Joseph Merrick – The Elephant Man (The Story)

April 20, 2015 | 0

(1862–1890)

Also known as the “The Elephant Man,” Joseph Carey Merrick was born as a healthy child but at a young age started developing unusual physical deformities that made him a subject of research in the medical world, cinema and media. At the age of 17 his extreme physical conditions forced him to live as a resident in a workhouse from where he later tried to escape and was eventually brought to the London Hospital. However due to lack of care for him there started a demand for public support where he was cared for the rest of his life. He passed away at the age of 27 due to broken vertebrae on April 11, 1890.

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Born in England, Merrick was a healthy child till the age of 5 when he started developing lumpy patches and a grayish skin. With his growing age he developed more deformities and his head as well as body got covered with tumors that were fleshy as well as bony. However he lived a normal childhood and also went to school.

Due to his extreme deformities he could not get a proper job and was either ridiculed or misunderstood by people. His impaired voice made it even more difficult for him to communicate. At the age of 17 he went to live as resident at the Leicester Union Workhouse but found the conditions unbearable. Since he didn’t have any other means of support he was forced to stay. When Joseph left his home he also tried to work in a factory but was physically and mentally abused by the workers and ended up being in a freak show. His face had become distorted, he had an overgrown head and the flesh around his nose became enormous making him the “The Elephant Man” in the freak show.

His condition had the following symptoms:

  1. Discolored, bumpy and rough skin growth as a child.
  2. Lumps under the skin, on the neck, chest and back of the head.
  3. Abnormally enlarged head, especially the right side. Same was the case with his right arm and hand.
  4. Extremely large and repulsive skin growth.

Wrong diagnosis

Due to his grotesque deformities he was a subject of medical curiosity as well as a victim of wrong diagnosis as well as treatments. The famous 1980 movie, “The Elephant Man,” that stars John Hurt is based on his true life events with a message of tolerance. It took almost 100 years for the doctors to get a correct diagnosis of his medical condition. It was concluded that he suffered from elephantiasis, an abnormality in the lymphatic system which causes immense swelling in different parts of the body. Another diagnosis was neurofibromatosis, in which tumors grow on the nervous system. However a lot of doctors affirmed that his deformities were not because of tumors but due to the extreme growth of the bone and skin.

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Although he became the subject of curiosity for various institutions he only got some love towards the end of his life. He mentioned that he wanted to be normal like other people, he also wanted to lie down and sleep normally like others.

Joseph Merrick – Elephant Man(photos)

joseph merrick the elephant man

the elephant man photo

elephant man bones

These are Elephant Bones stored at Queen Mary, University of London for more in-depth research

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