survivability did not stop there. On May 3rd, 1937 he was a passenger aboard the ill-fated airship The Hindenburg. He survived the disaster by climbing out a window and dangling until the airship was close enough to the ground to execute an acrobatic tumble. Physically he suffered only a sprained ankle in the ordeal but long after the disaster, many people wrongfully fingered Dova as a saboteur.
Dova continued performing his ‘convivial inebriate’ act well into the 1970’s before retiring to simple acting jobs. His most notable role was opposite Laurence Olivier in the 1976 film Marathon Man.
Ben Dova eventually succumbed to old age in September of 1986. He had lived his long life as a successful entertainer, daredevil and survivor.
image: Watch Ben Dova defy death atop New York’s Chanin Building on Youtube.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

SARAH BIFFEN – The Limbless Artisan

The remarkable case of Sarah Biffen began with her birth in October of 1784. She was born without arms and only vestigial limbs to a family of farmers in Somerset. Despite this perceived handicap Biffen learned to not only perform simple tasks, but to perform extraordinary feats of dexterous artistry as well.
At the age of twelve, the Biffen family contracted their unwanted daughter to a showman named Mr. Dukes. Dukes exhibited Sarah throughout England and it was during these travels that he taught the young lady how to paint. It was initially done to improve her value as an attraction as the public loved to observe unique people accomplish rather mundane tasks. It was a precedent set long before by other limbless attractions. Crowds would gasp at the sight of limbless marvels brewing tea, shaving or firing pistols with accuracy. While Mr. Duke’s greatest expectation was to have Sarah churn out a sketch or two, her artistic talent far surpassed any expectations.
The paintings of Sarah Biffen progressed steadily in skill, precision and beauty. Soon people flocked to watch her paint, perched upon a pedestal, and they paid large admissions for the privilege. During her early years Biffen was best know for producing landscapes and miniature painted portraits on ivory cameos and medallions. She sold her creations for three guineas each and she could hardly keep up with the demand.
During her appearance at St. Bartholomew’s Fair in 1808, the Earl of Morton paid Miss Biffen a visit. The Earl had heard of the painting ‘Limbless Wonder’ but was not prepared for the talent the girl possessed. In fact, the Earl was so impressed that he sponsored Sarah and made possible private lessons from Royal Academy painter, William Craig. From there, her popularity soared. Her paintings were eventually accepted into the Royal Academy and The Society of Artists awarded her a medal in 1821. The Royal Family commissioned her to paint their portraits in miniature and she did so for Queen Victoria among others. Also with the aid of her benefactor ,the Earl, Sarah set up a studio on Bond Street in London.
Sarah Biffen became so famous that Charles Dickens mentioned her in Nicholas Nickleby and Martin Chuzzlewit.
She fell on hard times in 1827 when her friend and benefactor, The Earl of Morton, passed away. However Queen Victoria soon awarded her a Civil List pension and she retired to a private life in Liverpool. She made a brief return some 12 years later, under the married name of Mrs. Wright, but her popularity never again reached its previous fervor.
Sarah Biffen died October 2, 1850 at the age of 66. She is buried in St James Cemetery in Liverpool.
image: Engraving of Sarah Biffen from a self-portrait.

Monday, 27 June 2011

RADICA & DOODICA – The Indian Siamese Twins

The term ‘Siamese twin’ is synonymous with the medical condition of conjoined twins. The slang term is due to the mid 19th century popularity of Chang and Eng Bunker, joined twins who originally hailed from Siam. The brothers were so popular that their billing as Siamese twins came to represent their condition and not their nationality, even though the depth of their intermingled connectivity was not overly impressive compared to conjoined twins like the Tocci Brothers. The Bunker brothers were primarily joined at the chest by only a band of cartilage.
In 1888 in Orissa, India twin girls were born connected in a similar manner. While the birth of conjoined twins was often viewed as highly unusual, the superstitious residents of their village saw the girls as ‘symbols of divine wrath’ and lobbied for their expulsion. Their father, distraught by the appearance of his daughters, moved to physically separate the girls by his own hand but local officials rescued the infants and the monks of a local temple took over their care. The monks named the girls Radica and Doodica. In 1893 Radica and Doodica were sold to London showman Captain Colman. The sisters began a career exhibiting themselves across Europe often paired with another Colman prodigy, a dwarf billed as the smallest man in the world, Peter the Small. It has been said that Colman treated the girls as an adoptive father and not exclusively as an exploitive promoter. The girls seemed happy and they had each other, until Doodica developed tuberculosis in 1902.
In Paris Dr. Eugene-Louis Doyen separated the sisters in an effort to save Radica. Doyen was a pioneering medical filmmaker and filmed the twins’ surgery as La Separation de Doodica-Radica.
The operation was considered a success initially and Doodica passed shortly afterward from tuberculosis. However, the separation came too late as Radica contracted tuberculosis from her sister and passed on in 1903.
She spent the last year of her life in a Paris sanatorium, alone.
Sections of Doyen’s filmed separation surgery were last shown in the UK documentary series The Last Machine in 1995. Previously, the film was often shown in grindhouse styled sideshows spliced into exploitation ‘freak’ films.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

CAROLINE CRACHAMI – The Sicilian Fairy

Recently a number of television shows, documentaries and circulating picture sets have generated great interest in the genetic phenomena of primordial dwarfism. These tiny people, these seemingly fragile, delicate and near ethereal human beings conjure images of gossamer fairies and quaint folk stories. Such enchanting imagery is likely the root of this new interest in the condition.
The first individual to be medically cited with what we now call primordial dwarfism was Caroline Crachami. The story of ‘The Sicilian Fairy’ is inspiring, tragic and empowering all at once depending on which version of her biography one believes. Regardless, her story is one that should be told and remembered for it demonstrates the greed often found average men and chronicles the careless exploitation of a remarkable human being. According to the pamphlet entitled Memoirs of Miss Crachami, the Celebrated Sicilian Dwarf Caroline Crachami was born at Palermo in Sicily on November 15, 1815. Caroline Crachami purportedly only weighted one pound at birth and measured a scant eight inches in height. Caroline was the only unique child of five siblings and, despite claims of exhibitions in Panama, Miss Crachami first came to major public prominence during an 1824 visit to England. While there Miss Crachami was accompanied by one Dr. Gilligan who acted as her agent and he exhibited her in Liverpool, Birmingham and Oxford before finally taking her to London where she was exhibited in Mayfair.
Crachami caused a great amount of sensation and proved to be incredibly popular. Hundreds of people would queue up daily and pay one shilling admission to view the nine-year-old nineteen inch marvel. For the most part, inside the exhibit, Miss Crachami would simply wander around the stage while listening to music. For a few shillings more one was permitted to handle the tiny girl, permitted to dance a little with her, to pat her head and feed her a biscuit or two. King George IV was and admirer as were three hundred members of the English nobility. More than three thousand members of high society visited and played with the doll-like Crachami and likely thousands more common folk did so as well.
The exhibiting schedule was gruelling and on June 3rd of 1824, after receiving more that two hundred patrons, the tiny Miss Crachami collapsed and expired during exhibition.
Her exhibitor, Dr. Gilligan, shopped Crachami’s earthly remains around to various medical institutions before selling them to the anatomist John Hunter for $500, and this is where the tale takes a tragic twist. Caroline was a child far younger than the nine years she was billed as. Modern examinations of her remains place her age at no more than three. She was also likely not Sicilian and probably hailed from Ireland where her parents read of her death in the Cork Inquirer. Her father quickly ferried to England in an attempt to halt any dissection and autopsy. However he arrived too late and Caroline’s bones had already been stripped bare.
The skeleton of Caroline Crachami now resides at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons together with a few mementoes of her life including a pair of her silk stockings, her slippers, a ruby ring and casts of her face and arm. There Caroline forever stands next to The Irish Giant Charles Byrne, his seven foot seven skeleton standing as a silent protector.
Portrait of Caroline Crachami by Alfred Edward Chalon.

