Born on July 22, 1851 in Siberia, Russia, Nikolai Wassiljewittsch Kobelkoff was the fourteenth child of normal parents. He was born without limbs, as a living torso.
Despite the murmured superstitions surrounding the young Nikolai, he was eventually befriended by a kind schoolmaster and he was able to obtain a proper education. Having no hands to grip a pencil, Nikolai adapted and was soon able to write by holding a pencil under his chin. His right stump proved useful due the fact that it was rather bony. Eventually his technique proved to be quite accurate. He eventually even took up painting.
In 1871 Nikolai began his exhibition career in St. Petersburg. He his initial venue lasted two years. Like many limbless marvels, his exhibition consisted of mundane tasks accomplished via extraordinary dexterity. His most notable feat was threading needles before awed audiences. In later exhibitions, Nikolai would simply paint. This was likely a rare instance where watching paint dry was entertaining. He also sometimes ate a full meal in front of the audience, even pouring the wine himself.
During his exhibitions, he would also display his means of locomotion, which was much more dynamic then many other limbless marvels. While he would sometimes crawl about like the later Prince Randian, he was incredibly limber. He would often leap on and off of chairs and even hop down flights of stairs. On occasion, Nikolai would also perform a headstand.
Nikolai was also a powerfully built man, despite the lack of limbs. On rare occasions, he would demonstrate his strength by perching an audience member on his stump and lifting them.
His great success in St. Petersburg warranted a tour. Eventually, Nikolai performed in every major European country and for many notable nobles. While performing in Austria in 1875, he met a Viennese woman named Anna Wilfert and the two were married the same year in Budapest. The couple had their first child in June of 1876. Ten more would follow and all were average in appearance.
Nikolai died in January 1933 as a wealthy and accomplished man. In 1898 Nikolai produced the short film Kobelkoff which documented his act. He published a memoir. His nude photo still elicits conversations. He was even able to buy his own amusement park which his descendants continue to run.
Despite nagging rumors of a dark side and drinking problems, Nikolai Kobelkoff was so famous and highly regarded that for decades European limbless performers would often advertise themselves as ‘the next Kobelkoff’.
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