The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels available in Hardcover
- Pub. Date:
- Cornell University Press
A successor to his popular book A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, this new collection of essays by Jan Bondeson illustrates various anomalies of human development, the lives of the remarkable individuals concerned, and social reactions to their extraordinary bodies.
Bondeson examines historical cases of dwarfism, extreme corpulence, giantism, conjoined twins, dicephaly, and extreme hairiness; his broader theme, however, is the infinite range of human experience. The dicephalous Tocci brothers and Lazarus Colloredo (from whose belly grew his malformed conjoined twin), the Swedish giant, and the king of Poland's dwarfBondeson considers these individuals not as "freaks" but as human beings born with sometimes appalling congenital deformities.
He makes full use of original French, German, Dutch, Polish, and Scandinavian sources and explores elements of ethnology, literature, and cultural history in his diagnoses. Heavily illustrated with woodcuts, engravings, oil paintings, and photographs, The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels combines a scientist's scrutiny with a humanist's wonder at the endurance of the human spirit.
The Two Inseparable Brothers, and a Preface
The Hairy Maid at the Harpsichord
The Woman Who Laid an Egg
The Strangest Miracle in the World
Some Words about Hog-faced Gentlewomen
The Biddenden Maids
The Tocci Brothers, and Other Dicephali
The King of Poland's Court
Dwarf Daniel Cajanus, the Swedish Giant
Daniel Lambert, the Human Colossus
Cat-eating Englishmen and French Frog-swallowers
|Publisher:||Cornell University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Jan Bondeson is a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University, Wales. He is the author of many books, including Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities; Blood on the Snow: The Killing of Olof Palme, The Two-headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels; The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (all from Cornell); The London Monster; The Great Pretenders: The True Stories behind Famous Historical Mysteries; A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities; and Buried Alive.
Read an Excerpt
The Hairy Maid at the Harpsichord
HER NAME WAS BARBARA URSLERIN AND SHE really did play the harpsichord. John Evelyn saw her being exhibited in London in 1657. He was amazed by her strange appearance and described her thoroughly in his diary:
The Hairy Maid, or Woman whom twenty years before I had also seene as a child: her very Eyebrowes were combed upwards & all her forehead as thick & even as growes on any woman's head, neatly dress'd: There comes also two locks very long out of Each Eare: she had also a most prolix beard & moustachios, with long locks of haire growing on the very middle of her nose, exactly like an Iceland Dog: the rest of her body not so hairy, yet exceedingly long in comparison, armes, neck, breast and back; the colour of light browne, & fine as well dressed flax.
Barbara Urslerin was born near the village of Kempten, not far from Augsburg in Germany, in February 1629 (some sources say 1633). As she told John Evelyn (and probably many other visitors), none of her family, neither parents nor relations, had been hairy. She was now married, she said, and had one normal child, of which she was very proud. John Evelyn approvingly stated that the Hairy Maid was "for the rest very well shaped, plaied well on the Harpsichord &c." John Evelyn is likely to have seen Barbara in London twenty years earlier, as early as 1637, when she was just eight years old, as all records agree that she was exhibited for money since a very early age. In 1639, she was seen inCopenhagen, and later in Belgium, by the celebrated anatomist Thomas Bartholin. Her parents were taking her all around Europe, he wrote, to show her for money. Bartholin examined the lively little girl and found that her entire body was covered with soft, blond hair. She had a luxuriant beard, and even from the ears themselves grew long, beautiful curls of hair, all handsomely dressed.
In 1646, the Frenchman Elie Brackenhoffer visited a fair in Paris. In his diary, he described its various attractions: a lioness, a five-footed cow, a monstrous dolphin, an Italian water-spouter, a man without hands, a rope dancer, and a dromedary. He had come across similar animal and human curiosities quite a few times before and gave them scant attention; he had never seen anything like the Hairy Maid, however, and described her in detail. She was eighteen years old, she said, and of German ancestry. Her hair was luxuriant and soft as silk, with the long curls beautifully dressed. M. Brackenhoffer, who was apparently either a lecher or a determined lover of curiosities, then proceeded to undress her, after the payment of an additional fee. Her back was covered with thick, soft hair like a coat of fur. Her breasts, he noted approvingly, were round and white and less hairy than the rest of the skin. M. Brackenhoffer ended his account by stating that he had ascertained that she was a true woman and not a hermaphrodite.
