James Morris was born in Copenhagen New York in 1859 and used his unique talent to amuse friends and coworkers from a young age. His ability to stretch his skin as much as eighteen inches from his body, with no perceivable pain, made him incredible popular with officers when he joined the military. Those officers invited reporters and journalists to witness Morris’s unusual talent and from there Morris was recruited by several circuses, sideshow and dime museums. By 1885 he was world traveled and joined up with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
With Barnum and Bailey he was exhibited throughout North America and Europe and in 1898 he was featured in Scientific America as ‘The Rubber Man’. For the journal, he pulled the skin of his neck over his head to which it was reported to resemble ‘an elephant’s trunk’.
As detailed in an earlier post, ‘Rubber Men’ were afflicted with a condition known as cutis hyperelastica or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The syndrome results in a defect in collagen synthesis which in turn results in overly stretchable, and elastic, fragile, soft skin that easily forms welts and scars.
While Morris earned good money in his first season with Barnum and Bailey his popularity quickly dwindled and, do to a slight drinking and gambling problem, he took a second job as a barber opening a shop in New York City.