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The True History of “The Elephant Man” Joseph Carey Merrick.

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1 The True History of “The Elephant Man” Joseph Carey Merrick

2 Birth and early years Born Aug. 5, 1862 in Leicester, England to a working-class family and a crippled mother According to local Leicester legend, Merrick’s mother Mary was nearly trampled by an elephant from a fair’s wild-beast show, suggesting Merrick’s appearance was some kind of a supernatural curse. Though the incident may have happened, it would have had nothing to do with John’s condition. Joseph was born with no sign of abnormality—his condition manifested itself at 21 months.

3 Early years At age 3 ½, Merrick took a fall, injured his hip, and acquired a chronic limp Joseph had a younger brother (who died of scarlet fever at age five) and sister Merrick’s mother died of pneumonia when he was age 10 Merrick’s father Joseph remarried in 1874, to a woman who reviled Joseph

4 Young “adulthood” At age 12, Merrick’s public schooling came to an end, and he was expected to work to support the family. He rolled cigars in a factory until age 15, when his overgrown right arm made the delicate work impossible Joseph’s stepmother tore into him regularly, calling him a bum due to his failure to bring in money

5 Young adulthood Joseph’s father obtained a hawker’s license (license to sell items on the street) for Joseph, who attempted to sell stockings and gloves from his father’s haberdashery shop Joseph’s declining physical condition made sales nearly impossible One day in 1877, failing to meet his father’s demands, Merrick was thrashed severely and decided to leave home for good.

6 Young adulthood Joseph’s Uncle Charles sought and found Joseph and rescued him from homelessness by taking him in with his aunt and cousins Recognizing he was a burden, Merrick resolved to register with the Poor Law (welfare) authority and enter the workhouse (he did this the first Monday after Christmas 1879).

7 Workhouses Workhouses consisted of workrooms, labor yards, dormitories, and dining halls. Uniforms were issued—conditions were squalid and spare, not unlike a prison. The work consisted of oakum-picking (beating and unraveling of old rope to reuse the hemp), wood- chopping, corn-grinding, granite-busting (for road materials), washing of clothes and dishes, etc.

8 Moving on Around 1882, Merrick was referred to the local hospital, the Leicester Infirmary, for an operation that removed approximately eight inches of flesh from his upper jaw. In 1884, after nearly four years spent in the workhouse, Joseph took action. Having heard that local hotel/music- hall proprietor Sam Torr was looking for novelty acts, Joseph proposed exhibiting himself.

9 Freak shows Torr gathered a group of investors— including freak-show promoter Tom Norman—to organize tours for Joseph. Joseph’s new advisors suggested he perform under the name “The Elephant Man, Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant.”

10 Freak shows and Frederick In November 1884, Norman set Merrick up in empty storefront 123 Whitechapel Road, directly across from the London Hospital. Here, Dr. Frederick Treves saw Merrick and returned to learn more—a boy directed Treves to Norman, who was at a nearby pub. A private showing was arranged, at a fee. After this private showing (much as it is dramatized in the film), Treves struck another deal with Norman to have Merrick come to the hospital for further study. With his walking stick, hat/mask, cloak, and slippers (and the aid of a hansom cab), the 22-year-old Merrick soon obliged.

11 Treves’ study As depicted, Treves conducted a clinical interview, arranged for photographs to be taken, and persuaded Norman to allow Joseph to be presented before the Pathological Society Thereafter, Treves and Merrick parted ways, Merrick with Treves’ “visiting card” in pocket

12 Trouble A two-page pamphlet was prepared for sale at Merrick’s exhibitions: The Autobiography of Joseph Carey Merrick. Unfortunately for Joseph, police regularly shut down his exhibitions in the interest of public decency. To avoid the institutional harrassment, Joseph and his handlers agreed to relocate Joseph for a European tour, under the management of an Austrian “gentleman.”

13 Trouble Performances were shut down with equal frequency in Europe, leading the frustrated manager to dump Joseph in Brussels, Belgium Alone, Joseph was swiftly robbed. Penniless, unable to speak the language, and borderline incoherent in English anyway, Joseph somehow managed to make his way back to London. Arriving in the Liverpool Street Station, the exhausted and frightened Merrick was swarmed by a gaping crowd and rescued by police, to whom Merrick presented Treves’ card.

14 Reunion Treves responded to a police request and met Merrick at the station, escorting the spent man back to the hospital, where he was temporarily installed in the isolation ward. After five months, the issue had to be resolved: what to do with this incurable patient? Hospital Chairman Francis Carr- Gomm led the public-relations campaign, beginning with a plea published in The Times.

15 Life at the London Treves was a daily visitor. Merrick was known to read The Bible, many periodicals, and Jane Austen, among others Concerned about Merrick’s isolation, Treves arranged a visit with “a young and pretty widow.”

16 Life at the London Soon thereafter, charity-minded actress Madge Kendal  took an interest and began a correspondence with Joseph (including gifts: a gramophone for him; the famous cathedral model for her). She also made possible Joseph’s desire to learn basket work. Though the two never met, Kendal arranged a private box for Merrick to see his first theatrical performance, almost certainly the pantomime Puss in Boots.

17 Life at the London The Prince and Princess of Wales, on a hospital tour, also stopped in to visit with Joseph Joseph did put a gentleman’s dressing bag on his Christmas wish list, and Treves did purchase it for Joseph. Chronic bronchitis and the invasive disorder weakened John’s heart and left him prone to infection. Treves knew Merrick could go suddenly. Since Merrick had expressed a desire to visit the countryside, Treves arranged a six-week stay at the country estate of a prominent lady.

18 Merrick and cathedrals Though Merrick never made a cathedral model from scratch, he assembled many from complex cardboard model kits (still an impressive feat for a man with a deformed right arm). He gave these as gifts, including the one at right, which he gave to Madge Kendal and now remains on museum display. 

19 Death at the London In April of 1890, Joseph was found dead, with no sign of struggle. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation due to “the weight of the head pressing against the windpipe.” Treves surmised that John had at last attempted to lie normally “like other people,” as he had often wished aloud. Life casts were taken of Merrick’s head and limbs, and Merrick’s skeleton was preserved. These and various artifacts remain on display in the London Hospital Medical College Museum.


21 What caused Merrick’s condition? NOT elephantiasis (a disease causing thickening of the skin, esp. the legs) 1970s: experts theorized Merrick has genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type I 1986: a new theory emerges that Merrick had congenital disorder Proteus syndrome 2003: DNA testing on hair and bone samples proves inconclusive Today: conventional wisdom is that he surely had Proteus syndrome, though he may have had neurofibromatosis at the same time. Others say the problem of diagnosis suggests he had a unique condition: “Merrick’s disease”

22 Who is “Tree Man”? Dede Kosawa in Indonesia, 21 st Century Human papillomavirus (HPV-2), which causes warts, developed out of control due to a genetically inherited immune defect Like Merrick, lost job, turned to begging and then agreed to be exhibited as a freak (under the name “Tree Man”) Thanks to an American dermatologist and nine surgeries, his condition is much improved

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