Barbara Urslerin lived during the heyday of the old monster medicine, when scholars and medical men were always on the hunt for marvels and curiosities; she had the honor of being mentioned in almost every chronicle of medical rarities of the time. The learned Hieronymus Welsch saw her in Rome in 1647, and later in Mailand in 1648, and described her in his Observationes Medicarum Episagma. In November 1653, she passed through her home town, Augsburg. An artist drew a beautiful portrait of her, which was later purchased by a physician in Basel; in the late nineteenth century, it was still kept in a collection in that city. Barbara Urslerin visited Frankfurt in 1655, and later the same year, she was seen in Copenhagen by the physician Georg Seger. Her entire body, including the face, was covered with soft, blond, curly hair. Her luxuriant beard reached down to her waist. She told Seger that she had married a year ago, but that she did not have any children. On the exhibition handbill, which Seger used as a figure to his paper, she was depicted seated at the harpsichord; this was an engraving from a portrait by Isaac Brunn, which has remained the best-known illustration of her. The text told that her father and mother were Balthasar and Anna Ursler from Augsburg, and that she was "hairy all over with beautiful yellow curls growing from the face, and large curls growing from each ear."
In 1655, Barbara Urslerin came to London for the first time. According to an old note quoted by James Caulfield in his Portraits, Memoirs and Characters of Remarkable Persons, she was twenty-two years old at the time. A man named Vanbeck (or van Beck) had married "this frightful creature" only to make money by putting her on show. They had toured many parts of Europe. In 1656, a fine portrait of her was engraved by Gaywood.
In 1660, Barbara toured France. When they came to Beauvais, her husband, the German Johann Michael van Beck, applied to the local bailiff for permission to exhibit a strange prodigy of nature, a woman with a hairy, bearded face and moustachio. He did not mention that this monstrous woman was actually his wife, but instead pointed out that she had already received much attention from the curious in Paris and other French cities. An engraving of Gaywood's portrait was now used as the exhibition handbill, and a copy was enclosed with van Beck's letter. The local police were pleased to allow van Beck to show his hairy wife for money and to advertise her by striking a tambourine in the marketplace if he promised that the exhibition was a decent one and that it was closed down in good time in the afternoon.
The last thing we know about Barbara Urslerin is that in 1668, she was seen in London by the Dane Holger Jacobsen, who left a description of her in Thomas Bartholin's Acta Medica et Philosophica Hafnensis. Jacobsen boldly suggested that the Hairy Maid must be the loathsome result of a copulation between a woman and a humanoid ape, a hypothesis that was outdated already in his time. Jacobsen had seen a large ape called Mammonett that was kept as a pet in the king of Denmark's gardens, and could well remember that this creature often "tried to take lascivious liberties with women" who visited the royal gardens. He ended his brief description of this "Monstrous hairy girl" by emphasizing that the length and softness of her hair was excessive all over the body and that he had thoroughly examined her genitals to see if they had any similarity with those of a monkey.
Anatole F. Le Double and François Houssay, two French anthropologists and zoologists who wrote the book Les velus, a valuable early treatise on excessive hairiness, are not the only people who asked themselves what finally happened to Barbara Urslerin. It is possible to follow her travels all around Europe from 1637 to 1668 in some detail, but after the latter year, mention of her completely disappears. It may be that she retired from the monster shows, but this does not seem very likely: her husband had been relentless in exploiting her and showed no sign of letting his most valuable possession go to waste. If her husband had died, there were many other showmen ready to take over the management of this hairy celebrity. The most likely explanation is that Barbara herself died in or about 1668. The many either coy or lewd allusions to visitors to the exhibition undressing and fondling the Hairy Maid prompted Le Double and Houssay to query whether prostitution had played any part in the exploitation of her. This is possible, but by no means necessary. At this time, it was the custom that any person paying to see a human or animal curiosity also had the right to thoroughly examine the creature on show, to make sure there was no imposition. A six-legged calf had its extra legs pulled, a giant's trousers were pulled up so that it could be ascertained that he did not wear stilts, and Lazarus Colloredo's parasitic twin was pinched until he uttered a cry. None of Barbara Urslerin's visitors had seen anything like her before, and those who wanted to make sure she really was a true woman, from motives of lechery, curiosity, or scientific inquiry, were free to do so, after paying an additional fee.