Friday, 24 June 2011

PERCILLA – The Monkey Girl

The case of Julia Pastrana has long been held as a tragic example of exploitation. The remarkable bearded prodigy lived a life of manipulation and in death her body was abused and disgraced by callous souls and ignorance. The life of her contemporary could have easily followed the same shadowed path however her story is of true love, inner beauty and respect.
During her long life Percilla Lauther was known by many names. Originally she was descriptively dubbed ‘the hairy little girl’ and later as ‘the monkey girl’, but it is quite likely that she will forever be remembered by those dear to her as Percilla Bejano – loving wife of Emmitt the Alligator-Skinned Man.
The hirsute Percilla was born on April 26 of 1911 in the Puerto Rican town of Bayamon. Percilla had been born with hypertrichosis, she possessed two rows of teeth and drew immediate attention from the public and the medical community. Percilla’s father was a native of Spain and he did not know what to make of his hairy daughter initially. Percilla’s parents traveled to New York City seeking answers from American doctors and there they remained for seven months until Percilla’s father developed the idea of exhibiting his daughter for profit.
Percilla’s father was not a greedy man. He merely saw an opportunity to make the most of the situation nature had thrust upon his daughter. However his limited knowledge of English and business made promoting Percilla difficult and he approached showman Karl. L. Lauther for assistance. Lauther was an accomplished promoter and he owned and operated several shows during his lifetime. He took an instant interest in Percilla and hired her on the spot. Lauther also hired an assistant to help Percilla’s father care for the child after his wife returned to Puerto Rico. That arrangement was short lived however, as Percilla’s father was shot and killed in Gainesville. Upon his death, and according to his final wish, Lauther adopted young Percilla as his own daughter.
Percilla never said anything ill of her adoptive father, thus one may assume that he was a compassionate and loving man. In fact all evidence indicates that despite exhibiting Percilla for profit, Lauther was extremely sensitive to the public perception of his adoptive daughter. Lauther disliked the fact that the public took to calling Percilla a ‘monkey girl’ and verbally lashed out at anyone bold enough to call her a ‘freak’. But the ‘Monkey Girl’ moniker stuck and Lauther gave in and began to publicly pair Percilla with a trained chimpanzee named Josephine. He may have had the last laugh, however, as the two attractions were juxtaposed. Percilla would warmly and graciously welcome guests to her exhibit while Josephine would rudely smoke cigarettes and spit.
In the late 1930′s, while performing with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition, Percilla met fellow marvel Emmitt Bejano, the Alligator-Skinned Man. Despite her heavy beard and his ichthyosis a sweet romance blossomed between the unique couple. The pair saw past their physical differences. Emmitt was a man with calloused skin who spent performance intermissions submerged in vats of ice water because he could not sweat. Emmitt was quite literally ‘thick skinned’ and he had a ‘hard shell to crack’ but beneath he was a compassionate, gentle, charming and passionate man. Percilla, despite looking more beast than beauty, was elegant, eloquent and possessed an enchanting singing voice. Before long Percilla realized that the gentle Emmitt was the love of her life and the two eloped in 1938.
A year later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Francine, into their family. Unfortunately pneumonia extinguished her life after a scant four months.
When Emmitt and Percilla returned to exhibition they were promoted as the World’s Strangest Married Couple. Percilla and Emmitt shared the stage and most notably worked for Ringling Brothers and other shows successfully for over a decade. They appeared together in the 1980 film Carny opposite Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Eventually the couple grew tired of life in the public eye and opted to retire to a private life in Gibbstown, Florida. There the two remained madly in love for many more years. Their union ended with Emmitt’s passing in 1995.
Percilla carried on, clean shaven for the first time in her life, and briefly appeared in various documentaries and on the Jerry Springer show where she charmed the audience with stories of her beloved Emmitt and by shyly singing his favourite song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.
Percilla herself passed away in her sleep in February of 2001. She is dearly missed by all who knew her.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


The tale of tiny Jeffrey Hudson is unique, to say the least. The tiny man famously known as ‘Lord Minimus’ and considered one of the ‘wonders of the age’ was a member of the royal court, fought in the English civil war, killed a man in an illegal duel, was eventually reviled and spent over 25 years as a slave.
Jeffrey Hudson was born to average sized parents in England’s smallest county, Rutlan, on June 14, 1619. His three brothers and half sister were all of average height and Jeffrey’s tiny, yet perfectly proportioned, dimensions quickly became apparent. His father tended the cattle of the Duke of Buckingham, George Villers, 1st and on his seventh birthday young Jeffrey Hudson was presented before the Duchess of Buckingham as a ‘fine rarity of nature’. The Duchess was so smitten the little man who stood only 18 inches tall that she invited him to join the household. His father approved. Only a few months after joining the household, the Duke and Duchess entertained King Charles and Queen Henrietta in London. At the climax of the celebration, during an opulent banquet, a pie was placed before the Queen. Jeffrey arose from the crust of the pie dressed in tiny suit of armour to the shock of all in attendance. The Queen was known as a collector of rarities and simply had to add Jeffrey to her collection. Jeffrey was invited into the Queen’s royal household and, in 1626, he accepted by moving into Denmark House in London.
Jeffrey was one of several human marvels residing in Denmark House. The Welsh giant William Evans was among his housemates, as were two other dwarves. It is important to note that dwarves were not an uncommon sight in royal courts of Europe, but Jeffrey’s dwarfism was rare and unique. His perfect proportions were likely due to hypopituitarism, a lack of growth hormone, giving him the appearance of a man in miniature. In carnival slang he was a midget, in medical and correct terms he was a pituitary dwarf. Jeffrey proved to be a charming, humorous and light-hearted boy and he quickly became the Queen’s favourite member of court and a favourite of artisans and writers. In fact, he was celebrated in several poems and narratives during his early years.
Jeffrey was educated in the Queen’s household and learned the manners of the court. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church of her household and he learned to ride a horse and shoot a pistol. He was originally something of a jester but as he grew older, and displayed examples of intellect and cunning, he began to serve the court in diplomatic affairs. In 1630 he was included in a mission to the Queen’s home nation of France and in 1637 he travelled to the Netherlands to observe the siege of Breda.
By 1642 the relationship between King Charles and the Parliament had deteriorated and armed conflict broke out between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. As Charles led the Royalist army, the Queen and Hudson returned to the Netherlands to raise money and support for King Charles. When they returned to England, they found it in the midst of a full-blown civil war.
They were able to join Royalist forces at Oxford and there the Queen appointed Hudson a ‘Captain of Horse’ rank and Captain Jeffrey Hudson presumably commanded troops in cavalry raids orchestrated by Prince Rupert.
By 1643 it became apparent that England was no longer safe for the Queen and Hudson escorted her to France and later he helped establish a new court in exile at Nevers. By this time Hudson had shed his previous clownish reputation and he took his rank and social position quite seriously. He tolerated no insults or entertainment at his expense and when insulted by the brother of William Crofts he challenged the man to a duel. Hudson chose pistols on horseback and shot Crofts through the head. Despite winning the duel, the episode proved to be the downfall of Hudson. Duelling was illegal in France and the murder of Crofts was regarded as a transgression again the hospitality of France. Adding to that William Crofts, who served as the Queen’s Master of Horse and head of her lifeguard, was livid and petitioned the Queen to administer justice. The Queen herself was both embarrassed and outraged by Hudson’s outburst and subsequently expelled Hudson from her court.
Hudson’s life continued its downward spiral and shortly after leaving the court in 1643 he was aboard a ship captured by Barbary pirates. The Muslim pirates were well known for raiding the coasts and shipping lanes of Western Europe for plunder and slaves and, as was their custom with European captives, Hudson was taken to North Africa as a slave. There he spent the next 25 years of his life labouring.
The date and circumstances of his rescue are not known but in the 1660’s several missions were sent from England to Algeria and Tunis to ransom English captives. During one of these routine ransom missions Captain Jeffrey Hudson was likely amongst a group of slaves release was negotiated for. His first documented presence back in England was in 1669.
Upon his return, Hudson was a changed man. Most remarkable was that during his captivity he had added forty-five inches to his height. Such growth spurts are not unheard of in cases of pituitary dwarfism but the added height was not a blessing to Hudson as he was now simply a short man and not a tiny miracle.
Few records of Hudson’s years between 1669 and his death in 1682 exist, likely due to the fact that he was no longer a marvel. It is evident that he received a few grants of money from the Duke of Buckingham and the new King, Charles II. In 1676 he personally returned to London seeking a pension from the royal court. His timing was again disastrous as he arrived during a period of great anti-Catholic activity. He was imprisoned at the Gatehouse prison for the ‘crime’ of being Roman Catholic and he was not released until 1680.
The ‘wonder of the age’ Captain Jeffrey Hudson died only a couple of years later, a penniless pauper. The exact date and circumstances of his passing, and his place of burial remain unknown.
image: engraving by Nicholas Droeshutt found in James Caulfield’s Portraits, Memoirs and Characters of Remarkable Persons from the Reign of Edward III to the Revolution.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

