Monday, November 19, 2007

Freak of the Week #8 - Lionel the Lion-Faced Man

Stephan Bribowski, better known as Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, sure wasn't cowardly about plying his fur trade to audiences around the world!

Born 1891 in Warsaw, Poland, Lionel was covered in a one-inch layer of hair from moment one! According to Circus myth, Lionel's mother had seen his father shred to bits by lions while pregnant, and the trauma so affected her that it deformed her child!

Of course, the real reason was much simpler. Stephan/Lionel was born with Hypertrichosis. According to the lore, however, Lionel's Mom considered him an abomination, and gave him up to a German exhibitor named "Meyer" when he was only four years old. "Meyer" gave Stephan the name Lionel, and began exhibiting him around Europe.

By that time, Lionel's facial hair had grown to eight inches long (not even the least bit of skin was visible), and four inches long everywhere else on his body. The only places not covered with hair were the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet. He also only had two natural teeth, another birth oddity.

Lionel came to America in 1901 and began appearing with the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Lionel performed leaping and bounding gymnastics in his stage performances, and spoke to the audience in a cultured manner to display a gentler side. Regarded as a perfect gentleman, and well-dressed, Lionel was very educated, and spoke five different languages.

In 1920 Lionel emigrated to the US, and became a very popular stateside attraction, appearing at Coney Island for a spell.

During his career Lionel earned upwards of $500 a week for his shows, a hefty sum for the time.

In the late 1920s, Lionel gave up the bright lights and glamour of showbiz and moved back to Germany. In 1932 he passed from a heart attack while staying in Berlin, just missing the rise of a political group which almost surely would have had him euthanized. Lionel was never married.

It's unknown whether Lionel ever associated with any Tin Woodsmen, Scarecrows, or lost little girls.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Freak of the Week #7 - Chang and Eng

But do you recall...the most famous conjoined twins of all?

Oh, what a storied life these symbiotic siblings led!

Chang and Eng Bunker, born May 11 1811 near Bangkok in mystical Siam, were bound together by a thick, fibrous band connecting them at their stomachs. Doctors suggested they be separated, but their parents chose to keep them entwined, and taught them how to work together. Exercising every day to stretch the fleshy tube, the brothers eventually stretched it to three inches in length, learning to stand side-by-side, dress, walk and run, and even SWIM!

Their father passed in 1819, leaving the two eight-year-olds to fend for themselves. They made and sold coconut oil, sold duck eggs to ships in the harbor, rowing to each ship in their synchronous way. As they grew older their fame spread throughout Siam and they were known as "The Chinese Twins," visited by Siam's King (and his !700! wives), until in 1829 they were "discovered" by captain Robert Hunter and displayed on a worldwide tour. After their contract was up they embarked on the oddities business under their own counsel.

By 1838 the men were exhausted form touring, and decided to retire with their accumulated wealth. They adopted American citizenship and took the surname Bunker, after a friend from Boston. Chang and Eng purchased a plantation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, including slaves (33 of them), and settled down. They were engaged to Adelaide and Sarah Ann (or Sally) Yates, and were scheduled to marry the girls, but the local yokels disapproved of the engagement and even threatened the brothers. Fearful of double homicide, the brothers arranged for a separation surgery, even if it meant it might kill them both - but Adelaide and Sally stepped in before the operation and married the twins in a quick double-wedding ceremony. One couple bought a farm next to the brothers' plantation and the brothers built separate houses and raised tobacco. They spent alternating nights with their wives in their own houses - together fathering 22 children (10 were Chang's, 12 were Eng's). Several of the children died in infancy or early childhood.

In 1860 the brothers decided to come out of retirement to raise money for the college tuition of their swelling clan. In October of that year, they began a six-week show at P.T. Barnum's American Museum.

Barnum didn't care much for the twins. Unlike his friendly relationships with other oddities, Barnum had no personal control over the brothers or their families.

"The truth is," Barnum wrote in a private note, "the wives of the twins (who are sisters) fight like cats and dogs and want their husband separated."

And Chang was drinking heavily, coming to dislike the straight-edged Eng. From a newspaper account at the time, the twins were found fighting in their sleeping room at the museum, Chang choking Eng.

After the tour was over, the brothers returned home just in time for the Civil War. Chang's son Christopher and Eng's son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy, which brought considerable derision from the North in the years after the war was over. In 1865, broke from the war, the brothers came out retirement once more to tour the lucrative Northern circuits.

In 1868 the paired with Barnum one last time, reportedly sent on a tour of Britain to find a surgeon who might finally separate them. That never happened.

In 1870 Chang suffered a stroke, and for the next four years had to be carried by his brother Eng.

On January 17, 1874, Chang died in his sleep. Eng awakened to find his brother dead, and called for the wives to help him. They sent for a surgeon to try and perform an emergency separation, but Eng died four hours later, before the doctor arrived.

Their fused liver is on display in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it is exhibited alongside a plaster death-cast of the twins.

I wonder - if one of the twins went to Hell, and the other went to Heaven, how exactly are they scheduling that in the afterlife?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Freak of the Week #6 - Maurice Tillet, "The French Angel!"