The Isaac Brunn engraving of Barbara Urslerin has appeared in many European works on monstrosities and "biographia curiosa." It was later reproduced in a queer French magazine, appropriately named Bizarre. Today it is posted on an Internet site aimed to titillate those belonging to weird "sexual minorities." The French author Jean Boullet instead reproduced the remarkable Gaywood engraving, which is a far better likeness of her, as well as artistically superior, with the telling caption "Belle et Bête"; in one body, the personified characteristics of both.
The Wild Man from the Canaries
It is almost a relief to turn the attention from the Hairy Maid at the Harpsichord to another, slightly more edifying story of an individual affected with inherited excessive hairiness. Petrus Gonzales, the hero of this strange tale, was born in the Canary Islands in the year 1556. At this time, there was widespread belief in a particular race of hairy savages or "wild men." The belief that monstrous races of cynocephali, sciapods, and troglodytes inhabited parts of Asia and Africa was a time-honored part of medieval mythology that had been originated by the writings of Pliny. The wild men, fierce, hairy, carrying a club, and always ready to carry off women into the deep woods, represented another medieval stereotype, implying a violent nature, lack of civilization, and want for a moral sense. According to legend, wild men existed not only in the African and Asian backwoods, but small remnants of these savages were still hiding in the deep forests of Germany, France, and Scandinavia. Some of the early observations of Asian or African wild men were definitely misinterpretations of encounters between early explorers and anthropoid apes. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the wild man was much used in heraldry: the symbol of the urge to civilize and dominate what appeared rude and wild was a wild man, club in hand, as upholder of the arms of some noble family.
The discovery of an infant in the Canary Islands whose face and body were just as hairy as that of a wild man or a great ape was quite a sensation. Little Petrus Gonzales, of whose parents we know nothing, was lucky to escape being killed as a monster or demon by the superstitious country people; instead, he was taken to Paris by the express order of King Henri II of France, who wanted to study this prodigy closer. Petrus Gonzales's entire body, particularly his head and face, was covered with long, soft, wavy hair, and already at an early age, his face resembled that of a terrier dog. In 1557, the savant Julius Caesar Scaliger wrote that Paris had just obtained a novel curiosity: a young boy from Spain, taken from the Indian Isles, who was entirely covered with hair. The Frenchmen called this boy Barbet, the same name used to signify a race of shaggy Belgian dogs, which the people of Flanders called Watterhund. Another observer, a certain Dr. Boschius, told Count Ulysses Aldrovandi that King Henri had recently received a young boy, hairy all over like a dog. Probably astounded that this extraordinary "wild boy" seemed intelligent and alert, Henri II ordered that he should be taught Latin and given a good education, since the king wanted to find out whether such a wild boy was at all educable. In addition, little Petrus should be kept at the royal court as a curiosity, and his progress carefully monitored. Henri II's successors honored this agreement scrupulously, and Petrus Gonzales spent his entire youth at the French court. Many visiting princes and noblemen were introduced to this prodigy, whose hairy face, resembling that of a shaggy dog, looked even more extraordinary when he was dressed in his richly embroidered court costume. Even more astonishingly to the visitor who had read about the savagery of the race of wild men, the king's hairy "savage" was intelligent and well informed and spoke excellent Latin. In 1573, the seventeen-year-old Petrus Gonzales was given permission to marry a young French lady. Whether this match was made according to his own choice or arranged as some court festivity is not known, but Gonzales and his wife remained united by wedlock for several decades and had at least four children. Allegedly to prevent the "wild" Petrus Gonzales from feeling homesick, he was given a cave to dwell in with his entire family, like some bizarre ornamental hermit, in one of the royal parks. Most of the time, he resided at the court in Fountainebleau, however, where the king showed him to visiting dignitaries like some trained dog or monkey.
