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"Side-Show Freaks As Seen By Science"

Creator: E. Leslie Gilliams (author)
Date: October 1922
Publication: Illustrated World
Source: Available at selected libraries

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How the Fat Lady Stays Fat, the Thin Man Thin and the "Blue Man" Blue Along with Many Other Interesting Facts Concerning Freaks Is Recounted in the Following Article


How do they get that way, and why can't they do something to relieve themselves of their peculiar abnormalities? you probably involuntarily query as you view with astonishment the freaks in the side-shows. The human skeleton seems skinnier than ever before, the fat woman seems, if anything, to have grown even fatter and the "Blue Man" bluer, while the alfalfa which sprouts from the chin of the bearded lady would keep a dozen sartorial experts at work a week, so it seems, if she desired to be shorn of it.


Both questions can be readily answered by science. To the scientist there is no such thing as a freak of nature. Nature makes no mistake and performs no freakish act. Although it is not always possible to discover the cause, it is true that there is a natural cause for everything that is abnormal. The fat woman, if she desired, might be made thin enough to attract no unusual attention, while her skinny brother of skeleton fame could also have a few pounds of avoirdupois put on here and there, if he cared to. But neither of them do.


The flesh of the celebrated fat lady and the lack of it on the bones of the human skeleton are as essential to them in the gaining of a livelihood as tools to a mechanic, or a rifle to a hunter. The fatter or thinner they are, as the case may be, the more valuable are they as an attraction and the larger their salary.


Although giants, as well as dwarfs, were known in biblical times, it is only within the last few years that a rational theory for their excessive size or lack of size has been formulated. It is less than ten years that giantism and dwarfism were proved to be due to abnormal activity of certain organs in the brain called pituitary glands.


Other glands, it has been proved, figure in the making of other so-called human freaks. Abnormality in the activity of the thyroid gland, which is situated in the front part of the throat, has been shown by scientific demonstration to be the fundamental reason for the excessive obesity of the fat woman and the excessive leanness of the skeleton man.


Science is now also able to explain the peculiarities of the numerous other freaks. Among the most interesting of these later day freaks, for new ones are thrust upon us every year, is Fred Walters, "the Blue Man." Walters is the victim of a disease of the heart which occasionally is seen in infancy and which is called "Blue Baby." As is generally known, the heart is comprised of four cavities, two auricles and two ventricles. The blood enters the right auricle from the veins and passes into the right ventricle, then goes to the lungs to receive a supply of oxygen. Next it returns to the heart, passing into the left auricle and then into the left ventricle, from there out into the aorta, a large artery, into the general circulation.


Before birth there is an opening in the heart and part of the venous blood passes directly from the right side of the heart into the left side and then out into the circulation. Immediately after birth this opening is closed and all blood sent through the veins to the heart goes first to the lungs to be oxygenated before going to the left side to be pumped into the arteries. In unusual cases this opening might fail to close after birth and part of the venous blood, which is blue, goes directly into the left auricle and ventricle and into the general circulation. The result is a blueness of the skin, which disease is termed cyanosis.


However, in such cases the baby usually dies, as when the blood is not properly oxygenated, it carries a quantity of carbon dioxide through the body, and this acts as a poison to the brain. In the blue baby so much of the poison can be accumulated in this way that the baby usually dies within three days. When the opening in the heart closes partly following birth, the child may manage to survive a few years; but not very often.


However, the case of Walters is unusual in that his heart was perfectly normal after birth. While serving in the English army he was thrown from a horse that stumbled and fell on his chest. According to medical authorities who have looked into this case, the foramen ovale, as the heart opening is called, had been reopened by the shock and injury with the same ensuing results as are found in a "blue baby" case. The opening, however, is considered to be very small and allows only a small amount of venous blood to pass into the arterial circulation.


In the same way as the peculiar nature of this freak's skin can be explained, science is ready to explain how all the other so-called freaks are in reality extreme types of various diseases.


According to Dr. John D. Horgan, of New York, practically all of the freaks are manifestations of some wheel in the human machinery which is out of gear.


"In the human body," he said, "there are any number of so-called ductless glands which when abnormal in any way would be apt to result in some peculiarity of the human form. Early anatomists knew all about the existence of these ductless glands. As is known, the salivary glands have ducts which carry the saliva to the mouth and the mammary glands of the breasts have ducts which carry the milk to the nipple. The thyroid and thymus glands, which are situated in the neck, the pituitary and the pineal glands in the brain, as well as certain other glands, however, have no such ducts. Until recently it was not known what these glands secrete or what their purpose was. It was known, however, that if the thyroid gland was taken from a healthy animal it would die. If the gland was only partly removed the animal would become fat and lazy, while if additional thyroid was added it would become lean.

