Series Feature #13 Life in the Circus from Yesterday to Today! – Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) – Part III

Merrick wanted to know more about the “Real World” and questioned Treves on a number of topics. One day he expressed a desire to see inside what he considered a “real” house. Treves obliged and took him to visit his Wimpole Street townhouse and meet his wife. At the hospital Merrick filled his days with reading and constructing models of buildings out of card. He entertained visits from Treves and his house surgeons.

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As a result of Carr Gomm’s letters to the Times, Merrick’s case attracted the notice of London’s high society. One person who took an interest was actress Madge Kendal. Although she probably never met him in person she did bring attention to his case by raising funds and public sympathy. This lead to ladies and gentleman of high society visiting him bringing gifts of card models and books.

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He reciprocated with letters and hand gifts made of card model and baskets. Merrick enjoyed these visits making him more confident enough to converse with people who passed the windows. Occasionally he grew bold enough to leave his living quarters and explore the hospital. When he was discovered, he would always be hurried back to the quarters by the nurses, who feared he would frighten the other patients.

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Last Years

On three occasions Merrick left the hospital and London on holiday, spending weeks at a time in the countryside. As Merrick’s condition gradually deteriorated during his four years at the London Hospital. Requiring a great deal or care from the nursing staff and spent much of his time in bed, or sitting in his quarters with diminishing energy. His facial deformities continued to grow and his head became even more enlarged. He died on April 11th , 1890 at the age of 27. At around 3 pm Treves house surgeon visited Merrick and found him lying dead across the bed. His body was formally identified by his uncle, Charles Merrick.  Merrick’s death was ruled accidental and certified death of asphyxia due to dislocated neck. Knowing the Merrick always slept upright out of necessity, Treves concluded that Merrick must have “made the experiment” attempting to sleep laying down like other people.

Treves dissected Merrick’s body and took plaster casts of his head and limbs. He took skin samples, which were lost during the Second World War and mounted his skeleton, which remains in the pathology collection at the Royal London Hospital.

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Just wanted to Be Treated as an Equal

Joseph Merrick will always be known as the elephant man, many repulsed by his deformities and instead of being kind towards the poor soul caste him out. Thankfully all of society did not cast him out but many like Treves showed compassion towards Merrick. Merrick made every attempt to live life to the best of his ability in a means to survive which meant show casing his deformities for profit. I truly don’t think Merrick thought of himself as a victim but just wanted to be treated like everyone else but he knew that wasn’t possible because society can be cruel to those who are physically and mentally different.

Thinking about the times of today and back then it doesn’t appear all much as changed as to how we treat the disabled. It may appear we are kinder to the disable but really we are not, because how many times has one heard of a disabled person parking in a disable spot and come out to find a note on their vehicle about how they are not disabled because they can physically walk. Merrick was not mentally incompetent, but people assumed he was by looking at him. Due to the physical disabilities, it merely prevented him from speaking in a manner like all of us but he could still speak and think like all of us, something Treves discovered and appreciated.

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Merrick in Today’s World

Today it doesn’t appear that we have too many Merrick’s in the world due to modern medicine , I am assuming what ailed Merrick doesn’t exist as much today because it can be diagnosed sooner and cured with medicine, something Merrick did not have in those times. It was comforting to know that Merrick could live comfortably in his final young days and it’s sad to see him pass at such a young age, but felt it was inevitable he would pass eventually due to his deformities getting worse.

It is my belief that may Merrick wished to die and grew tired of the struggle seeing and feeling his body only get worse and more deformed as time passed and it just goes to show you he had a choice. Although his death was rule an accident, Treves and Merrick knew he could not and should attempt to lay down like everyone else due to the weight of his head and lack of support for his neck. It is my belief as thought Merrick choked to death in his sleep unable to breath unable to lift his fragile head easily breaking his neck.

Joseph Merrick will always be apart of history and our culture, having seen the Elephant Man dozens of times. I hope this short series opened your eyes this incredible man and would some would call freak.

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The circus and those involved especially the performers continue to intrigue me because of their humanity and the hardships they endured by society just to fit in. I will continue to move forward with my series with other Circus figures as there are so many but felt I need Joseph Merrick (AKA the elephant man) to be apart of the series. Thank you for for continuing to be apart of my journey.

Much of my research came from Wikipedia Joseph Merrick – Wikipedia as many of other sources online replicate the information because information on him is scarce at times.

3 thoughts on “Series Feature #13 Life in the Circus from Yesterday to Today! – Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) – Part III

  1. Pingback: Series Feature #15 Life in the Circus from Yesterday to Today! – The Muse Brothers (Men from Mars) | Joseph’s Adventures in Writing

  2. Pingback: Series Feature #16 Life in the Circus from Yesterday to Today! – The Human Skeletons and Thin Man Isaac Sprague and Peter Robinson. | Joseph’s Adventures in Writing

  3. Pingback: Series Feature #17 Life in the Circus from Yesterday to Today! – Jennie Quigley (The World’s Smallest Women) | Joseph’s Adventures in Writing

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