By 1581, Petrus Gonzales was the father of two children. Although his wife was perfectly normal, both children were as hairy as their father. This marvelous hairy family was Europe's greatest curiosity of their time. Many princes and noblemen wanted to see them, and later in 1581, the entire family was sent for an extended tour all over Europe. Firstly, they visited Duchess Margaret of Parma's court in Flanders. In early 1582, they went to Munich, where their life-sized portraits were painted at the order of Duke Albrecht IV of Bavaria, who was known as a lover of curiosities. These portraits were later given to Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, who installed them in his famous Kunst-kammer at Schloss Ambras outside Innsbruck. The childrena daughter of five to six years and a son of three to four yearsare dressed in rich, costly garments, which increase the startling contrast to their hairy faces. They look like little animal dolls dressed up in human clothes by their childish owner. The wife is pretty and demure, and her clothes are Dutch looking in style. Petrus Gonzales himself is dressed in a rich ankle-length garment like a cassock. His face is as hairy as ever, and at the age of twenty-six he has a venerable-looking beard, but the expressive look in his brown eyes seems to say, "I am not what you think I am."
Two other paintings of the Gonzales family were also made during their stay in Bavaria, by Albrecht IV's court artist Joris Hoefnagel. One of these depicts Petrus Gonzales and his wife; the other, the two children. Hoefnagel included these two portraits in a volume of his The Four Elements, entitled Animalia Rationalia et Insecta; they are the only humans to be portrayed. Petrus Gonzales was found at Tenerife in the Canaries, Hoefnagel wrote, and later received a superior education at the French court. He was a scholar and a man of letters, and a sonorous speaker of Latin. Not long after their visit to Munich, the Gonzales family went to Vienna, at the order of Emperor Rudolf II. Here, a group portrait of them was painted in oil on parchment; it was later kept in one of the emperor's large folders of zoological drawings. In this portrait, Petrus Gonzales is standing up and his wife is seated, and their two children are standing in front of them. The little boy is leaning on his mother's lap. The girl is holding a tame owl, or rather owlet, that is facing the artist just like the four people.
In 1583, Petrus Gonzales and his family came to Basel, where they were seen by the celebrated anatomist Felix Plater. In a valuable note, published posthumously in his Observationum, Plater affirmed that the adult Petrus Gonzales seen by him was certainly the same person as the young wild boy who was taken from the Canaries to the court of Henri II many years earlier. The king and his successors valued Gonzales greatly and took good care of him. He was now on his way to Italy, where several princes desired to make his acquaintance. Petrus Gonzales's abundant facial hair was excessively soft, and the eyebrows were so long and bushy that he had to trim them to be able to see. According to Felix Plater, he had two children, a boy aged nine and a girl aged seven. Both had hairy faces, the boy more than the girl; the skin of both children was also covered with long, soft hair along the spine of the back.
The next account of the Gonzales family is that of Count Ulysses Aldrovandi. He was one of the leading natural scientists of the sixteenth century, and his vast collections of anatomical, zoological, and botanical specimens were justly famous. In the mid-1590s, Count Aldrovandi met and examined, by permission of the marchioness of Sorania, the eight-year-old daughter of Petrus Gonzales. This little girl, whose face was covered with thick, soft hair just like her father's, was introduced to Count Aldrovandi by the marchioness herself, when on a trip to Bologna. Count Aldrovandi then ordered an artist to draw a picture of the entire Gonzales family: the forty-year-old father, the twenty-year-old son, and the two daughters, twelve and eight years old. It is very likely that this twenty-year-old son was the same little boy depicted on the Ambras and Hoefnagel pictures. What had happened to his elder sister is left unsaid, nor is it known whether the wife of Petrus Gonzales was still alive, but their absence from Aldrovandi's portraits would indicate that they were both dead. The two young girls in Aldrovandi's drawings indicate that during his stay in Italy, Gonzales had fathered two more children, both of them girls and both sharing his excessive hairiness.
