Esther Parnell was born in Kenly, North Carolina on March 5th, 1926. She was one of six children and while her sister and three of her brothers were born with perfectly average skin, Esther and her brother William were afflicted with ichthyosis.
There are several forms of ichthyosis, a rare skin condition that derives its name from the Greek word for fish, but the siblings were particularly scaly and were quickly compared to the alligators found hunting in the Carolinas. Besides creating extremely dry and cracked skin, serious ichthyosis also impedes hair growth. As a result both siblings were made miserable due to sparse hair. Esther, especially, was devoid of a full head of hair and eyelashes. The hairless and scales furthered the unusual appearance of the siblings and the two alligator-skinned marvels began their exhibition career.
William was commonly known as Aloa the Alligator Boy and Esther was known as Alice. Together, they were often billed as ‘The Alligator-Skinned Twins’, despite not being actual twins. In fact, much of their promotion material harkened back to Barnum-like tall tales. According to one of their pamphlets, their appearance was due to their mother being frightened by an alligator while pregnant with ‘the twins’. In another, despite being twins, the pair were of different ages. Sometimes their first names or surnames were altered, sometimes they were orphans and sometimes the pair ‘baffled medical science’ with their condition. Together, the siblings travelled almost exclusively within the United States with West’s World Shows, Endy Bros. Shows, Cetlin-Wilson Shows, Royal American Shows and Clyde Beatty’s Circus Sideshow.
By all accounts, William was a good man who happened to drink too much. He eventually fell into alcoholism and his addiction shortened his life substantially. He passed away in 1959.
Esther, on the other hand, flourished with her charming smile and enchanting personality fascinating all who met her. She married Thomas Blackmon at the age of twenty-two and would come to be best known as The World’s Strangest Mother in 1948 when she gave birth to her first child. In total, Esther gave birth to seven children. All were born healthy and with perfect skin.
Professionally, Esther became a member of the Greater Tampa Showmen’s Association and was officially involved in show business for 56 years. In addition to exhibition, she was also featured briefly in two movies. In 1973, Esther appeared opposite Dr. Who’s Tom Barker in ‘The Mutations’, also known as ‘The Freakmaker‘ and later she appeared in ‘The Sentinel‘ in 1977 with fellow marvels Bill Durks and Robert Melvin.
When Esther Blackmon passed away on August 24 in 2003 she left behind seven children, 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
She passed away only twelve days after her beloved husband and is sorely missed by her beloved family.
image: Esther Blackmon, Author’s collection