The Living Skeleton was a fairly common human marvel appearing in private exhibits and travelling sideshows during the heyday of human exhibition. Living Skeletons, sometimes referred to as ‘shadows’, were generally adult men afflicted with some sort of consumption disease ranging from digestive disorders to full blown cases of tuberculosis. Living Skeletons were emaciated to a startling degree, many of them weighed less than 75 pounds and some weighed as little as 50 pounds.
The Living Skeleton was often presented in tandem with a Fat Lady to better juxtapose the physical attributes of both curiosities. In fact, went visiting a new town, it was a common practice amongst showmen to stage a wedding ceremony between a Fat lady and a Living Skeleton to capitalize on free publicity and draw crowds.
The list of Living Skeletons is long, but few were as unfortunate as Dominique Castagna – The Mummy.
Born in Slaligny, France in 1869 Dominique Castagna was, by all accounts, an ugly child. His face was contorted, his eyes were buggy and his nose was compressed and flat. To make matters worse, at the age of two he stopped developing normally. His appearance quickly became gaunt and emaciated and his growth stunted. By the age of twelve he was fully grown and as an adult he was only 4’ 9” and weighted only 50 pounds and 6 ounces. Due to his appearance, Castagna was extremely introverted and lonely. He had few friends and was generally avoided by all who saw him as he was assumed to be deathly ill and contagious.
Initially Dominique Castagna tried to live a normal life, but his frail body and looks didn’t allow for a great range of career choices. While working as an office assistant for an architect in Monaco a co-worker named Cruzel convinced him to exhibit himself for profit. Dominique Castagna reasoned that, since he was always stared at anyway, he may as well make some money in the process. Still, he was greatly reluctant to be made a spectacle. It was with great trepidation that he entered show business.
Castagna exhibited himself in Marseille for the first time in 1896. Cruzel acted as his agent during that venture and every venture afterward. It was Cruzel who dubbed Castagna ‘The Mummy’, inspired by the sunken features and boney body of Castagna. The name stuck and, perhaps despite the label, Cruzel and Castagna became great friends.
Castagna was overjoyed to be accepted by someone who, over time, no longer saw the disfigurements and physical peculiarities. Cruzel accepted Castagna as a he was and with his friendship Castagna was able to ignore the more miserable aspects of his life. He hated exhibition and the constant stares. He was torn apart by his loneliness and the lack of love in his life.
When his friend Cruzel married and quit show business, Castagna shot himself in a hotel in Leige in 1905.