DICK HILBURN – The Quarter-Man

Man is often greater than the sum of his parts.
On January 15, 1918 an infant named Dick Hilburn was born in Bladenboro, North Carolina. He was born physically incomplete.
Dick Hilburn was born with a single arm and physically little else. He possessed no left arm and no legs, only a vestigial two-toed foot protruded from his left hip. Yet, despite what would normally be considered a crippling handicap, Dick Hilburn possessed an unconquerable spirit and indomitable work ethic which allowed him to not only surpass expectations but to also exceed the ambitions of many able-bodied men.
Dick Hilburn conquered his mobility limitations with little more than a rolling board. He used his arm to propel and steer his body and in the process developed great physical strength. That strength allowed him to hoist his body wherever he willed it with relative ease.
Having dealt with his mobility issues, Hilburn focused on developing his mind and ingenuity. He proved to be a talented artist and became fairly well know for his skills with a tattoo needle. He was also sought after as a commercial painter of signs, banners, trucks and semi trailers.
He possessed a natural business sense and rather than rely on showmen for exhibition purposes, Hilburn developed and operated his own show. He exhibited himself on his own terms and, later, added a second attraction. A young parastremmatic dwarf, a dwarf with twisted limbs, named Carl ‘Frogboy’ Norwood joined the venture and Hilburn generously provided for the both of them. During the off season the two operated a local diner, which was also owned by the one-armed wonder Dick Hilburn.
Successful in life, art and business Hilburn was also successful in love. He later married an average woman who had all her fingers and toes.
Dick Hilburn ran his sideshow until the day he died in June of 1971. He lived his life as any man free of handicap would. His only limitation in life was his mortality.
As for Carl Norwood, he was managed by Hilburn’s widow for a short time before joining up with the great showman Ward Hall. He toured for a few more seasons before retiring and passing on in Atlanta on Feb. 24, 1976.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

MILLIE-CHRISTINE – The Two-Headed Nightingale

Millie and Christine were born into slavery on July 11, 1851 in the town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. The girls were joined at the spine and their owner, a blacksmith named Jabez McKay, was not sure what to do with the girls. Their parents, Monimia and Jacob, had previously sired seven children but clearly the twins would be of little use to McKay due to their bizarre appearance and sickly constitution. Eventually McKay opted to sell the eight-month-old girls and their mother to Carolinian showman John Pervis for $1000.
Pervis began exhibiting Millie and Christine immediately but within four years the girls were sold to showmen Joseph Pearson Smith and Brower and then kidnapped. The kidnappers exhibited the twins privately, mostly to members of the medical community, for over three years while Smith and Brower frantically searched for their investment. They eventually located Millie and Christine while they were on exhibit in Birmingham, England. The law became involved in the situation and, as slavery was illegal in England, the girls were released into the custody of their mother. She, however, had no idea how to proceed with the girls in a foreign country and as a result she gave custody and ‘ownership’ back to Smith.
While Smith continued to exhibit Mille and Christine, he found the public was not very interested. At the time, the anatomical novelty of conjoined twins simply was not enough to capture public attention. Smith decided to develop Millie and Christine as a performing act. Furthermore, he endeavoured to make the girls as extraordinary in skill as they were in appearance. To that end, he and his wife tutored the girls in music and languages. Millie and Christine were taught etiquette, social graces and were given music lessons. It came to pass that the girls developed impressive singing abilities and their singing prowess soon became the focal point of their careers.
As ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ the conjoined girls started to gain a remarkable reputation. While Millie was a contralto and Christine a soprano, the girls were able to blend and harmonize their voices in incredibly appealing ways. By 1860, Millie and Christine were on the cusp of stardom.
In 1862 Smith died. The girls were willed to his son Joseph Jr. and it was Joseph who catapulted the girls to stardom by using a clever bit of showmanship.
Throughout much of their life, Millie and Christine were often considered one person. Due to their shared body, it was often unclear if the girls were legally and physically a single being or individuals. The girls themselves often referred to themselves in the singular, using ‘I’ in the place of ‘we’. Joseph Jr. saw opportunity in this confusion and opted to advertise the girls from a new perspective.
The girls became Millie-Christine, a girl with two heads, four arms and four legs.
The concept of such an incredible phenomenon drew immediate crowds and Millie-Christine enjoyed immediate and world-wide popularity. Furthermore, it was the singing of ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale’ that quickly gained predominance over appearance and Millie-Christine eventually performed for European royalty, including the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria. Mille-Christine became renowned for singing, playing the guitar and piano in unison and dancing the waltz in front of thousands of people in the greatest halls and venues of the world.
Soon, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and Millie-Christine was free. During the course of her career, Millie-Christine earned more than $250,000.
Millie-Christine preformed until the age of fifty-eight. Once retired, Millie-Christine became Millie and Christine once again. The sisters built a home in Columbus, North Carolina where they lived quietly until their passing on October 8, 1912. Millie went first, succumbing to tuberculosis, and her sister followed seventeen hours later.
They were sixty-one, the oldest conjoined twins on record.

Monday, 20 June 2011


The Living Skeleton was a fairly common human marvel appearing in private exhibits and travelling sideshows during the heyday of human exhibition. Living Skeletons, sometimes referred to as ‘shadows’, were generally adult men afflicted with some sort of consumption disease ranging from digestive disorders to full blown cases of tuberculosis. Living Skeletons were emaciated to a startling degree, many of them weighed less than 75 pounds and some weighed as little as 50 pounds.
The Living Skeleton was often presented in tandem with a Fat Lady to better juxtapose the physical attributes of both curiosities. In fact, went visiting a new town, it was a common practice amongst showmen to stage a wedding ceremony between a Fat lady and a Living Skeleton to capitalize on free publicity and draw crowds.
The list of Living Skeletons is long, but few were as unfortunate as Dominique Castagna – The Mummy.
Born in Slaligny, France in 1869 Dominique Castagna was, by all accounts, an ugly child. His face was contorted, his eyes were buggy and his nose was compressed and flat. To make matters worse, at the age of two he stopped developing normally. His appearance quickly became gaunt and emaciated and his growth stunted. By the age of twelve he was fully grown and as an adult he was only 4’ 9” and weighted only 50 pounds and 6 ounces. Due to his appearance, Castagna was extremely introverted and lonely. He had few friends and was generally avoided by all who saw him as he was assumed to be deathly ill and contagious.
Initially Dominique Castagna tried to live a normal life, but his frail body and looks didn’t allow for a great range of career choices. While working as an office assistant for an architect in Monaco a co-worker named Cruzel convinced him to exhibit himself for profit. Dominique Castagna reasoned that, since he was always stared at anyway, he may as well make some money in the process. Still, he was greatly reluctant to be made a spectacle. It was with great trepidation that he entered show business.
Castagna exhibited himself in Marseille for the first time in 1896. Cruzel acted as his agent during that venture and every venture afterward. It was Cruzel who dubbed Castagna ‘The Mummy’, inspired by the sunken features and boney body of Castagna. The name stuck and, perhaps despite the label, Cruzel and Castagna became great friends.
Castagna was overjoyed to be accepted by someone who, over time, no longer saw the disfigurements and physical peculiarities. Cruzel accepted Castagna as a he was and with his friendship Castagna was able to ignore the more miserable aspects of his life. He hated exhibition and the constant stares. He was torn apart by his loneliness and the lack of love in his life.
When his friend Cruzel married and quit show business, Castagna shot himself in a hotel in Leige in 1905.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

