Ichthyosis finds its etymological origins in the Greek term for ‘fish’, however the majority of human exhibits afflicted with the skin condition often adopted an Alligator-themed epithet. Susi’s skin, however, was particularly coarse and cracked and the title of ‘elephant-skinned’ seemed more appropriate and illustrative.
While accounts do vary Susi was likely born in 1909 as Charlotte in the western district of Berlin. In early childhood Susi’s ichthyosis manifested aggressively and her skin quickly thickened, turned grey and cracked to visually elephantine properties. Due to the severity of her condition, Susi endured daily physical pain. Her pain was further amplified by multiple infections and illnesses as bacteria invaded the major cracks formed in her skin from even her most subtle movements. During her early years, Susi couldn’t even blink her eyes without risking life-threatening cracks.
In addition to the physical pain, Susi also endured emotional pain as she was the subject of ridicule and segregation from her peers. During the hot summer days, while the other children frolicked in the water, Susi rubbed ice over her arms in an effort to cool down as her skin condition left her unable to sweat. As the children pointed and laughed at her she would not shed a single tear. Her condition had robbed her of that ability as well.
Susi’s parents, in an effort to improve the quality of her life and to prevent infection opportunities, lathered Susi with generous amounts of oil and moisturizer on a daily basis. Susi’s parents were also highly concerned with her general appearance and took to peeling the skin from her face on a nightly basis. Both practices did wonders as her skin became suppler and her facial complexion cleared to reveal an attractive face. Susi would, however, need to repeat the daily procedures for the rest of her life.
Susi first came to the United States in 1927 as part of a troupe consisting of a giantess and a bearded lady and she made multiple subsequent visits to the US. With her manager, she emigrated to the U.S. from Germany to escape the oncoming war and moved into an apartment on New York’s west side. While living in New York, Susi often exhibited herself at Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street and Coney Island in the 1930’s. She even worked Madison Square Garden for the Ringling show in 1967.
By all accounts Susi was a shy, introverted and quiet woman who preferred to keep a low profile and exhibit sparingly. She exhibited herself more or less locally until her manager passed away in the late 1960’s. With his death, Susi’s career and heart for the business died as well. Her last confirmed public appearance was at the Great Allentown Fair in Pennsylvania as a single attraction billed as ‘The Swamp Girl’.
By some accounts Susi retired to Germany, but most report that she passed away in New York City in 1975.