The Elephant Man
|Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man|
Mr. Joseph Merrick, The Elephant
Man, was born on August 5th 1862 - a year after the start of American Civil War - in Leicestershire, Great Britain. His mother was slightly crippled but
his brother, was normal. Joseph Merrick's development was
normal until age two when small growths began
to be noticed on his face, the first signs of a frightful disorder
which would transform him into the "Elephant Man".
By the age of seventeen Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man, joined the British labor force working in a menial capacity at a workhouse and left it at twenty-one for greater opportunity with freak shows in 1883. It was here that show promoters dubbed him the "Elephant Man" and created fantastic stories of his origins to attract the public. Three years later in 1886 Joseph Merrick was discovered by doctor Sir Frederick Treves, and through him, eventually gave up life as a sideshow.
Mr. Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man, was admitted and lived at the Royal London Hospital where he died at twenty-seven during sleep either by dislocation of his cervical spine from the weight of his head, or from obstructive sleep apnea - he was known to sleep sitting upright to avoid suffocation.
Mr. Merrick's head measured 36 inches - roughly one-third larger than an average human's and a great deal additional weight for his body to support, possibly interfering in his balance and ability to sit or stand for periods without resting his neck.
|The Elephant Man Rear Photo|
Joseph Merrick's - The Elephant Man - deformity favored the right side of his body e.g. enlarging his right hand to a flipper like state. We do not have access to audio recordings of him speaking but it is reasonable from looking at photographs to believe that he must have spoken with a severe dysarthritic splutter.
|The Elephant Man Skull Front||The Elephant Man Skull Right Side|
Internal structures of Mr. Merrick's - The Elephant Man - were no less spared. Toward the end of his life severe arthritis forced him to limp and use a walking stick . In addition, the scoliosis (curvature) of his spine revealed in surviving photographs probably would have reduced his lung capacity predisposing him to shortness of breath and chest infections.
|The Elephant Man Bones and Body|
The psychological cost to Mr. Joseph Merrick - The Elephant Man - of his disease are not hard to imagine in a society less educated and tolerant than today. Study of his surviving writings prove him to have been of at least normal intelligence and able to appreciate the horror of his condition.
|Joseph's Merrick's Handwriting|
"Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man."
- Joseph Merrick.
There is a divide amongst Joseph Merrick medical authorities as to just what disease
he had actually suffered from. An early theory was that Joseph
Merrick had elephantiasis - a disease of blocked sewage vessels
in the body - lymphatics - that leads to tissue swelling, but this
is not currently in favor. Neurofibromatosis had been a very
strong contender for a number of decades until 1976 when a very rare
condition called Proteus syndrome was forwarded. Proteus is
so rare that less than one hundred cases to date have ever been documented,
but it agrees with the 'fossil' evidence left by Mr. Joseph
Merrick. It describes overgrowth of soft tissues and bone, sometimes
only on one side of the body (hemihypertrophy). Classical neurofibromatosis
on the other hand, is a tumorous growth of nerve schwann sheaths (insulated
covering like that around copper wiring), and does not readily lend
itself to explain Joseph Merrick's bones i.e. The Elephant Man Bones.
The Royal London Hospital which used to keep Mr. Joseph Merrick's bones (these have since been buried), had allowed medical sleuths in the past, to take casts, photographs, caliper measurements, and X-rays of The Elephant Man's Bones. We may never conclusively know what he suffered from since efforts in years past to preserve his bones for us, may have irreparably damaged any DNA that forensic scientists could have used for incontrovertible proof. Indeed, some claim that perhaps Joseph Merrick had a unique disease... 'Merrick's Disease'.