ANNIE JONES – The Esau Woman

Shortly after she was born in Virginia on July 14, 1865, the hirsute Annie Jones began her career in exhibition.
Purportedly born with a chin covered in fine hair, Annie’s average parents were originally horrified by her appearance. It wasn’t long, however, before the monetary benefits of their prodigious daughter dawn on the Jones family and word of her unique appearance came to the attention of elite showman P. T. Barnum.
When she was little more than a year in age, Annie was brought to New York City to be featured in Barnum’s museum as ‘The Infant Esau’. The name ‘Esau’ was often applied to hirsute wonders and was in reference to the biblical grandson of Abraham, brother of Jacob. Esau’s name in Hebrew means ‘hairy’, and, according to Genesis 25:25, it is a reference to his hairiness at birth.
After an initial short but highly successful run, Barnum offered Annie’s mother a three year contract, allotting Annie a weekly salary of $150 a week. Mrs. Jones accepted the offer, which was exorbitant for the era, and took up permanent residence with her daughter in New York. However, within the first year of the contract, a family emergency called Mrs. Jones back to Virginia and she left Annie in the care of a Barnum appointed Nanny. During this time, Annie was kidnapped by a local phrenologist who attempted to exhibit Anne privately. Luckily Annie was soon located in upstate New York, the kidnapper dealt with and Annie was quickly back in the custody of Mrs. Jones – who forevermore stayed in close proximity to her daughter during her career.
Annie’s career spanned thirty-six years.
During her long career Jones traveled not only with Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, but also worked numerous dime museums. Annie’s stage name changed to reflect her age during her career. She was known as the Esau Child and later the Esau Lady and visually not only did Annie sport a full and long beard, she also grew out the hair on her head to over six feet in length. Annie also expanded her talents as well, as she was not content to simply be stared at. She came to be known for her musical skills and gracious etiquette as much as her facial hair.
At sixteen, Jones married Richard Elliot – a professional sideshow bally talker. The marriage lasted fifteen years before the couple divorced. Jones then married another talker, William Donovan. Together, the newlyweds struck out on their own and toured Europe with Annie as an independent feature attraction and William as a vocal agent. Unfortunately the marriage was short as William died without warning. Annie, not knowing what else to do, quickly rejoined Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth.
In 1902, Annie fell ill and while visiting her mother in Brooklyn and on October 22 she passed away at age thirty-seven.
Annie Jones was the most celebrated Bearded Lady of her era.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


For many years the world only knew Robert Huddleston as The Pony Boy and by the astounding images depicting his unusual posture. Following his years of travel with carnivals as a human exhibit his true name and story were nearly lost to history and his story of personal triumph and perseverance has only recently resurfaced.
Like Ella Harper, The Camel Girl, Robert Huddleston was likely afflicted with a very advanced form of congenital genu recurvatum – also known as ‘back knee deformity’. By most accounts, Robert was unable to stand erect or use crutches and so he lived and trekked about exclusively on all fours.
Despite what appeared to be a crippling affliction Huddleston lived a remarkably active lifestyle and possesses a remarkable work ethic. Born around Excelsior Springs, Missouri in 1895 Robert Huddleston spent much of his childhood working chores on the family farm by milking cows, loading stock and harvesting crops. Huddleston spent his early adulthood employed as a logging teamster where he hauled trees and lumber some fifteen miles a day while affixed to a wagon. He protected his hands from rocks and bush debris by lashing small wooden blocks to his hands with leather and as a result of this heavy labour Huddleston’s arm and shoulder strength practically became legendary among his peers.  To punctuate his independence and mechanical inclination Huddleston was employed as a blacksmith and temporary as a carpenter during World War II.
To those who knew him, Robert was a kind hearted and hardworking man who ignored his perceived limitations. Most came to not even notice his physical condition as it was never an issue. Still, strangers stared and work became rather scarce following WWII and Huddleston soon considered exhibiting his physical appearance and extraordinary independence for profit.
Huddleston came to be known as The Pony Boy following the war while showcasing his physical uniqueness for the first time with a small carnival located in Texas. The brief stint proved incredibly successful, likely due in part to his exceptional work ethic, and led to more work with several larger organizations. Eventually Huddleston toured all of North American with the Tom Mix Circus. His act consisted primarily of displays of strength combined with unique flexibility. It’s been said that he was able to throw his right leg over his shoulder like a bale of wood.
All told, Huddleston spent 36 years displaying his exceptionality for profit.
Robert Huddleston eventually came to retire in Fremont where he continued his active lifestyle, restoring automobiles and raising rabbits. He passed away in 1970 after living his life to its fullest.

Friday, 17 June 2011

SAM ALEXANDER – The Man with Two Faces

Most marvels are simply born unique. Other marvels are self-made via years of perseverance, dedication and training. Some are created via events of misfortune and Sam Alexander turned his misfortune into a lucrative career as a unique attraction few would ever forget.
Sam Alexander was born a relatively average man. In his early 20’s he was actively pursuing a career in theatre and had been recently promoted at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago when personal disaster struck. Although the details are a little sketchy, Sam was ultimately involved in a huge gasoline explosion that was the result of his own carelessness. While he was able to instinctively save his eyes by raising his arm, he received deep burns around his lips and lower face. Even more unfortunate, his wounds festered and became severely infected. Doctors were forced to remove much of his lower face and lips, practically to the bone. As a result, Sam Alexander was left with a permanent and disturbing teeth-gnashing grimace and a gruesome visage.
Sam spent thirteen months physically recovering from his wounds in a Chicago hospital. His mental scars perhaps ran deeper than his physical ones as he was forced to endure the gasps of new nurses and the lack of eye contact from visiting loved ones. Following his recovery, Sam Alexander was placed in a halfway house, a facility for people with little or no hope of social recovery. However his fortunes changed slightly when a doctor referred him to a prosthetics master and a lifelike mask was cast and created in an effort to fake a normal appearance. In a certain light, the facade was somewhat convincing but extremely limiting and Sam Alexander was still despondent as his saw little chance to earn a livelihood in a society that was appearance driven.
Sam was a driven and ambitious man, which made his confinement all the more unbearable. One morning, as Sam read the paper, he saw an ad for the Pete Kortes Sideshow. The show was touring and was set up close to the halfway house. Same attended the show, introduced himself to Kortes and unmasked to show the ringmaster what he had to offer. Kortes was horrified and hired Sam on the spot. Sam began touring almost immediately and instantly caused a stir.
Billed as ‘The Man with Two Faces’, Sam’s exhibition consisted primarily of a stage monologue detailing his story. Sam was a soft-spoken man with a gentle manner and soothing voice. He so lulled the crowd with his tale of heartbreak that when he revealed his face in a surprising flourish, people screamed and women cried. His showcase was so disturbing that Kortes made Sam the Blow Off attraction, an extra attraction patrons had to pay a premium to see and he was sincerely billed as ‘not for the weak of heart’. At more than one venue, Sam Alexander was paid not to perform.
Sam Alexander was soon in demand. During his career he joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, the Clyde Beatty Circus and worked for venerable showman Ward Hall from 1960 to 1967. Sam Alexander eventually even created and ran his own sideshow and was ultimately responsible for rescuing the legendary Schlitzie the Pinhead from institutionalized life.
Despite it eventually becoming his livelihood, Sam Alexander endured seventy-two operations in his lifetime in the effort to restore his damaged face. While the operations were never quite completely successful, Sam eventually retired his mask regardless of the patchwork appearance his face bore. Sam was a man without a prejudice or bitter bone in his body and he was determined to live the last years of his life as himself – without hiding behind a mask.
Sam Alexander passed away in 1997 and today is remembered fondly by all who knew him as a man with a kind heart and a face to match.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

SUSI -The Elephant Girl

Charlotte Linda Vogel was born in Charlottenburg, Berlin, February 26, 1908, the only person in her family with her peculiar skin condition. (Although she claimed at various times to be Austrian or Swiss, she was definitely German.) Hers was a different type of ichthyosis than that of her "alligator-skinned" contemporaries; Charlotte was not scaly, but rather covered all over in a thick, leathery, grey skin that formed deep creases at the joints. Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (EHK) seems to be the most likely diagnosis. She could not sweat and stayed cool by rubbing herself with ice, and had to lubricate her skin with baby oil several times a day to prevent painful cracking. She also could not produce tears and could only close her eyelids by sliding them down with her fingers. Charlotte was able to maintain a normal appearance from the neck up by peeling the excess epidermis from her face every night, though in her pitch book she claimed to have rid her face of scales with a type of X-ray treatment.
Charlotte toured Europe before coming to the United States in 1927 with her German manager, Julius Kuehnel of the St. Leon Bros. Circus, and his performer wife Erna. At Coney Island's Dreamland Circus Sideshow, then under the management of Carl J. Lauther, Charlotte adopted the name "Susi, the Elephant Skin Girl". Scantily costumed in a bikini, or sometimes even just a strategically-draped veil, pretty Susi told her life story to a captivated crowd. Susi shared a New York apartment with the Kuehnels and worked as their housekeeper. She became a U.S. citizen in 1936 but continued to make frequent trips back to Germany throughout the '30s.
Susi left Coney Island in 1933 to be featured in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not?! exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair, where she gave no fewer than eighty performances to a million curious viewers. When these grind shows became too exhausting for Susi, she traveled to New York and took a low stress job with the Gorman Bros. circus as a member of the menagerie, performing for just an hour a day next to an elephant named Lou. Susi spoke beautiful English and Walt Hudson recalled she "was a very pleasant girl to converse with". Her favorite hobby was crossword puzzles, and she often asked people to save her the puzzles from their daily papers.
In the 1960s Susi opened her own show as "The Swamp Girl", an improbable cross between a woman and a "swamp lizard". This new setup was even less strenuous than the Gorman Bros. gig; Susi spent her days lying on a mattress in an air-conditioned trailer, while spectators filed past and peered in the window at her.
Suzi died in New York City on February 2, 1976, just short of her 68th birthday.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

