Joseph Carey Merrick Tribute Website

 

Joseph Merrick
 
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Welcome
     
It is my sincerest wish that by reading these pages you will become hugely inspired by the story of Joseph Merrick.
     
Joseph's legacy to us becomes so very clear, it's one of hope, love and forgiveness.
     
Jeanette Sitton, author

 
Most people who are aware of Joseph Merrick's existance, first heard of him by watching David Lynch's film, 'the Elephant Man' (1980). Since then, there have been several stage productions by the same title and even an opera.
Joseph Merrick, 'the Elephant Man was a 19th-century Englishman who suffered disfigurement from a still-incurable disease - which is believed to be Proteus Syndrome. Though his physical and mental suffering was great, he remained courageous, cheerful, gentle and was never bitter. Over a hundred years since his death, Joseph's shining legacy continues.
 
Millions of people around the world - the disabled and able-bodied, have at some point been encouraged and have found strength in Joseph's story. Attitudes towards those with disabilities have changed immeasurably since Joseph's days, but there is still so much room for improvement. For example, lack of public amenities, such as access points, disabled toilets, pavement (sidewalk) ramps, etc.
 
 
Sensitively composed
 
The Webmaster, Jeanette Sitton, apologises in advance if anything here causes you distress or offense. Every possible precaution has been taken to prevent this, for example, wherever possible, pages are sensitively composed. Also, there are absolutely no medical/anatomical images of Joseph on this site. Such images are only supplied to those who satisfy the webmaster's criteria.
 
However, in order to provide an accurate, as possible account, and to illustrate text, commissioned artwork by Audrey Kantrowitz is included. Audrey is often referred to, by the Webmaster, as Joseph's no.1 admirer. She has read just about everything there is about Joseph's life and for this reason, she is also the FofJCM (Friends of Joseph Carey Merrick) archivist.
 

 
Joseph's Life Story
 
 
Anyone who has ever read the story of Joseph Merrick, could not fail to be captivated by this man's incredible sensitivity and courage. He was an intelligent individual, not only being able to write and speak eloquently but also able to read.  The ability to read was a rarity amongst the poorer classes of the 19th century and therefore one can only further admire Joseph for his inner struggle to become educated and to pull himself out of his impoverished background and circumstances.
 
Born in Leicester, England, in 1862, Joseph first began to develop tumors on his face before his second birthday.
 
Joseph lived with his Mother (Mary Jane Merrick);  younger brother (William Arthur) and sister (Marion Eliza) during his childhood. His baby brother, John Thomas, died at 3 months (April to July, 1864). Mary Jane died on 19th May 1873 of bronchial-pneumonia when Joseph was just 11. 'Unfortunately, by all historical accounts, no actual photograph of Merrick's Mother is reported to have survived the passage of time'.* Interestingly though, according to family & eye witness accounts, she too was 'crippled'. The photo presented in the film ,'...is that of Phoebe Nicholls, (the actress who portrayed his Mother)'.*
 
Joseph had lived in several places, one of these was a Workhouse' where he was forced to publicly work for his keep, (despite his appearance). [The above hyperlink is not to the Leicester Union Workhouse where Joseph stayed, but is a wonderful example, and a great walk-around]. Another place, was living with his father and step-mother.  His father certainly didn't really want him around and there were untold rows over him. As far as the step-mother was concerned, Joseph was just an embarrassment and inconvenience and she finally gave her husband the ultimatum of, "it's either him or me".  If they were going to give Joseph a roof over his head they at least expected him to work for it.   He was forced to 'street-hawk', selling shoe-black along cold, cobbled neighbouring streets. It was hard enough for him to walk on even surfaces, but cobble stones were a real hazard.  His form was a source of great amusement for the scores of children that would follow him from street to street, taunting him and calling out cruel names. His condition quickly worsened as bulbous, cauliflower-like growths grew from his head and body, and his right hand and forearm became a useless club.
 
In later life, (previous to his involvement with the Whitechapel Hospital), Joseph was most of the time unemployable, destitute and stripped of all his self-worth by the ignorance of the people of the day. He was prepared to take any job that would offer him a crust.As a last resort he took a job as a side-show 'freak'.  However, 'there were no ritual beatings, and neither was he kidnapped from the London Hospital (that part is a product of Mr. Lynch's artistic lisence - I'm certainly not knocking 'the Elephant Man' film - it was superb and I wholeheartedly recommend it). I've dedicated a page to the film and there's a film trailer too.
 
The entrepreneur Tom Norman (right), who took Merrick under his wing, was anything but the monster Bytes depicted in the film. In reality, he treated Merrick with great care - afterall, Joseph was his livelihood.  Joseph's three page autobiography makes no mention of beatings or mistreatment.  In fact, the experience left him rather well off (he'd amassed some £200 - that was a heck of alot of money in those days).  
 
