Over the course of the existence of our human race, it is estimated that over 106 billion people have been born. Our current human population has rapidly exceeded to 7 billion. According to the most recent United Nations estimates, by the spring of 2024, the world population is expected to reach as many as 8 billion people.
The bigger the population, the more chances of unwanted human oddities. Unfortunately, there have always been people suffering from rare conditions that affect their everyday lives. Diseases and abnormalities have kept scientists busy to find treatments and cures.
Although for some, their unfortunate conditions may limit their physical abilities and acceptance into society, many will still live happy and productive lives. In fact, some will end up becoming financially successful while they continue to fight for acceptance and survival.
Helena Antonia (1550 – 1595)
Helena Antonia was a bearded lady who lived in the 1500’s. Antonia was a court dwarf of Maria of Austria (spouse of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and Hungary) and Holy Roman Empress. She was also a lady-in-waiting for Constance of Austria (a queen of Poland that lived from December 24, 1588 – July 10, 1631).
The above painting was placed in the cabinet of curiosities of the Protestant Parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Wroclaw.
Unfortunately, we were unable to get an answer to why Antonia had a beard. Only a small number of women can grow facial hair that qualifies as a distinct beard. The cause can be from a hormonal imbalance, anabolic steroid use or a rare disorder called hypertrichosis. Although a bearded lady may be viewed as a social stigma, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, some were famous and performed in sideshows.
For a list of bearded women from various centuries, visit our post called 7 Women With Beards.
Joseph Merrick (1862 – 1890)
Joseph Merrick was an English man who suffered from severe deformities. He lived from August 5, 1862 to April 11, 1890. He became a popular human curiosity and eventually was given the name “The Elephant Man.” The first stages of his abnormal development occurred within the first few years of his life. He had abnormally large lips with immensely thick and lumpy skin. Both of his feet and his right arm grew extremely larger than normal.
Merrick lived a difficult life being ridiculed, losing his mother at age 10 and being rejected by his father and step mother. On April 11, 1890, Merrick passed away at the young age of 27. The cause of his death is asphyxia (suffocation). Surgeon Frederick Treves claimed the actual cause of death was from a dislocated neck. Because of the heavy weight of Merrick’s head, he had to sleep sitting up. Treves believed Merrick had tried to sleep normally, resulting in his death. Although the exact cause of his deformities is to this day unclear, a theory suggests that he had a condition called neurofibromatosis type 1 (tumor disorder).
In 2001, experts suggested that he also suffered with Proteus syndrome (congenital disorder causing skin overgrowth and unusual bone development). However, even after performing DNA tests on Merrick’s hair and bones, the results were still proven to be inconclusive.
Joseph Merrick 1886
A Book From 1890 Discusses “Freaks Of Nature”
This is a photograph taken from a 1890 magazine titled: The Illustrated American. It was published around the time when freak shows were at their height of popularity. Part of the magazine had a fascinating section titled “Freaks Of Nature.” It describes several people who had abnormalities, as well as careers working in sideshows. To name a few, there was a man with elastic skin, a man who was so thin he was called a “living skeleton,” and a bearded lady.
The section also included a few photographs of famous sideshow performers at the time. The young boy shown in the above photograph had an unwanted condition that not only helped get him a job as a sideshow performer, but it also gave him the privilege of meeting famous people around the world. According to the magazine, the performer had once met the King of Italy, the Emperor of Austria and the Prince of Wales.
Now we will discuss the details of this particular sideshow freak.
Fedor Jeftichew: Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy (1868 – January 31, 1904)
Fedor Adrianovich Jeftichew (born in 1868 – January 31, 1904) was a famous sideshow performer from St. Petersburg, Russia. He suffered from a medical condition called generalized hypertrichosis. The disease left his entire body full of hair. Fedor’s father, Adrian, also developed hypertrichosis. Before he passed away, he toured with his son in French circuses.
In 1884, Phineas Taylor Barnum (American showman and businessman) offered 16-year-old Fedor a contract to work in the United States as a sideshow performer. Due to Fedor’s resemblance to a dog, he earned the name Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy (which later became Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Man). Barnum liked to say that when Fedor was angry, he would bark and growl. Therefore, barking and growling was included in his performances.