AL AND JEANIE TOMAINI – The Strangest Couple

True love knows no bounds.
Al (Aurelio) Tomaini was born in 1912 in New Jersey as one of seven children. By the age of twelve he towered over his father – a stout man who stood over six feet in height. Al had an overactive pituitary gland and he eventually stood over seven feet in height. To earn a career in sideshow, Al claimed a height of 8’4” and billed himself as ‘The Tallest Man in the World’. No one seemed to mind Al’s embellishment, due mostly to the fact that Al was an incredibly genuine and nice guy. He was shy, gentle and sweet inside and out – from the top of his towering head to the bottom of his size 27 shoes. During the Great Lakes Exposition in 1936, one special young lady took a particular interest in the gentle giant with the coy smile.
Her name was Jeanie (Berniece Evelyn Smith) and she was born on August 23rd in 1916 in Blufton, Indiana with twisted arms and without legs. She ‘stood’ just over two feet in height but, in personality, Jeanie was a giant in her own right. Jeanie had been performing in exhibitions since the age of three and was known for her acrobatic dexterity and the nimble way she ran about on her mildly deformed hands. Originally exhibited by her biological mother, Jeanie had been under the abusive care of an adoptive mother since 1931. The pretty but resilient 19 year old endured the psychological abuse with little hope of escape but, when the sincere flames of romance sparked between her and Al Tomaini, she found a gargantuan protector who would forever lift her out of harm’s way.
The unusual couple eloped during a fair in Cleveland, Ohio on September 8th of 1936 and were wed by a justice of the peace that same day. The pair honeymooned in Niagara Falls and continued touring together for many decades as the ‘World’s Strangest Married Couple’. In the off season they settled in Gibsonton, Florida. It was there that the two remarkable people built a home and a life together.
Gibsonton was known for its population of unusual people. Many circus folk retired or wintered there and many still do. Al and Jeanie purchased a piece of property there along the banks of the river and established a lodge and fishing camp known as ‘The Giant’s Camp’, marked by one of Al’s enormous cowboy boots nailed to the nearest road sign. In Gibsonton Al and Jeanine raised two adopted daughters. With their savings and camp earnings, the pair bought and donated an ambulance to their town. Al served as the world’s tallest fire chef and president of the Chamber of Commerce. Al even lent a hand in building the community hall. All the while, the pair were inseparable and deeply in love. Al was often spotted with his pretty half-girl wife Jeanie propped on his shoulder or carried at his side.
Fortified by that love, Al lived longer than most pituitary giants. He likely endured much physical pain but refused to show it. Eventually, however, his time came and he left his beloved Jeanie in 1962 at the age of 50.
Jeanie continued on without her giant husband. She never remarried and continued to run the camp until her own passing on August 10, 1999. She was buried on the anniversary of Al’s passing.
The Tomaini family still reside in Gibsonton. Their great-grandson, Alex Zander Marrow, carries on their circus sideshow legacy by performing amazing feats of physical endurance professionally as the Junior Torture King. He was formerly the youngest sword swallower in the world and his grandmother, the Tomaini’s adopted daughter Judy, built him his first bed of nails.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Chuy with Donny Vomit and the Black Scorpion at Sideshows by the Seashore

Jesús "Chuy" Aceves was born in Loreto, Zacatecas, Mexico and is the second person in his family born with a rare condition known as hypertrichosis. Chuy's face is covered with hair, making him resemble the legendary wolfman or, as some call him, a monkey man. Chuy is married and has two daughters, one of whom has the condition. His sister, Lili, was also born with hypertrichosis. She is married with one son, and works as a police officer in Mexico. Many in his family believe that they are descendants of Julia Pastrana, the "Monkey girl".
In 2005, Jesús, shaved for the first time for the documentary It's Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy for the BBC. He shaved in the hope of getting a "regular" job so he could work near his home, and not leave his family for long periods of time. Unfortunately, the pay of a regular job was not as good as that in a freak show or circus. Chuy is currently working backstage on Circus Vargas.
In 2007, Chuy was featured in the books Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and Guinness World Records.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo

Lazarus and his brother Joannes Baptista in a contemporary etching.

Lazarus Colloredo and Joannes Baptista Colloredo (1617 – after 1646) were Italian conjoined twins who toured in 17th century Europe. They were born in Genoa, Italy.
The upper body of Joannes Baptista (named after John the Baptist) and his left leg stuck out of his mobile brother. He did not speak and kept his eyes closed and mouth open all the time. According to a later account by Copenhagen anatomist Thomas Bartholinus, if someone pushed the breast of Joannes Baptista, he moved his hands, ears and lips.
To make a living, Lazarus toured around Europe and visited at least Basel, Switzerland and Copenhagen, Denmark before he arrived in Scotland in 1642 and later visited the court of Charles I of England.
They also visited Gdansk, Turkey and Denmark, and toured Germany and Italy in 1646.
Contemporary accounts described Lazarus as courteous and handsome but for his brother who just dangled before him. When Lazarus was not exhibiting himself, he covered his brother with his cloak to avoid unnecessary attention.
Later accounts claim that Lazarus married and sired several unmutated children. His engraved portrait depicts him in a costume of a courtier of the period of House of Stuart.
The brothers' exact date of death is unknown.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

GRADY STILES JR. – The Murderous Lobster Man

Grady Stiles Jr. is a rarity in the world of Human Marvels. By many accounts, this teratological terror was every bit the monster he appeared to be.
The Stiles family has been afflicted for over a century with ectrodactyly, a condition commonly known as ‘Lobster Claw’ syndrome. It is a rare congenital deformity of the hand where the middle digit is missing and the hand is cleft where the metacarpal of the finger should be. This split often gives the hands the appearance of lobster claws although cases range in severity. Often this condition occurs in both the hands and the feet and, while it is an inherited condition, it can skip a generation. While the term ectrodactyly sounds medically sterile when compared to ‘Lobster Claw Syndrome’.
William Stiles was apparently the first in the family to display the condition in 1805. He was followed by Jacob Stiles, Elisha Stiles and Grady Stiles Sr. Grady Sr. was a sideshow attraction and when Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr., ‘The Lobster Boy’, was born in Pittsburgh on July 18, 1937 his father added him to the show at a young age.
Grady’s condition was severe and he was unable to walk. He learned to use his hands and arms for locomotion and, as a result, developed incredible upper body strength. He married twice and had four children. Two of those children, a girl, Cathy, and a boy, Grady III, were born with variations of ectrodactyly. Although the siblings were from different mothers, they sometimes toured together as The Lobster Family.
Grady had a dark side. He was known to be a highly abusive drunk. He often used his frightening strength to beat his wives and his children. When his oldest daughter Donna fell in love and became engaged with a young man in 1978, Grady didn’t approve with her choice. Perhaps the young man stuck up for Donna, perhaps he confronted Grady. The night before the pair was to be married; Grady picked up a shotgun and murdered the young groom in cold blood.
The trial was a media circus. In court Grady openly confessed to his crime and showed little remorse. However, he did not serve any time for the murder. He used his condition to his advantage. It was stated that since the prison system was not equipped to deal with his ‘disability’, confining him to such an institution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Grady was let off on 15 years probation.
Following these events, Grady felt invincible. When he resumed beating his family one of his favourite taunts was ‘I killed before and got away with it, I can do it again’. Amazingly, during this time Stiles remarried his first wife Maria. She left her new husband, a sideshow dwarf, to remarry Grady and almost instantly regretted the choice.
Eventually, the family had had enough. On November 29, 1993 Grady was gunned down by a hired assassin. The hitman was then 19 year old sideshow performer Chris Wyant, a neighbor to the Stiles family. He was paid $1500 in cash by Maria and her stepson Harry, to put three bullets into the skull of Grady Stiles Jr.
Wyant was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-seven years. Harry was considered the mastermind behind the plot. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
In her defense, Maria stated ‘My husband was going to kill my family. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. I’m sorry this happened, but my family is safe now’
The family has carried on. Grady III has a daughter, Sara, who does not have ectrodactyly. Cathy is married and has a lobster-clawed daughter named Misty. The three of them still perform on occasion.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Patrick Deuel