Another remarkable memorial of the Gonzales family is an engraving of the Medusa-like head of a hairy young girl, by the artist and engraver Giacomo Franco. The caption states that this is the portrait of Tognina, the young daughter of the hairy man from the Canary Islands. Her brother, who was just as hairy as herself, was given as a present to Signor Farnesi, a wealthy nobleman. Tognina herself resided at the ducal court of Parma. Another remarkable portrait of a hairy girl residing at the court of the duchess of Parma was painted at about the same time, by Paulo Cagliari; it may well be another painting of Tognina Gonzales. This portrait is in the collection of the earl of Haddo, at Haddo House. A third drawing of one of Petrus Gonzales's daughters, probably Tognina, is now at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. It was reproduced and described in the Hood Museum of Art's catalogue The Age of the Marvelous, and dated around 1583, but this is probably wrong, like most of the information on the Gonzales family given in that catalogue. The girl looks about ten to twelve years old, and the drawing was probably made in the mid-1590s. A note in Ulysses Aldrovandi's Historia Monstrorum revealed that Tognina later married during her stay at Farnesi's court in Parma, and that she lived there for many years and had several children of her own, at least some of whom were as hairy as herself.
A few years later, another portrait of a hairy man, most likely a member of the Gonzales family, was painted by Agostino Carraci. It depicted Arrigo the Hairy, Pietro the Fool, Amon the Dwarf, and a group of "other animals": the animals were two dogs, two apes, and a parrot, all belonging to Cardinal Odoarda Farnese just like the humans. An Avis de Rome of July 1, 1595, tells us that the duke of Parma had given Cardinal Farnese a costly present: a savage man, 18 years old, whose face and brow were covered with long blond hair. It is likely that this Arrigo was the same individual as the twenty-year-old son of Petrus Gonzales depicted by Aldrovandi. Arrigo Gonzales stayed at Cardinal Farnese's establishment for many years and was included in an inventory of his house staff made in 1626. The final memorial of the Gonzales family is an engraving given to a certain Mercurio Ferrari after the death of his particular friend, the hairy man Horatio Gonzales, in 1635. It is accompanied by a Latin poem, which can be translated as:
Here you see Gonzales, once famous in the court of Rome, Whose human face was covered with hair like an animal's. He lived for you, Ferrari, joined to you in love. And in this portrait he lives on, still breathing although he is dead.
This engraving is dated 1635, and it is not known whether this Horatio was another son of Petrus Gonzales or maybe a son of Arrigo.
The Hairy Family of Burma
It was a long time before the world saw another hairy phenomenon like Barbara Urslerin or Petrus Gonzales and his family; indeed, from the 1630s to the 1820s, no novel instance of excessive hairiness was described either by scientists or by lovers of curiosities. Had these two famous sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cases not been detailed by the leading medical scientists of the world, and painted from life by several celebrated artists, they would have been considered yet another figment of imagination of the old monster medicine. Even so, many were confused by these extraordinary descriptions of hairy "wild people." In Everhard Happel's Relationes Curiosae, published in 1729, the Forest People from the Canaries are depicted in a remarkable illustration. Standing in a sylvan glade, they are listening, in rapt attention, to a concerto played by the Hairy Maid at the Harpsichord. Two other hairy savages come crawling out of the undergrowth, enchanted by her music. In the Eccentric Magazine, published in London 1813, there is an engraved portrait of Barbara Urslerin taken from an old print. According to the caption to this illustration, great doubts were entertained as to whether she was really human. The editor of Eccentric Magazine managed to resolve this controversy, however. He had seen an old print of Barbara Urslerin, which was formerly in the collection of Mr. Frederich, a bookseller in Bath. It had the following brief but telling note written on it: "This woman I saw in Ratcliffe Highway, in the year 1668, and was satisfied she was a woman. John Bulfinch."
