Another form of human marvel is what is commonly referred to as an ‘anatomical wonder’. While some of these marvels are born with unusual physical characteristics that allow them to do astounding feats due to odd bits in their biology – a number of marvels were otherwise normal men and women who trained themselves to perform amazing feats. These trained working acts include the classic sword swallower, some contortionists and most acrobats, pincushions, blockheads, pain proof men, fire eaters and fakirs.
Excellent examples of born ‘anatomical wonders’ include James Morris – who performed with Barnum and Bailey for many years as ‘The Elastic Skin Man’. He was able to stretch the skin of his cheek eight inches and pull his chest skin over his head. He was one of many Rubber Men – sometimes called ‘Indian Rubber Men’ when contortion was added to the act – with a condition that effected dermal elasticity called cutis hyperelastica or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Another anatomical wonder would include ‘Popeye, the Man with the Elastic Eyeballs’ who was able to make his eyes to protrude from his sockets independently. This condition has proved to be not that uncommon and seems to affect those of African decent more commonly than other races.
Furthermore, mention must be made of Melvin Burkhart (1907-2001 and pictured above) who was the father of the modern anatomical wonder working act – and perhaps the greatest trained sideshow marvel of all time.
image: The late, great Melvin Burkhart performing ‘the human blockhead’.