Patrick D. Deuel
Born March 28, 1962 (age 49)
Nebraska, United States
Patrick D. Deuel (born 28 March 1962), of Nebraska, United States, was one of the heaviest people in the world. He was the subject of the documentary "Half Ton Man" in Channel Four's BodyShock series, in which Rosalie Bradford gave advice after achieving a record-breaking weight loss of 410 kilograms (900 lb).
Deuel is a former restaurant manager. At one point, he had not left his house, or even his bed, in 7 years. He stands at 177.5 cm (5 ft 10 in). At his peak he weighed 1,126 pounds; at the time, the only scale that could be used to weigh him was a livestock scale.
He was so enormous that his bedroom wall had to be cut out to extract him from his home. Then, he was rushed to a Sioux Falls, South Dakota hospital in an ambulance with extra-wide doors and a ramp-and-winch system that had to be dispatched from Denver.
Gastric bypass surgery was thought to be his best chance for permanent weight loss. A second operation removed a mass of fat and skin hanging from his midsection.
After 12 months, Patrick lost 260 kilograms (570 lb). After leaving the hospital, Patrick lost even more weight, reaching 170 kilograms (370 lb), a notable 318 kilograms (700 lb) loss.
Since then, Patrick had a setback and his guess is that he now weighs 193 kilograms (430 lb).

Thursday, 9 June 2011

RoseMarie (Rose) Siggins

The Woman with Half a Body

Rosemarie (Rose) Siggins - Extraordinary People

Rose Siggins
Rose Siggins
Born with a rare genetic disorder known as Sacral Agenesis, Rose had severely deformed legs with feet pointing in opposite directions. There was no feeling in the legs and, as a child, she was in danger of harming herself. When she was two years old her mother, after consulting with the doctors at the hospital, decided that the best course of action was to have the legs amputated. This insightful decision by her mother allowed Rose to lead a fairly normal childhood.
Rose grew up, with her mentally handicapped brother, in Pueblo, Colorado. Rose believes her parents made the right choice as she cannot imagine being confined to a wheelchair. She describes her physical condition in her own way "If you take a Barbie doll and remove it's legs, the region you are left with is what I have. I have all the female working organs, the only reason I sit shorter or more compact, as people say, is because I'm missing four sections of my spinal column".
Rose's great passion in life is cars. All things automotive, cars, trucks and V-8 engines have been a big part of her life since she started playing with her father's toolbox at the age of 3. When she was sixteen, her parents bought her a car. A used car which Rose and her father adapted with hand controls so that Rose was able to drive herself around. She is rebuilding a 1968 Mustang which she plans to race.
For years, the administrators at the local school forced Rose to wear artificial legs, they wanted her to look like everybody else. When she was in eighth grade she rebelled and refused to wear her prosthetic limbs, turning up for school on her skateboard. She wanted to be normal, and her normal is Rose who walks on her hands and has no legs. After meeting with her parents who were being very supportive, and realising that Rose was very stubborn, the school relented and allowed her to return, without her prosthetics.
Roesmarie's Wedding
Rose's Wedding
In 1997 Rose met Dave Siggins who worked in an auto-parts store, they flirted over the phone and their relationship quickly blossomed, but it was going to put Rose's life in danger. When they decided to get married, Dave joked with her that she didn't have to worry about getting cold feet. Rose and Dave were married in 1999, it was her dream come true. It was a traditional white wedding and Dave, still joking, pointed out that the cake was bigger than she was. Rose and Dave lead a normal sex life, the only comment Dave has made are that the legs don't get in the way.
Two years into their relationship, Rose discovered that she was pregnant. Rose's pregnancy was extraordinary and ground-breaking, no-one with Sacral Agenesis had ever given birth. The only doctor who didn't advise Rose to have an abortion was Dr. Wilson who says "This couple have committed themselves to a pregnancy and she is, basically, laying her life on the line because nobody knows what this means, no-one has lived this experience before. With the first counselling with Rose and David I was very specific and told them that they have to know that if they move forward with this that she could die." The main concerns were with her lungs being compressed, as the baby was likely to grow up the way because of her short stature. The other concern was how she would tolerate a caesarean delivery, because the baby was lying transversely she would have to be opened across the top, a true 19th century caesarean delivery. Rose told her mum that if there were any complications and there was a choice between her life and the baby's, she should choose the baby.
Having given birth to a miracle baby, Rose was about to experience a terrible tragedy. Luke had just celebrated his second birthday when Rose's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She held the family together, provided an emotional pillar, and organised the vital day-to-day running of the house. Her death had a disastrous effect on everyone around her. Rose's father had already had the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia so he, like her brother, didn't understand what was happening. It became apparent that Rose was next in line to run the family and do everything her mother had done. As well as looking after her son and husband, Rose now cares for her dad and brother. Rose's dad, James, has smoked all his life and now has to rely on a constant supply of oxygen. He is also suffering from schizophrenia and the onset of Alzheimer's.
Her brother, James, is 29 years old but has the mental age of an 8 year old. He's on psychotropic medication, needs regular supervision, and has occasional violent outbursts. Despite his mental health problems, Jimmy is holding down a cleaning job in the local taxi office. While everything is going well at work, Jimmy's erratic behaviour at home is about to get him into trouble. Unbeknown to Rose, her dad had allowed Jimmy to take his Cadillac to work, Jimmy doesn't drive so the inevitable had to happen, so now Rose has to fix the Cadillac.
Rose has great moral strength and a remarkable attitude she says "A lot of people with disabilities feel that life owes them something, and I was raised in a way that no, no-one owes you a dime. The world doesn't owe you anything, this is what you have and you use your resources and you get through life. My personal opinion is, get up and go for it, just do it."
Rose's story as a woman who has overcome bewildering obstacles and succeeded despite seemingly impossible odds is a real life example of the American dream. However, away from the limelight and behind a determined self-assurance there's another side to Rose. With the usual day-to-day problems and the added stress of Jimmy's erratic behaviour Rose is feeling the strain.
She takes refuge in the garage where she can oversee the installation of a new V-8 engine in her Mustang. At last after weeks of hard work Rose feels the Mustang is ready to hit the race track, which will be another life-long ambition achieved.
Incredibly, despite the risks involved,  Rose has had a second baby.
Note: The condition Sacral Agenesis may sound like or be incorrectly spelt as sacrillo genesis or sacralla genesis.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius (born 22 November 1986) is a South African Paralympic runner. Known as the "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs", Pistorius, who has a double amputation, is the world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (sport class T44) events and runs with the aid of Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs by Ossur. In 2007 Pistorius took part in his first international competitions for able-bodied athletes. However, his artificial lower legs, while enabling him to compete, generated claims that he has an unfair advantage over able-bodied runners. The same year, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules to ban the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device". It claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius. After monitoring his track performances and carrying out tests, scientists took the view that Pistorius enjoyed considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs. On the strength of these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled him ineligible for competitions conducted under its rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. This decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 16 May 2008, the Court ruling that the IAAF had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that Pistorius's prostheses give him an advantage over able-bodied athletes.
Although eligible to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Pistorius did not qualify for the South African team. Despite achieving third place and a personal best time of 46.25 seconds in the 400 metres in Lucerne, Switzerland, on 16 July 2008, this was short of the Olympic qualification time of 45.55 seconds. He was also not selected by the South African Olympic Committee for the 4 x 400 metres relay team as there were four other runners who had achieved better times. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, he took the gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (T44) sprints.

