Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Following in Joseph's Footsteps

Last week I had the joy and honor of retracing Joseph's footsteps, from Whitechapel London and the Royal London Hospital, to the lovely English countryside manor where he spent three peaceful holidays. Although the city is modern and bustling, not riddled with slums and smokestacks, there is a definite Victorian feel to some of the older train stations and buildings. Jeanette Sitton, founder of this website, met me at Heathrow International Airport, and guided me every step of the way, snapping dozens of photos after my camera broke. We came through Liverpool Street Station, where the famous glass ceilings still exist as seen in the "ELephant Man" movie. It's a bustling, crowded place. One can imagine Joseph being overwhelmed and mobbed by a curious crowd. I was staying at a comfortable bed & breakfast in Whitechapel, directly across from the Royal London Hospital. That was a thrill in itself! We explored the neighborhood and went to the shop where Joseph had been exhibited as "The ELephant Man." It is right across from the hospital and now specializes in Indian saris and jewelry. The kind owner allowed us to see where Joseph would have displayed himself and lived between showings. During my stay, we visited the Museum Archives, which houses Joseph's actual hat and mask, his cardboard church, his letter to Leila Maturin, and a replica of his skeleton. It's all very tastefully arranged in the glass case. Joseph's bones speak so eloquently of his pain and suffering. They are twisted and warped to impossible angles, there are bony knobs and the head is oversized. The left hand is so very small and delicate. He must have had great patience and dexterity to do the things he did. The left hip joint basically doesn't exist. There is no ball and socket. Alas, hip replacements were invented only a few years after he did, but it might not have helped much. It was a miracle he could walk at all. On Monday, we were treated to an excursion by train to Fawsley Hall, where Lady Louisa Knightly had hosted Joseph. Set on 2,000 acres of rolling green farmland, it must have felt like paradise. Emma-Jane Hartley joined us there and kindly drove us around the villages and farms. The three of us
took tea in the great Tudor-era hall of the Knightley family, and then went tromping in the woods where Joseph strolled near Redhill Farm. It was easy to imagine Joseph peacefully savoring the sun and fresh country air. All this was a wonderful way to retrace vital moments in Joseph's life, but the main reason for my crossing the pond was to be interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester and BBC TV's science program, "Inside/Out" which will air in a few months. Jeanette and I both talked about Joseph's story and legacy, and what he means to all of us. It was a whirlwind trip of three days in the UK, one I shan't soon forget!

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