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The reason for this was shown by further experimenting. The fat in the body is oxidized and converted into heat. Energy and activity stimulate the oxidation of fat, and under activity the fat in the body is used up. If excessive fat has been consumed in food the amount not used in ordinary activity is stored as fat in various parts of the body. The thyroid has a secretion which passes directly into the blood vessels that pass through the gland, and this secretion stimulates the oxidation of fat. "In a case where there is more of this secretion than is required to keep the body at a normal fat standard, the fat will waste more rapidly with the result that the body will become thin.


"For instance, a circus living skeleton -- one of the popular side-show freaks -- is a case of excessive thyroidism, the physical condition being aggravated by active exercise which helps to keep down weight, and by non-fattening food. The condition could be remedied, but the human skeleton as a box-office attraction would be finished, and his easy medium to a livelihood would be done away with.


"No doubt you have seen Carrie Holt, the circus fat lady who smiles so readily as she toddles about. Miss Holt is suffering from a condition just the opposite from that of the human skeleton. In her case there is insufficient thyroid secretion, which may be due to excessive secretion of some other gland or it may be due to a small, inactive thyroid. The weight of all fat freaks makes them inactive. This inactivity not alone lessens waste, but the oxidation of fat, which is part of the chemical processes of waste and repair, is lessened. Fat persons as a rule have hearty appetites and like foods which tend to make them fatter. If fat enough to draw shekels at the gate in a side-show, they take good care that they do not lose their weight. They will not take thyroid or other anti-fat remedies and they will not exercise or ease up on their eating, for they realize that the abnormal fatness means larger salaries.


"The case of Ustus Macknow, the tallest man in the world, who stands nearly ten feet in his socks, can be explained from the fact that he is suffering from too much activity of the pituitary gland.


"This is a two-lobed gland on the outer side of the brain, one of the lobes, the anterior, controlling growth. In the neck are the two large glands, the thyroid which controls fat growth and the thymus which controls bone growth. After the third or fourth year the latter gland begins to waste, and by the time of puberty only a little connective tissue is left, while its functions are taken over by the other glands, mainly the pituitary. When there is an abundance of pituitary secretion during childhood, there will be a rapid increase in growth, the child will be large for its age and will grow up a giant in size. If the secretion of this particular gland is insufficient in quantity during childhood, the growth is retarded, which sums up the why and wherefore of the giant and the midget.


"The midgets can be cured by treatment with pituitary gland extract, but lack of inches means more money so they keep right on being small. The treatment, while still in the experimental stage, has been found successful in cases of slow-growing children. Giantism, however, cannot be cured. "Between the dwarf and the midget there is a vast difference. The dwarf is fairly well developed and of normal size except in the length of his extremities. The dwarf is caused by a deficiency of thymus secretion and a consequent deficiency in bone growth. The bones continue to grow in the skull, chest and pelvis, but the growth is stunted in the limbs."


All other so-called human freaks can be explained in some similar way. Krao, the "Missing Link," and others such as the bearded lady, the man with the long beard and similar freaks are simply all cases of excessive hair growth. Krao is a Siamese woman, who has an excessive growth of hair on head, face, arms, body and legs. But there is nothing unusual about her as it is possible for hair to grow anywhere on the human body except on the palms of the hand or on the soles of the feet. More or less growth of hair may be a racial or family trait, or may be due to some local stimulant in the hair bulbs.


The billiard-ball woman, on the other hand, who hasn't a hair on her head, is suffering from nothing more than plain baldness, or as the M. D.s term it, alopecia. People get bald in certain diseases like smallpox, typhoid fever, etc., because in the course of the sickness the blood becomes impaired and, as the nutrition of the hair is carried in the blood, when this is impaired the hair roots do not receive proper nutrition and the fine muscle fibers which hold the hair in the scalp become weakened. The hair then starts to fall out.


Laurello, a new freak in this country, is at the present time of great interest to science. His claim to notoriety lies in the fact that he can turn his head backward so that his head faces the other way. Laurello, a German, claims that this can be accomplished by anyone who has the persistency to keep trying it. He admits to having spent three years in daily practice to accomplish the feat, six months passing before he could rest his chin on his shoulder. He kept on until he had progressed to the point where he could turn his head directly backward and look the other way. However, according to surgeons who have seen Laurello perform, the feat would in any ordinary man result in strangulation or dislocation of the vertebrae of the neck with resultant damage to the spinal cord and would probably produce instant death.

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