Early years and education

Oscar Pistorius was born to Henke and Sheila Pistorius on 22 November 1986 in Sandton, Johannesburg, in Gauteng Province, with congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. When he was 11 months old, his legs were amputated halfway between his knees and ankles. He attended Constantia Kloof Primary and Pretoria Boys' High School where, between the ages of 11 and 13, he played rugby union in the school's third XV team, water polo and tennis. He also played water polo and tennis at provincial level. In addition, Pistorius took part in club Olympic wrestling. After a serious rugby knee injury, he was introduced to running in January 2004 while undergoing rehabilitation, and "never looked back".
Pistorius is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) in business management with sports science at the University of Pretoria; in a June 2008 interview for his University's website, he joked: "I won't graduate soon. With all the training I have had to cut down on my subjects. Hopefully I'll finish by the time I'm 30!" His sporting motto is: "You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have."

Sporting career

Known as the "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs", he took part in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens and came third overall in the T44 (one leg amputated below the knee) 100-metre event. Despite falling in the preliminary round for the 200 metres, he qualified for the final. He went on to win the final with a world record time of 21.97 seconds, beating American runners with a single ampution Marlon Shirley and Brian Frasure.
In 2005, Pistorius finished first in the able-bodied South African Championships over 400 metres with a world-record time of 47.34 seconds, and at the Paralympic World Cup in the same year he won gold in the 100 metres and 200 metres, beating his previous 200-metre world record. At the 2006 Paralympic Athletics World Championships, Pistorius won gold in the 100, 200 and 400-metre events, breaking the world record over 200 metres. On 17 March 2007, he set a disability sports world record for the 400 metres (46.56 seconds) at the South African Senior Athletics Championships in Durban, and at the Nedbank Championships for the Physically Disabled held in Johannesburg in April 2007, he became the world record holder of the 100 and 200-metre events with times of 10.91 and 21.58 seconds respectively.
Pistorius was invited by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to take part in what would have been his first international able-bodied event, the 400-metre race at the IAAF Grand Prix in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2005. He was unable to attend, however, because of school commitments. On 13 July 2007, Pistorius ran in the 400-metre race at Rome's Golden Gala and finished second in run B with a time of 46.90 seconds, behind Stefano Braciola who ran 46.72 seconds. This was a warm-up for his appearance at the 400 metres at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield on 15 July 2007. As American Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner stumbled at the start of the race and stopped running, Pistorius took seventh place in a field of eight in wet conditions with a time of 47.65 seconds. However, he was later disqualified for running outside his lane. The race was won by American Angelo Taylor with a time of 45.25 seconds. Pistorius has ambitions of competing in other able-bodied events. In particular, he had set his sights on competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, but was ultimately not selected by the South African Olympic Committee
Pistorius's autobiography, Dream Runner, was published in Italian in 2008 by Gianni Merlo, a journalist with La Gazzetta dello Sport. An English version entitled Blade Runner was released in 2009.

Dispute over prosthetics

The South African newspaper The Citizen announcing the IAAF's decision to bar Pistorius from its competitions – photographed in Johannesburg on 16 January 2008.
Pistorius has been the subject of criticism because of claims that his artificial limbs give him an advantage over runners with natural ankles and feet. He runs with J-shaped carbon-fibre prosthetics called the "Cheetah Flex-Foot" manufactured by Icelandic company Ossur. It has been alleged that the "blades" he uses are longer than is necessary, allowing him to cover more ground in each stride. Furthermore, it is said that the Cheetahs return more energy per stridewithout ever becoming fatigued or requiring the same "investment of energy" and that they are not subject to metabolite or lactic acid build-up that slows down other athletes. Pistorius and his coach, Ampie Louw, reject these allegations, saying that his prosthetics do not give him an unfair advantage. They have brought up disadvantages that Pistorius faces, such as rain (which leaves traction hard to attain), wind (which blows the devices sideways), and the fact that he needs more energy to start running than others. Additionally, Professor Robert Gailey of the University of Miami claimed that they return only about 80% of the energy absorbed in each stride, while a natural leg returns up to 240%, providing much more spring
Pistorius has said: "If they [the IAAF] ever found evidence that I was gaining an advantage, then I would stop running because I would not want to compete at a top level if I knew I had an unfair advantage."
On 26 March 2007, the IAAF amended its competition rules to include a ban on the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device". It claimed that the amendment was not specifically aimed at Pistorius. To decide if he is running with an unfair advantage, the IAAF monitored his track performances using high-definition cameras to film his race against Italian club runners in Rome on 13 July, and his 400 metres in Sheffield on 15 July 2007, at which he placed last. In Rome, the IAAF analysis revealed an unusual "pacing strategy", suggesting a difference in performance that could be explained by the advantage given by the Cheetah prosthetics.
In November 2007, German professor Gert-Peter Brüggemann began testing the artificial limbs for the IAAF. His study found that Pistorius's limbs used 25% less energy than runners with complete natural legs to run at the same speed, and that they led to less vertical motion combined with 30% less mechanical work for lifting the body. In December, Brüggemann told Die Welt newspaper that Pistorius "has considerable advantages over athletes without prosthetic limbs who were tested by us. It was more than just a few percentage points. I did not expect it to be so clear." Based on these findings, on 14 January 2008 the IAAF ruled Pistorius's prostheses ineligible for use in competitions conducted under the IAAF rules, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. Pistorius called the decision "premature and highly subjective" and pledged to continue fighting for his dream. His manager Peet van Zyl said his appeal would be based on advice from United States experts who had said that the report "did not take enough variables into consideration". Pistorius subsequently appealed against the adverse decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and appeared before the tribunal at the end of April 2008.
On 16 May 2008, the CAS reversed the IAAF's ban, clearing the way for Pistorius to try and qualify for the Olympics. In its decision, it held that there was insufficient evidence that Pistorius's prosthetics provided any metabolic advantage over other runners. A major component of the Court's decision was that the prosthetics do not provide an overall advantage to Pistorius in comparison to other runners, when their disadvantages are taken into account. It concluded the IAAF decision did not adequately consider all the various advantages and disadvantages over the course of the entire race, such as Pistorius's slower starts. However, the CAS panel stressed their verdict only applied to the specific case at hand, and that the IAAF might in the future be able to prove the existence of such an advantage, with advances in scientific knowledge and tests designed and carried out to the satisfaction of Pistorius and the IAAF. In response to the announcement, Pistorius said: "My focus throughout this appeal has been to ensure that disabled athletes be given the chance to compete and compete fairly with able-bodied athletes. I look forward to continuing my quest to qualify for the Olympics."

Attempts to qualify for 2008 Summer Olympics

To have a chance of representing South Africa at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the individual 400-metre race, Pistorius had to attain the Olympic "A" standard time of 45.55 seconds; the "B" qualifying time of 45.95 seconds if no other athlete from his country achieved the faster time did not apply. Each national athletics federation is permitted to enter three athletes in an event if the "A" standard is met, and only one athlete if the "B" standard is met. However, he was eligible for selection as a member of the relay squad without qualifying. His best chance was to try for a time of close to 46 seconds to make the 4 x 400-metre relay team. However, he said: "If I make the team I don't want to be the reserve for the relay, I want to be in the top four. I want to bring something to the race and make the relay stronger." To give him a chance of making the South African Olympic team, selectors delayed naming the team till 17 July.
On 2 July 2008, Pistorius competed in the 400 metres in the B race of the Notturna International in Milan but was "disappointed" when he failed to achieve the minimum Olympic qualification time, completing the race in fourth place in 47.78 seconds. His performance on 11 July 2008 at the Rome Golden Gala was an improvement of more than a second, though his sixth-place time of 46.62 seconds in the B race was still short of the Olympic qualification time. Nonetheless, he was pleased with his performance, commenting that he felt he could improve on it.
On 15 July 2008, IAAF general secretary Pierre Weiss commented that the world athletics body preferred that the South African Olympic Committee did not select Pistorius for its 4 x 400 metres relay team "for reasons of safety", saying that Pistorius could cause "serious damage" and risk the physical safety of himself and other athletes if he ran in the main pack of the relay. Pistorius branded this as the IAAF's "last desperate attempt" to get him not to qualify, and threatened legal action if the Federation did not confirm that it had no objections to his participation in the relay. The IAAF responded by issuing a statement saying that Pistorius was welcome to seek qualification for the Olympics and future competitions under IAAF rules: "The IAAF fully respects the recent CAS decision regarding the eligibility of Oscar Pistorius to compete in IAAF competitions, and certainly has no wish to influence the South African Olympic Committee, who has full authority to select a men's 4x400m relay team for the Beijing Olympics."
Despite coming third and running a personal best time of 46.25 seconds at the Spitzen Leichtathletik meeting in Lucerne on 16 July 2008, Pistorius failed in his final opportunity to qualify for the 400 metres at the 2008 Summer Olympics by 0.70 seconds. Athletics South Africa later announced that he would also not be selected for the 4 x 400 metres relay team as four other runners had better times. If Pistorius had been picked, he would have become the first runner with a leg amputation to participate in the Olympic Games. Asked about the possibility of the IAAF offering him a wild card to take part in the Olympics, Pistorius responded, "I do not believe that I would accept. If I have to take part in the Beijing Games I should do it because I qualified." Instead, he expressed a preference for focusing on getting into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, noting that it was a more realistic target as "[s]printers usually reach their peak between 26 and 29. I will be 25 in London and I'll also have two, three years' preparation."

