Joseph Merrick

From Academic Kids

Joseph Carey Merrick (August 5, 1862 - April 11, 1890), known as "The Elephant Man", gained the sympathy of Victorian Britain because of his extreme deformity.

Early biographies of Merrick inaccurately give his first name as "John", an error repeated in many later versions, including the 1980 film The Elephant Man.

Joseph Carey Merrick
Joseph Carey Merrick

Born in Leicester to mother Mary Jane Merrick, he had a younger brother and sister. He began showing signs of deformity at age two. His mother died when he was 11. According to family accounts, she too was "crippled". He then was forced to live with his father and stepmother, who did not want him and forced him to earn his keep by selling goods on the street. For the better part of his life he was unemployable, so as a last resort he took a job as a sideshow attraction. He was treated decently, and made a small amount of money. When sideshows were outlawed in the UK in 1886 he traveled to Belgium to find work and was mistreated by a showman.

Merrick was befriended by Dr. Frederick Treves, a physician at London Hospital and was given a permanent home there. He was something of a celebrity in High Victorian society, eventually becoming a favorite of Queen Victoria. He found some solace in writing, composing both prose and poetry in his later years. He was cared for at the hospital until his death from suffocation while sleeping, which was apparently accidental. Merrick was unable to sleep horizontally due to the weight of his head, but may have intentionally tried to do so in this instance in an attempt to imitate normal behavior.

His life story became the basis of a 1979 Tony Award-winning play, and in the following year an Academy Award-nominated film, which were unrelated but both called The Elephant Man.

In 1971 Ashley Montagu suggested that Merrick suffered from type 1 neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder also known as von Recklinghausen's disease, and this disease is still connected with Merrick in the mind of the public. However, in 1979, Michael Cohen first identified a condition which came to be named Proteus syndrome by Rudolf Wiedemann in 1983. In 1986 it was argued that Proteus syndrome was the condition from which Merrick actually suffered. Unlike neurofibromatosis, Proteus syndrome (named for the shape-shifting god Proteus) affects tissue other than nerves, and is a sporadic rather than familially transmitted disorder. In July 2003, Dr. Charis Eng announced that as a result of DNA tests on samples of Merrick's hair and bone, she had determined that Merrick certainly suffered Proteus syndrome, and may have had type 1 neurofibromatosis as well. His PTEN gene (often mutated in the Proteus syndrome) appears to have been healthy (i.e., not mutated).

Merrick's preserved skeleton is on permanent display at the Royal London Hospital. Singer Michael Jackson is reported to have attempted to purchase it for his private collection in 1985 but was refused.

Joseph Merrick is also rumoured to have helped to design the East Stand, also referred to as the matchstick stand at Filbert Street.

Books about or inspired by Joseph Merrick

Online references

External link

es:Joseph Merrick


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