In 1826, a mission of the governor-general of India, led by John Crawfurd, visited the court of the king of Ava, a province in Burma. In a published account of this mission, Crawfurd described meeting a thirty-year-old hairy man named Shwe-Maong. At the age of five, he had been given to the king by the local chief of his district and since then, had lived within the palace as a curiosity and court entertainer. He was very clever in acting the buffoon, dancing, and making the most terrible grimaces. Shwe-Maong stated that his parents were perfectly normal and that none of his tribesmen were hairy. When aged twenty-two years, having attained puberty only two years previously, the king chose a wife for him from the beautiful women in his retinue. There were four children, all girls, of this union. Two of them died at an early age, and a third was the very image of her mother; only one was abnormal, a girl named Maphoon, who was covered with hair just like her father and resembled an elderly bearded man. Crawfurd stated that the father never had more than two incisors and two canines in the upper jaw, and four incisors and one canine in the lower jaw. Importantly, because it seems to eliminate the possibility that the other teeth simply failed to erupt, he says that where teeth were missing, the alveolar process was missing also.
In 1855, a second mission visited Ava, this time reported by Captain Henry Yule, who described the thirty-one-year-old Maphoon, who was now married to a normal Burmese and mother of two boys. Her father had been murdered by robbers, and she had been brought up in the king's household. The story told of her marriage was that the king had offered a reward to any man who was willing to marry her. Finally, an individual who was bold enough or avaricious enough ventured forth. Yule's description of Maphoon deserves to be quoted more or less verbatim:
The whole of Maphoon's face was more or less covered with hair. On a part of the cheek, and between the nose and mouth, this was confined to short down, but over all the rest of the face was a thick silky hair of a brown colour, paling about the nose and chin, four or five inches long. At the alae of the nose, under the eye, and on the cheekbone, this was very fully developed, but it was in and on the ear that it was most extraordinary.... The hair over her forehead was brushed so as to blend with the hair of the head, the latter being dressed (as usual with her countrywomen), à la Chinoise. It was not so thick as to conceal altogether the forehead. The nose, densely covered with hair as no animal's is that I know of, and with long fine locks curving out and pendent like the wisps of a fine Skye terrier's coat, had a most strange appearance. The beard was pale in colour, and about four inches in length, seemingly very soft and silky.
Maphoon's manners were modest, her voice soft and feminine, and her expression not unpleasing. Captain Yule thought her more like a pleasant-looking woman at a masquerade than a brutal, horrible monstrosity. Her dentition consisted of a few incisors only; the canine teeth and grinders were absent, and the back parts of the gum merely a hard ridge. Maphoon's oldest son, about four to five years old, was not abnormal, although it is notable that by the age of fourteen years, he seemed to have become more hairy than his younger brother. This brother, aged fourteen months, had tufts of long silky hair growing from his ears, a description that corresponds closely to the childhood state of the grandfather who later became so hairy. It is interesting that Yule commented that had the great Barnum heard of Maphoon, he would surely have wished to bring her to Europe.
In 1875, when the hairy family of Burma was discussed before the Anthropological Society of Paris, a photographic record of them appeared in the French journal La Nature. The French teratologist Boullet identified the hairy Burmese as Maphoon, her son Moung-Phoset, and her daughter Mah-Mé. Moung-Phoset would have been about twenty-one to twenty-five years old at this time, depending on which of Maphoon's two sons he was. No other account of this time refers to more than one son; it seems likely that one of them died between 1867 and 1875. According to Yule and others, Maphoon did not have a living daughter. Instead, there is good evidence that Moung-Phoset had a daughter named Mah-Mé, who would have been seven years old at the time of the photograph. It thus seems highly probable that the members of the family depicted in this photograph are Maphoon, her son Moung-Phoset, and her granddaughter Mah-Mé. Several other photographs of Maphoon, alone or in a family group, were taken by L. Allen Goss in 1872. One of them, showing Maphoon, two other hairy people, and a normal Burmese, resembles the 1875 picture. Goss referred to the lively little girl in this picture, thus adding further evidence that Mah-Mé was really the daughter of Moung-Phoset. Two other excellent photographs in the Goss collection depict Maphoon and Moung-Phoset in detail.
