Joseph Merrick : The Elephant Man

Joseph Merrick suffered from extreme physical-based deformities that resulted in him becoming a “sideshow attraction” throughout his lifetime. However, he was a fascinating subject when it came to science, stage productions, and film productions.


Joseph Carey Merrick was born 5 August 1862 and he died 11 April 1890  (aged 27) in the London Hospital, Whitechapel, London where he was living. The official cause of death was asphyxia, although Treves, who dissected the body, said that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. He believed that Merrick—who had to sleep sitting up because of the weight of his head—had been attempting to sleep lying down, to “be like other people”.

Merrick suffered from a combination of conditions that resulted in his unusual appearance. These included Proteus Syndrome and the Neurofibromatosis condition. These medical issues result in the overgrowth of tissue throughout the body, as well as the overgrowth of the nerves and bone. Worldwide, there have been only a couple of hundred cases of this devastating condition.

As a baby, Joseph appeared to be normal; however, by the time he turned 15, he had limbs that were over-sized and numerous tumors covering the body. He was bullied and made fun of in school; he had a difficult time in school and work, and was treated exceptionally cruelly by many people throughout his lifetime. He acquired work as a sideshow attraction and earned good money and good treatment.

Eventually, though, the show was shut down and he retreated to a home in a hospital in the year of 1886. He developed many friends, gained an interest in reading, and even learned basket weaving, how to write poetry, and how to make cardboard-based models from various kits.


Card church built by Merrick, a replica of Mainz cathedral

Despite his complications, he learned to connect to people. Even though he suffered from a devastating disability, he did not give up.

Despite the problems and difficulties that we experience in life, we must use the elephant man as an example of the limitless possibilities that abound in each of our lives.


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