On January 31, 1904, Fedor Jeftichew died from complications of pneumonia.
Edouard Beaupré (1881 – 1904)
Edouard Beaupré was a big (to say the least) freak show star in Barnum And Bailey’s circus. He lived from July 9, 1881 to January 3, 1904. Although the his growth in the first years of life were completely normal, this significantly changed. By the age of 9, he was already up to 6 feet tall. By age 17, he gained 13 inches and was all the way up to 7 feet 1 inch. By age 21, he weighed over 400 pounds and measured 8 feet 2.5 inches. Due to his abnormal growth and struggle with tuberculosis, he passed away at only age 23. He died with a height of 8 feet 3 inches. Doctors were able to determine that even after his death, he was still growing.
Schlitzie Surtees (1901 – 1971)
Schlitzie Surtees (true name is still unknown) was an American sideshow performer born with a condition called microcephaly (a neurodevelopmental disorder). He was born on September 10, 1901 and died on September 24, 1971 (birthday is disputed). He was a popular attraction with Barnum and Bailey. The unusual disorder gave Surtees an extremely small brain and skull. The name given for his unique appearance was commonly referred to as a “pinhead”. Surtees was also very short in statue with a height of only about 4 feet tall. He also suffered from moderate to severe mental retardation.
Although he had the mind of a three-year-old, he was still able to take care of himself. He also loved to sing, dance and socialize with virtually anyone. His condition didn’t stop him from performing and even acting in a 1932 horror movie called “Freaks.” Despite all of his abnormalities, Surtees lived a fairly long life dying at the age of 70 from bronchial pneumonia.
Robert Wadlow (1918 – 1940)
The tallest known person to ever walk the Earth is a man by the name of Robert Wadlow. Robert reached a height of 8 ft. 11.1 in, with a weight of 439 pounds. Like Beaupré, Wadlow also was said to have continued growing even after his death. He suffered from a condition of hyperplasia of his pituitary gland causing extremely high levels of the human growth hormone.
Extreme Cases Of The 21st Century
Ekaterina Lisina: A Russian Model With 52-Inch Legs
In September of 2017, Guinness World Records confirmed that 30-year-old Ekaterina Lisina from Russia is the woman with the longest legs in the world. She is 6′ 9″, with each leg measuring 52 inches long. Lisina also has extremely large feet, with a shoe size of 47! She has been recognized for being the woman with the largest feet in Russia.
It is no surprise that Lisina pursued a career as a professional basketball player for the Russian National Team.
Lisina’s Second World Record
In 2014, Lisina quit playing basketball to start a new career as a Russian model. In addition to owning the record for the woman with the longest legs on Earth, Guinness World Records also confirmed that she is currently the world’s tallest professional model. Thanks to all of Lisina’s bizarre abnormalities, she will appear in the Guinness World Records 2018 Edition.
Wiang Boonmee: A Woman With A Melting Face
Wiang Boonmee is a 63-year-old woman from Bangkok. She lives with massive abnormal growths all over her face. The rare condition started developing when she was a child. Decades later, she has a face that looks like it’s actually melting. Despite living with a disease that left her blind and full of growths, Boonmee has refused to receive any medical treatment. She rejects surgical intervention due to the fear that she may never wake up.
Amazingly, Boonmee’s limitations have not stopped her from enjoying her life. Not only does she claim she is happy, but she also has a job selling flowers and other products on the streets of Bangkok.
What Is Boonmee’s Medical Condition?
Wiang Boonmee has a severe case of neurofibromatosis (NF). The condition affects how nerve cells will form and grow, resulting in the growth of tumors in the nervous system. It is caused by a genetic mutation in certain genes. While around half of reported cases are hereditary, the rest occur during early development.
Here are the three types of neurofibromatosis:
Type 1 (NF1) can be present at birth, or start in childhood. This particular type causes deformed bones, small bumps within nerves, freckles located in the armpit and groin, and light brown spots on the skin.
Type 2 (NF2) usually starts in the teen years. The condition causes ringing in the ears, hearing loss, cataracts, flesh colored skin flaps, muscle atrophy (a decrease in muscle mass) and poor balance.
