George Williams, The Turtle Boy, was born in 1859 in Arkansas. He was born with a rare form of dwarfism known as parastremmatic dysplasia. Not only does this form of dwarfism stunt growth, Williams was only eighteen inches tall, but it also twists and contorts the bones of the body into grotesque spirals.
Williams was incredibly popular during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. He primarily worked carnivals and dime museums but he was best known for his lengthy tenure at Huber’s 14th Street Museum in New York.
Despite really looking nothing like a turtle, Williams was often depicted with a shell in pamphlets and advertisements. He was not content to simply allow patrons to view him; he preferred to earn his money by performing. Overcoming his severe deformities, Williams became a very accomplished musician on the harmonica and flute and, in contrast to his diminutive size, he possessed a rich and wonderful baritone singing voice.
Williams had a reputation of being a bit of a pool shark. Often, he played lengthy games with fellow Marvel Laloo, who conceded several rule modifications to Williams – such as allowing the Turtle Boy to shuffle along the felt table itself or sit along the edge of the table.
During his peak, Williams earned $75 a week. This sum was considerably less than many of his sideshow counterparts. This may have been due to his race but regardless he was a content and fulfilled man. He was able to purchase a 160-acre farm near Wheaton, Illinois. In 1920, he was injured in New York when his wheelchair was overturned due to a defect in the sidewalk. He sued the city for $10,000 but lost.
It was the last time George Williams made any appearance in the media. The details of the remainder of his life are unknown.
Image: 1901 cabinet card in collection of the author.
Excerpts of the above taken from the book Very Special People, American Sideshow as well as We Who Are Not As Others.