Maximo and Bartola first appeared in 1848. The hoax perpetrated by their handler, in the spirit of shameless promotion, not only sustained their long careers, but also the careers of two generations to come.
Maximo and Bartola were born microcephalic and were originally from the village of Decora in St. Salvador. The pair were quite intellectually slow and required special care. Their mother, Marina Espina, was conned into handing her unique children over to a Spanish trader named Ramon Selva. Ramon promised to take the pinheaded children to America, where he assured Maria they would be cured of their condition. Instead, Ramon sold Maximo and Bartola to an American promoter named Morris.Morris concocted an incredible story to introduce the children to the American public.
At the time, America was frothing around the display of ‘ethnological curiosities’. Interest in the Mayan civilization was peaking due to recent explorations and publications. Morris sold a forty-eight page booklet in conjunction with his exhibiting of Maximo and Bartola to capitalize on the recent appetite of the public. Life of the Living Aztec Children told the elaborate ‘true story’ surrounding the discovery of Maximo and Bartola in an Aztec temple in a lost city.
The booklet alleged that Maximo and Bartola were found squatting on alters and that they were members of a sacred race once worshipped by the city’s inhabitants. To further this claim Morris dressed the pair in Aztec-looking garb. Both wore costumes featuring Aztec suns sewn onto the front and their hair was allowed to grow bushy. This combined with their diminutive stature and proportionately small heads did give them a highly unusual appearance. But would the public believe they were members of a lost race?
Rather than scoff at these wild claims, the public actually believed the pitch. To those who viewed them, Maximo and Bartola were the last remnants of an ancient civilization.
Not only did the public show a great amount of interest, the scientific community clamoured for a chance to examine the Aztec Children. Numerous papers were published on the topic of Maximo and Bartola including the American Journal of Medical Sciences. Soon Maximo and Bartola were the darlings of the general public and high society. Eventually, they visited the White House as guests of President Fillmore.
In 1853 Morris took Maximo and Bartola to England. There they were exhibited before the Ethnological Society and summoned to Buckingham Palace. During their public exhibition in London, they attracted three thousand people in just two days. Anatomist Prof. Richard Owen visited Maximo and Bartola and soon he and the rest of the European scientific community were debating exactly what the Aztec Children were and these debates further fueled their popularity. During their subsequent tour of Europe they appeared before Napoleon and his imperial family, the emperor of Russia, the emperor of Austria as well as the kings and queens of Bavaria, Holland and Belgium. Everywhere Maximo and Bartola went, controversy and conjecture followed. To many, they were indeed examples of an unknown race of people; they were the last of the Aztec Children.
Maximo and Bartola eventually returned to the United States, this time for exhibition at Barnum’s American Museum. Barnum renamed the duo as ‘The Aztec Wonders’ and many of the photos that exist of Maximo and Bartola are from this era of their career. Eventually interest in the pair died down as reporters and the scientific community moved on to other more legitimate discoveries. In an attempt to rekindle public interest, they resurfaced on January 7, 1867 in London and appeared to marry each other. They were married under the names of Senior Maximo Valdez Nunez and Senora Bartola Velasquez and, despite being brother and sister. It was alleged that by ‘Aztec Culture’ such a marriage was allowed.
The publicity attempt was a complete failure and nary was an eyebrow raised.
It is alleged that Maximo and Bartola continued to be exhibited until 1901 under the care of several different managers; the details of their eventual end are unknown.
Maximo and Bartola were the first of The Aztec Children. For decades after that, most pinheads, even the famous Schlitzie the Pinhead, were advertised as members of a long and formerly forgotten race.