Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hip Talk

One of Joseph Merrick's many tragedies was damage to his left hip, the result of falling when he was a child.  Nobody knows exactly how it happened, but the injury was left untreated and resulted in his becoming permanently crippled. He was left with a painful limp that kept him from moving fast or escaping taunting followers in public. The only aid he had was a walking stick. Frederick Treves must have felt helpless seeing Joseph struggle to get around.

Unfortunately, medical science hadn't yet developed total hip replacement (arthroplasty) as a remedy for hip injury and various forms of chronic arthritis. The first attempt was an operation carried out by  German doctor in 1891. Joseph died in 1890, just a few years too soon to benefit from this successful procedure that has brought relief to millions.

Having just had my left hip replaced with a high-tech titanium artificial device,  I can attest to the improvement I already feel. The surgeon cheerfully told me afterwards that he had found "bone against bone," meaning no cartilage was left. It was high time to have the procedure done, and I can look forward to an active, healthy life once again.

If only Joseph could have had a left hip replacement! He could have enjoyed less painful strolls in the hospital garden and out in his beloved countryside. There were so many " if-onlys" in his life, and that was a big one.

To learn more about the history of this fascinating and highly successful invention, visit

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Joseph Merrick & Leila Maturin

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

John Thomas Merrick: The Missing Merrick Child

Last summer, while Hurricane Irene raged up the East Coast of the US, work was canceled, and I had unexpected free time.  As always, I enjoy probing every aspect of Joseph's story I can find, and by sheer luck happened upon this gem while reading a Merrick family tree.

There was a FOURTH Merrick child, never mentioned in any of Joseph's biographies before. He was born two years after Joseph, on April 21, 1864, and named John Thomas Merrick. So there was indeed a "John" Merrick (and actually, the name is quite common in the Merrick family, as is "Joseph.") Alas, this little John only survived for three months, succumbing to smallpox in July of 1864. He was buried on July 21 in Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester.

This is significant in Joseph's family history. It means that Mary Jane was pregnant with a second child at around the time Joseph began to show the first sign of his disorder, at around twenty months. A small lump appeared beneath his upper lip on the right side, and began to grow firm, eventually pushing his lip upwards and almost inside out. This change in Joseph's face is probably what caused Mary Jane to think of her frightening encounter with a circus elephant when she was six months pregnant with him. Did she worry that her new baby would suffer the same fate, even without an encounter with an elephant?

It must have been a time of great worry and apprehension, praying that the new child would be healthy. It's quite possible that John Thomas was born normal, so that his death only three months later was all the more heartbreaking.  When William Arthur was born two years later, in 1866, the story was repeated, exceptWilliam survived for five years before dying of scarlet fever. Again, the Merricks' hopes for a healthy son were dashed. I wouldn't be surprised if Rockley Merrick's poor attitude towards Joseph grew with each disappointment and loss. Theirlast child, Marion Eliza, was born with a disability, "crippled" in their terms, and survived to the age of twenty-three before succumbing to myelitis.

A shadow of tragedy hung over the family, and it greatly weakened Mary Jane's health. She died on May 19th, 1873 at only thirty-six (though it was NOT on her birthday as is often stated.)

I wonder how Joseph felt when Treves insisted on calling him 'John?" Did it reawaken memories of the lost little brother who came and went before Joseph's second birthday? He would have been too young to remember him, but no doubt he heard of him, and perhaps Mary Jane went to lay flowers at the grave when she could.
Rest in peace, little John Thomas, restored to your family's story once again.