In 1885, there was a revolution in Burma, leading to the so-called Third Burmese War; the king's palace was set on fire, and its inhabitants were driven away or killed. The hairy family managed to escape into a forest, Moung-Phoset carrying his fragile mother Maphoon on his back, followed by his wife and children. An Italian officer, Captain Paperno, who had been a military advisor to the Burmese court, was sent out to rescue them. When the Italian found them, he was astounded by their extraordinary appearance. He suggested that the hairy Burmese should make a tour of Europe, to be exhibited for money. Together with a fellow countryman, Mr. Farini, the captain, who was himself without employment after the gutting of the Burmese court, decided to act as their impresario. Before the hairy Burmese left for Europe, Moung-Phoset's daughter Mah-Mé died at the age of eighteen. During the summer of 1886, the family appeared at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, where they were seen by Mr. J. J. Weir. He described Maphoon as a blind old woman, but lively and full of fun, and an inveterate chewer of betel in spite of her few teeth. He suspected that her hairy growth had thinned somewhat due to age, as Moung-Phoset had much more hair on the face and ears. Moung-Phoset certainly presented a grotesque appearance, his entire features being hidden by the hair, which he combed over his face. His entire body was clothed with soft hair some inches in length, which he cut from time to time; furthermore, he was tattooed from below the waist to above the knees. In spite of his bizarre exterior, Weir described Moung-Phoset as a well-educated and decent man. Importantly, he also stated that the hair of both Maphoon and Moung-Phoset was soft, wavy, and of a brownish color, quite unlike the hair of an ordinary Burmese. Captain Paperno, the family's impresario, informed Weir that although the dentition of all the hairy people was deficient, their nonhairy relatives all had perfect teeth. Mr. Weir examined a cast of Moung-Phoset's mouth, finding in the upper jaw two canines and two large incisors, and in the lower jaw two canines and four small incisors; the molar and premolar teeth were all absent.
From London, the Burmese went on to Paris, where they appeared at the Folies Bergère. The French anthropologist M. Guyot-Daubès saw them there in 1887 and obtained an interview with their impresario, who told a remarkable story about Shwe-Maong's marriage. A beautiful young Burmese lady of high birth, a lady in waiting to the queen, had committed a crime against religion and was sentenced to be tortured to death in the most horrible way, at the churchyard of her dead ancestors. Just when the dreadful ceremony was about to start, a courtier rode up to offer her a pardon if she agreed to marry the court buffoon. After due consideration, she accepted the offer. The marriage ceremony was a ludicrous and degrading spectacle, as Shwe-Maong was joined by a veritable congress of dwarfs, albinos, idiots, and jesters. It is odd that Crawfurd's original account did not mention this remarkable occurrence; it might have been a figment of Captain Paperno's imagination in order to make his hairy charges' life stories even more interesting. Like his grandfather, Moung-Phoset married one of the maids of honor at the court, this time one who chose him of her own free will. Mah-Mé was their only daughter. In 1888 or 1889, the hairy Burmese went to the United States during their world tour, and their stage name was the "Sacred Hairy Family of Burma." The ultimate fate of Maphoon and Moung-Phoset is unknown; probably they went back to Burma and died in obscurity there.
Table of ContentsThe Two Inseparable Brothers, and a Preface
The Hairy Maid at the Harpsichord
The Woman Who Laid an Egg
The Strangest Miracle in the World
Some Words about Hog-faced Gentlewomen
The Biddenden Maids
The Tocci Brothers, and Other Dicephali
The King of Poland's Court Dwarf
Daniel Cajanus, the Swedish Giant
Daniel Lambert, the Human Colossus
Cat-eating Englishmen and French Frog-swallowers
What People are Saying About This
The number of two-headed boys and hairy-faced girls in Jan Bondeson's new volume of miracles and marvels of medicine is astounding! But their stories illustrate how the myth-making of medicine functioned in a past in which the main means of communication was the broadside. Today with the Internet and a rich web of urban legends, Bondeson's volume serves as a corrective. It is not how far we have come in dealing with the anomalous but how little we have changed in our telling of wondrous stories. Great stories; greater lessons!
(Sander L. Gilman, Henry R. Luce Distinguished Service Professor of the Liberal Arts in Human Biology, The University of Chicago)