Type 3 (schwannomatosis) causes intense pain, and is the rarest of all three.
Although there is no way to prevent or cure neurofibromatosis, surgery can help remove the tumors. If the tumors become cancerous, the patient may receive radiation and chemotherapy. Fortunately, the tumors are usually noncancerous.
A Man Living With Neurofibromatosis Type 1
Andy Sandness: A Man Who Received A Face Transplant From A Suicide Victim
Andy Sandness is man from Wyoming. Due to battling severe depression in 2006, he attempted suicide by shooting himself under his chin. Fortunately doctors were able to save his life. Although his life was saved, he had virtually no face left. Sandness had just two teeth, a missing jaw and a missing nose. In 2016, he decided to join a waiting list for a face transplant.
Luckily Sandness found the perfect match. Lilly Ross is a woman who had lost her husband to suicide around the same time that Sadness joined the waiting list. At 8 months pregnant, she decided to donate her husband’s face. Interestingly, the two men were of similar ages, blood type, skin tone and even facial structure.
The restoration of Sandness’ face took over 50 hours to complete. The surgery involved the reconstruction of his face, nose, jaw, teeth, facial muscles and skin. It was very successful as Sandness can now enjoy a more normal life. While living the last decade isolated most of the time, today he no longer fears being seen in public. He goes out dancing, and also enjoys going out to restaurants.
In 2017, Lilly Ross and her son met Sandness face to face. She is grateful for not only the success of the surgery, but also because the meeting with Sandness has helped give her closure.
The Most Extensive Face Transplant Ever
Watch a video on a Mississippi firefighter who received the most extensive face transplant in history. He needed a total of 70 surgeries before his transplant could take place.
Chandre Oraon: An Indian Man With A 14.5-inch Tail
An Indian man by the name of Chandre Oraon (from Alipurduar, West Bengal) has been growing a 14.5″ tail right at the base of his spine since his birth. Although his very unusual appendage is scientifically due to his spina bifida, many Hindus disagree and worship him. They claim that his tail points to him being a incarnation of the monkey god Hanuman.
His worshipers will often make their way to India hoping he can cure their sicked loved ones. His occupation is a tea picker, requiring him to climb up trees. This gives his followers even more of a reason to see him as the monkey god. He is said to be the only person in the world living with a tail. His dream is to have a temple built for his hundreds of followers so they can worship him.
To learn more about the science of human tails, visit our post called People With Tails.
Babies With Anomalies
This image shows a pair of human conjoined twins. The picture was taken at the Dupuytren Museum of Pathological Anatomy in Paris, France.
Conjoined twins is a very rare phenomenon where identical twins are joined in the mother’s womb. It is so rare that it only occurs in an estimated range from 1 in 50,000 births to 1 in 200,000. Unfortunately, half of them end up being stillborn. The condition is more common with females. The survival rate for this extremely rare condition is only about 25 percent. One can only image living attached to your twin while simultaneously sharing appendages and organs.
Sirenomelia: Mermaid Syndrome
Sirenomelia is a rare congenital disorder where the legs are fused together. The fusion of the legs is what gave it the alternative known name “Mermaid Syndrome.” The extreme rareness is quite similar to conjoined twins. One out of every 100,000 births suffer from this miserable condition. This type of malformation is very incompatible with life. In fact, due to the complications associated with abnormal kidney and urinary bladder development and function, death will usually occur within in just one or two days before their birth.
Identical twins have a much higher risk of sirenomelia than fraternal twins and singletons. Although the reason for this unusual condition still remains unknown, more discoveries are actually leading researchers closer and closer to understanding its pathogenesis.
Anencephaly is a cephalic (head) disorder resulting from an opening in the spinal cord or the brain. It occurs in the early stages of human development. The defect results in the lack of a significant portion of the brain, skull and scalp. Most of the fetuses do not survive.
These are just some of the many human conditions one can potentially suffer with. After reading this article, you know that regardless of the type of condition they may have to deal with, there are still people who strive to be accepted and live somewhat normal lives. They don’t let their condition influence them so much that they give up on life. In fact, some will actually use their abnormalities as an advantage for career opportunities and a shot at fame.