With a face which would stop Billy Goats from crossing bridges, but a gentle heart, Maurice Tillet overcame crippling physical obstacles and grappled with fate to become a star on the wrestling circuit!

original freakStomp illustration by RelleR; click to enlarge

Born in France circa 1910, Maurice was an extremely intelligent young man, speaking 14 different languages! And, wouldn't ya know it - he was also a poet, as well as an aspiring actor!

But, in his twenties, Maurice developed acromegaly, a rare disease that causes human bones to grow and distort into abnormal proportions (a contemporary wrestler with this disease went by the name of Andre The Giant).

Much pain and suffering came along for the ride, and his appearance led to ridicule, causing him to flee his native home.

Smart Maurice made the leap to America, where he turned his affliction into cash by becoming a wrestler, where he was given the description "The Freak Ogre of the Ring!"

His "heel" persona of The French Angel was an immediate hit for wrestling marks, and on August 1, 1944 Maurice had a career pinnacle with his defeat of Steve "Crusher" Casey for the American Wrestling Association World championship!

The French Angel lived a solitary life afterwards, although he did befriend a few people, including businessman Patrick Kelly, whom he would visit in Braintree, Massachusetts and play chess together.

Maurice passed at age 51 in 1955 from heart disease. He was asked on his death bed by fellow wrestler Bobby Managoff if a life mask could be made of his unusual visage. A plaster form was made, and three masks were made from the mold. One was given to Milo Steinborn, while the other two two ended up with Tillet's good friend Patrick Kelly. Steinborn donated his mask to the York Barbell Museum (USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in York, Pennsylvania, on display in the strongman/wrestling section). One of the other two masks sat on Kelly's office desks for years, while the final mask was donated to the International Wrestling Museum in Iowa.

A life-sized bust of The French Angel Maurice Tillet (made in 1950 by Louis Linck) resides at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Illinois.

Now, there's a persistent rumor that Maurice Tillet was the inspiration for the character model of the CGI animated Shrek, but your Barker has not been able to find information which would either confirm or deny this rumor. I'll leave you with a photo comparison, and let you decide for yourself for whom the bell trolls!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Extra - Mystic #19 - "They Dive By Night"

Better late as in "not on time" than LATE as in "deceased!"

This last Halloween special final fright was originally published in April 1953 by Atlas Comics! Once again, the credits for this tale have vanished into the ether...

I'll see you all on Monday for a BRAND-NEW "Freak of the Week" featurette!

click to enlarge for reading

There are few things on the internet which suck worse than the Blogger service, kids! It'd be nice if they stopped adding "new features" for a few days and concentrated on making sure the "old features" actually worked!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Extra - Journey Into Unknown Worlds #26 - "Haunted House"

Fellow travelers, this bloody blast from the past was published in April 1954 by Atlas! No known art or story credits...perhaps a spectral pen dipped in deep maroon?

I'll try to squeeze in one more killer-diller before the witching hour strikes! Sorry about the tech difficulties, keeds!

Halloween Extra - Forbidden Worlds #22 - "The Cursed Casket"


Oh, kids, and welcome back to another frightful eyeful!

This story is from Forbidden Worlds #22, published in October 1953 by Titan Publishing (or ACG - The American Comics Group). It's entitled "The Cursed Casket, and was illustrated by Bob Forgione!

Enjoy, and I'll see you in another hour!

click each pic to enlarge for reading

Well, kids, your Barker was genuinely trying to entertain you with some bloody fun on the hour every hour, but it turns out Blogger is a complete piece of crap! Image uploading appears to be broken off and on, and internal errors abound! Yet, it still registers the space taken by the images, haha! Oh, yes, it's FREE, so I shouldn't complain, but I'm going to anyway! I'll keep trying to get it all posted, but until I can get it to work more than 25% of the time, keep this little thought in mind:

"Free of charge" is sometimes a kind way of saying "worthless!"

Watch this space for more horror throughout the night!

Halloween Extra - Astonishing #4 - "The Nightmare"

Here's the deal-ee-OH, creeps and creepettes:

Your Barker LUVS the Halloween, and LUVS U, so every hour from now until Midnight (the bitchin' witchin' hour), he's gonna post up a mess of spine-chilling and heart-thrilling horror tales to grab you by the short hairs!

This first tale is from Astonishing #4, published in June 1951 by Marvel Comics, and is entitled "The Nightmare!" It's by Hank "Chappy" Chapman (Script), and Wayne "Never" Boring (Pencils & Inks)!

Enjoy, and I'll see you in an hour for more!

click each pic to enlarge for reading

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Extra - This Magazine is Haunted #4 - "The Constant Eye"

Hello, and welcome to another Barker's Blog Halloween Extra!

This scarifying slice of gore is entitled "The Constant Eye," and is from This Magazine is Haunted #4, published by Fawcett in April 1952! The cover (which your Barker has included here because it's Kewl) is by artist Sheldon Moldoff, and the story itself is written and illustrated by Bernard Baily (who was also co-creator of the 1940s supernatural superhero The Spectre!)

You can find out more about This Magazine is Haunted by clicking this link!

Eye'll see all of you tomorrow for the big Halloween Special finisher!

click each pic to enlarge for reading!