Surgeon Frederick Treves (later to become, Sir Frederick Treves) of the Whitechapel Hospital (now Royal London Hospital), came to hear of Mr. Merrick and paid him a visit. He privately viewed him at 123 Whitechapel Road, opposite the then Whitechapel Hospital - now, an Indian Saree Shop (left). 'Treves expressed scientific/medical interest in Merrick, presenting him before the London Pathological Society (December 2, 1884), and then sent him back on his way.
Joseph arrived at London's Liverpool Street railway Station in June 1886. He had been earning a living in the only way he knew how, as a freak. Freak Shows had become outlawed in the UK by this time, so he worked across the Channel in Belgium. An Austrian showman, not connected with Tom Norman, robbed Joseph blind, and left him destitute in Belgium. The Police found Dr. Treves' business card in Joseph's pocket.

 
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The mission of this site is to introduce you to the courageous and inspiring life story of Joseph Carey Merrick and to sensitively raise the profile of those with disabilities. These pages have been created with love and in the hope that we all may learn from Joseph's unique life experience.
 
 

A Commemorative Plaque

was erected to Joseph Merrick
on 15th May 2004
 
 
After campaigning for four years, the Webmaster finally succeeded in having Joseph formally and publicly commemorated, by way of a plaque. The plaque was unveiled on 15th May 2004, by the Lord Mayor or Leicester, in Joseph's hometown of Leicester...... CLICK HERE to read more.

 
 

continued from left column
 
Having been unrelentingly taunted by children, and attempting to escape from a number of acrimonious adults, Joseph was crumpled on the floor in a heap, starving and breathless. [Simple words cannot describe this scene.The best way the reader can understand, is to watch the 'Elephant Man' film, as it almost precisely depicts the way things happened at the station]. Joseph was taken to the London Hospital (Whitechapel Hospital). He was taken directly to the Hospital's isolation ward, so as not to alarm other patients. Some time later (unknown when), plans were made to secure a final home and resting place for Joseph. In those days hospitals had the policy to never offer their beds to 'incurables'. A permanent home was what was needed. Through Treves' work with Joseph, they had both become quite a celebrity. Philanthropists and well-doers from every corner of Britain and Europe were writing in to the Whitechapel Hospital (London Hospital), offering all kinds assistance, in addition, large amounts of money were offered to look after Joseph. Enormous pressure was placed on the Whitechapel Hospital to give this 'Child of England' a permanent home.  
 
A home was given. The ground floor of the East Wing of the Hospital became Joseph's PERMANENT home. The happiest years of Joseph's adult life were spent at the London Hospital, cared for by his friend Dr. Treves and accompanying nurses. Joseph felt respected and loved. He was very comfortable there. His small annexe in Bedstead Square was adapted to his personal needs. A specially designed armchair was built by the Chief Engineer, William Taylor. If there ever was a true example of human kindness, it was here. They went against all the rules to help our beloved Joseph.
 
Rare photograph taken from the movie, signed by John Hurt. Hurt played the part of Joseph Merrick in "the Elephant Man".
 
Joseph was unable to mingle in finer circles because of his appearance. Even although he was self-educated, he had to rely mostly upon his imagination of social events. His dignified attitude would certainly be no less than that of an able bodied English Gentleman of the time, and his manners equal, if not superior at times, to those of more well-to-do backgrounds. Much of the time he was delightfully childlike, tending to over-simplify things.  To wind away the many hours at home, often alone, (a very small price to pay for safety and comfort), he found ways to put is wonderful imagination to use. The Card Church.
 
Joseph constructed a card kit church of German origin.. The film 'the Elephant Man' shows Joseph building it, basing it upon his restricted view of nearby St. Philips church. This wasn't the case - it came in a very 'fiddly' kit form. One can only imagine the difficultiees he had, as one hand and arm was unusable.   Read on
 
Joseph died on April 11th, 1890. There was a small and very private Ceremony. Soon after, plaster casts were taken of his body for scientific scrutiny. Samples were taken too and preserved in formaldehyde. Unfortunately, they were destroyed during the WWII Blitz. Also, some parts were buried in an unmarked grave, (location unknown). Last, but by no means least, his skeleton remains at the Royal London Hospital (Whitechapel). It stands vertically in a glass case. The bones are somtimes drilled in the possibility that one day, some 'up and coming' scientist may make a name for him/herself, by finding something useful to extract. So far, nothing positive has been found. The webmaster, Jeanette Sitton, once asked the Hospital's archivist, Jonathan Evans, if there existed any Document of Consent, (signed by Joseph, to say he agreed to leave his body to science). She was told that, to their knowledge, there is nothing to prove or disprove that permission was given. Joseph was a devout Christian. So, would he have wanted a proper Christian burial? We may never know.
 
Here is something worth mentioning and that is, Merrick's speech was never as clear as it was shown as becoming in the film, and though Treves and some others learned to understand him with little hindrance, Treves had often to act as an interpreter for people who weren't able to understand. He remarks also that it was always difficult for strangers to Merrick to understand him - everyone had to aclimatise.
 
'It has been suggested that Sir Treves, suffering from memory loss caused by old age, may have become confused about many facts when he published his memoirs in 1922. There is however, no historical evidence to support that his Joseph's name was ever anything other than Joseph Carey Merrick.' *
 
 
 

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