Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born in Leicester, he showed signs of deformity by age five and was later rejected by his family and spent much of his life in a circus, as an attraction at a sideshow. Later in his life, Merrick became something of a celebrity in High Victorian society, eventually becoming a favorite of Queen Victoria herself. He found some solace in writing, composing both prose and poetry in his later years. His life story became the basis of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and a film, both called The Elephant Man.
As depicted in The Elephant Man, he was befriended by Dr. Frederick Treves , a physician at London Hospital. He received care from this place until his death, a result of sleeping horizontally, which caused the weight of his face to suffocate himself. It was believed to be accidental, an attempt by Merrick to imitate normal behavior. Prior to the incident he had slept upright.
In 1971 Ashley Montagu suggested that Merrick suffered from type 1 neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder also known as von Recklinghausen's disease, and this disease is still connected with Merrick in the mind of the public. However, in 1979, Michael Cohen first identified a condition which came to be named Proteus syndrome by Rudolf Wiedemann in 1983. In 1986 it was argued that Proteus syndrome was the condition from which Merrick actually suffered. Proteus syndrome (named for the shape-shifting god Proteus), unlike neurofibromatosis, affects tissue other than nerves, and is a sporadic rather than familially transmitted disorder. In July 2003, Dr. Charis Eng announced that as a result of DNA tests on samples of Merrick's hair and bone, she had determined that Merrick certainly suffered Proteus syndrome, and may have had type 1 neurofibromatosis as well. His PTEN gene (often mutated in the Proteus syndrome) appears to have been healthy (i.e. not mutated).
Merrick's preserved skeleton is on permanent display at the Royal London Hospital. Singer Michael Jackson is reported to have attempted to purchase it for his private collection in 1985 but was refused.
Joseph Merrick is also rumoured to have helped to design the East Stand, also referred to as the matchstick stand at Filbert Street.
Books about or inspired by Joseph Merrick
- The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity - Ashley Montagu
- The True History of the Elephant Man - Michael Howell , Peter Ford
- The Elephant Man - Christine Sparks
- Elephant Man - Bernard Pomerance
- Articulating the Elephant Man: Joseph Merrick and His Interpreters - P. W. Graham , F. H. Oehlschlaeger
- From Hell - Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell (cameo in book and movie)
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