2008 Summer Paralympics

Pistorius participated in the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing in the 100, 200 and 400 metres (T44). On 9 September, in the heats of the 100 metres, he set a Paralympic record with his time of 11.16 seconds. Later, following a slow start, he rallied to snatch gold from the United States' Jerome Singleton in the 100 metres in a time of 11.17 seconds, 0.03 seconds ahead of the silver medallist. Four days later, on 13 September, the defending Paralympic champion in the 200 metres sprint won his second gold in the event in a time of 21.67 seconds, setting another Paralympic record. He completed a hat-trick by winning gold in the 400 metres in a world-record time of 47.49 seconds on 16 September, calling it "a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life".

Attempts to qualify for 2012 Summer Olympics

Pistorius finished sixth in the 400-meters at the Ostrava Golden Spike meet in May 2011, with a time of 46.19 against a field of able-bodied athletes. Pistorius must meet the ‘A’ qualifying standard of 45.25 to compete at the world championships in Daegu and the London Olympics.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Abigail and Brittany Hensel

Abigail and Brittany Hensel
Born Abigail Loraine Hensel
Brittany Lee Hensel
March 7, 1990 (age 21)
Carver County, Minnesota
Residence St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Nationality American
Education Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota
Bethel University
Home town New Germany, Minnesota, USA
Parents Patty and Mike Hensel
Relatives Dakota (Brother)
Morgan (Sister)
Abigail "Abby" Loraine Hensel and Brittany "Britty" Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990) are dicephalic parapagus twins, meaning that they are conjoined twins of whom each has a separate head, but whose bodies are joined. They are highly symmetric, giving the appearance of having just a single body with little variation from normal proportion. In fact, several vital organs are doubled up, each woman having a separate heart, stomach, spine and spinal cord.
Each twin controls her half of their body, operating one of the arms and one of the legs. This means that as infants, the initial learning of physical processes that required bodily coordination, such as clapping, crawling, and walking required the cooperation of both children. While each is able to eat and write separately and simultaneously, activities such as running and swimming must be coordinated and alternate symmetrically. Other activities as diverse as brushing hair and driving a car require that each twin perform a sequence of quite separate actions that coordinate with the other.
Despite the curiosity that their condition has generated, the Hensel twins have managed to live private lives with relatively little press attention. At the age of 16, they gave an interview on The Learning Channel on December 17, 2006, in which they discussed aspects of their daily lives and plans for the future.


Abigail and Brittany Hensel were born in Carver County, Minnesota, the daughters of Patty, a registered nurse, and Mike Hensel, a carpenter and landscaper. The twins have a younger brother named Dakota, or Koty for short, a younger sister named Morgan, and a dog named Sadie. They were raised in New Germany and attended Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota.


The Hensel twins have a single body with separate heads and necks, a chest that is wider than normal, two arms and two legs. At birth they had a rudimentary arm attached to a shoulder blade at the back. The arm was removed, leaving the shoulder blade.
Abigail's head tilts laterally outward about 5 degrees to the right while Brittany's head tilts laterally at about 15 degrees to the left, causing Brittany to appear shorter. At age 12, they underwent surgery at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare to correct scoliosis and to expand their chest cavity to prevent future difficulties with breathing.
Each of the twins manages one side of their conjoined body. The sense of touch of each is restricted to her body half; this shades off at the midsagittal plane such that there is a small amount of overlap at the midline. They are effective in cooperatively using their limbs when both hands or both legs are required. By coordinating their efforts, they are able to walk, run, swim and ride a bicycle normally — all tasks that they learned at a normal speed. Together, they can type on a computer keyboard at a normal speed and drive a car.

Organ distribution

Abigail and Brittany have individual organs in the upper part of their body while most of the organs located at or below the level of the navel are shared, the exception being the spinal cord.
  • 2 heads
  • 2 spines merging at the coccyx, and joined at the thorax by sections of ribs. Surgery was employed to correct scoliosis
  • 2 completely separate spinal cords
  • 2 arms (originally 3, but rudimentary central arm was surgically removed, leaving central shoulder blade in place)
  • 1 broad ribcage with 2 highly fused sternums and traces of bridging ribs. Surgery was employed to expand the pleural cavities
  • 2 breasts
  • 2 hearts in a shared circulatory system (nutrition, respiration, medicine taken by either affects both)
  • 4 lungs with the medial lungs moderately fused, not involving Brittany's upper right lobe; three pleural cavities
  • 1 diaphragm with well-coordinated involuntary breathing, slight central defect
  • 2 stomachs
  • 2 gallbladders
  • 1 liver, enlarged and elongated right lobe
  • Y-shaped small intestine which experiences a slightly spastic double peristalsis at the juncture
  • 1 large intestine with one colon
  • 3 kidneys: 2 left, 1 right
  • 1 bladder
  • 1 set of reproductive organs
  • 2 separate half-sacrums, which converge distally
  • 1 slightly broad pelvis
  • 2 legs


Upon their birth, their parents rejected the option to attempt surgical separation after hearing from doctors that it was not likely that both girls would survive the operation. As the girls grew and learned to walk and develop other skills, the parents confirmed their decision against separation, arguing that the quality of life for the surviving twin or twins living separately would be less than their quality of life as conjoined beings.


The Hensel twins both successfully passed their driver's license exam, both the written and driving tests. They had to take the tests twice, once for each twin. Abby controls the pedals, radio, heat, defogger, and other devices located to the right of the driver's seat, while Brittany controls the turn signal and lights; together, they control the steering wheel.
They both graduated from high school in 2008. They began college at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
In conversation, the twins are clearly distinct persons, with distinct likes and dislikes. Their preferences in food, clothing color, etc. differ. Some of their clothes are altered by their seamstress so that they have two separate necklines in order to emphasize their individuality. They will usually have separate meals, but sometimes will share a single meal for the sake of convenience (e.g., each takes a bite of the same hamburger). Abigail is better at mathematics and Brittany is better at writing. For tasks such as responding to e-mail, they type and respond as one, anticipating each other's feelings with little verbal communication between them. In such cases as the latter, their choice of grammatical person is to use the first person singular out of habit when they agree, but when their responses do differ, they use their names in the third person singular.
There is some concern about their ability to have continued good health because only four known sets of conjoined twins who share an undivided torso and two legs have ever survived into adulthood, and most have congenital heart defects or other organ anomalies. None have shown up in the Hensels' case. They have so far had no desire to make themselves available for any medical studies. They intend to make a rather limited number of media appearances in the future, primarily just to appease the world's curiosity and to reduce the number of people who might otherwise be taken aback by their unusual body configuration. They intensely dislike being stared at or photographed by strangers while going about their private lives. They expect to date, get married, and have children. They hope that by providing some information about themselves they will be able to lead otherwise fairly typical social lives as together they continue to make new friends.

Media appearances

In April 2006, they appeared in Joined for Life, a documentary produced by Advanced Medical, distributed on the Discovery Health Channel. They also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 8 and April 29, 1996. In April 1996, the twins were featured on the cover of Life under the caption "One Body, Two Souls", and their daily lifestyle was depicted in the corresponding article titled The Hensels' Summer. Life followed up with another story in September 1998. In 2003, an updated story of them at age 11 (filmed in 2001) was published in Time and again in Life. They appeared in a follow-up documentary on The Learning Channel on December 17, 2006 filmed around the time of their 16th birthday, in which they discuss dealing with puberty and getting their driver's licenses. In the summer of 2006, they had a vacation in Texas at the home of a family whose dicephalus twin girls had died at a few hours old.[3][6][7][8][9]