Joseph Carey Merrick (August 5th 1862 - April 11th 1890), British, known under the nickname of “Man Elephant” (the man elephant), lived in the United Kingdom during the era victorienne. It was famous because of the extreme deformity of its body. He is inaccurately fore-mentioned John following an error of Frederic Treves in the biography that he devoted to him in 1923 the Man Elephant and other memories .


Born with Leicester, wire of Joseph Rockley Merrick and Mary Jane Merrick born Potterton, it is the elder one of a family of three children, of which his/her brother, William, and her sister, Marion. A legend hawked by itself wants that at the time of a parade of the Wombwell menagerie in the streets of Leicester, Mary Jane Merrick, then pregnant of Joseph, stumbles and misses being made trample by a elephant. Joseph Merrick allotted to this incident the cause of his malformations.

The first signs of deformity appeared towards the 21 month age: an outgrowth which deforms the mouth to him. Very quickly, other malformations appear, and at five years following a fall, it starts to limp. His/her mother dies whereas it is 11 years old. His/her father remarie, but his/her mother-in-law does not want this child monstrous. At twelve years, its schooling finished and on the insistence of his/her mother-in-law, it is obliged to seek work. He officiates during two years in a manufacture of cigars, but its deformities more and more handicapping oblige it to leave its employment. To earn its living, it is constrained to sell drapery with the door with door, in the streets where it is constantly persecuted. There still, it is constrained to stop working.

Expelled of the residence by his father, it takes refuge a time in his uncle Charles Barnabus Merrick, before being made admit in December 1879 with the old people's home of the poor of Leicester. It is at the time of its stay in 1882 that it is made withdraw part of the outgrowth which deformed its upper lip and the appearance of a horn gave him.

In 1884, it leaves the old people's home and proposes in Sam Torr directing Gaiety Palace off Varieties to produce it like phenomenon in its theater. This one and three of its associates organize his exhibition under the name of the “Man Elephant” in itinerant rooms. One of them, Tom Norman, showman of anatomical curiosities, is given the responsability to produce it in London in a shop of Whitechapel Road opposite the Hospital with London. This kind of spectacle is particularly snuffed medical students, and it is one of them which announces the existence of the monster to the doctor of surgery Frederic Treves.

After having seen the spectacle the surgeon borrows Joseph Merrick from Tom Norman for a more detailed observation in his office of the Royal College of medicine. After this first examination of the December 2nd 1884, Treves introduces the “Man Elephant” to the company of pathology of London like case of congenital deformity.

In 1885, the exhibitions of human phenomena prohibited in Great Britain because are regarded as immoral with the eyes of the company victorienne.

Joseph Merrick occurs then in continental Europe, while in Belgium also, this type of exhibition is less and less tolerated. Stripped its economies by the German business manager which exhibait it on the continent, it must return in England. It is with Liverpool that it renews contact with Doctor Treves, who deals with it.

Thanks to the intervention of the director of the hospital of London Francis C. Carr Gomm, which made appear in the Times an advertisement to collect funds in order to provide for the need and the housing of the “Man Elephant”, and with the support of the Reine Victoria sensitized by this cause, Joseph Merrick can live his last days like permanent resident of the hospital of London.

He is maintained there until his apparently accidental death at age the 27 years, the April 11th 1890: he is found the inanimate morning, apparently died of smothering in his sleep after its heavy head was reversed backwards. Not being able to sleep wide, it was to usually sleep the leaning head forwards.

The disease of Joseph Merrick

The case of Joseph Merrick interested good numbers of pathologists, to begin with Doctor Treves itself which, after its death made an autopsy detailed to seek to know the causes of the deformities from which he suffered. Joseph Merrick itself charged the cause of his disease to the incident whose his/her mother had been victim while having been reversed by one of the elephants of a parade occurring in Leicester. However, rather quickly, one dismissed this assumption and also that of the elephantiasis, disease of parasitic, frequent in the tropical countries but rare origin in Europe.

Very a long time, the commonly allowed cause was that Joseph Merrick suffered from Neurofibromatose of the type I known as also Maladie of Recklinghausen, a neurological and hereditary disease which affects fabrics and the bones and produces in the most extreme cases of the deformations close to that of the “Man Elephant”. But of recent genetic research made starting from its bones allowed to also establish that he suffered in fact from the Syndrome from Protée, a genetic disease which affects the growth of fabrics, and produced it of the deformations.

The preserved skeleton of Merrick was exposed before to the hospital of the college of Médecine of London. It is not from now on visible any more of the public.

Fictions on the man elephant

In 1977, the author of theater Bernard Pomerance wrote the part Elephant Man which was produced successfully in Broadway, with in the role titrates Philip Anglim, whose characteristic was to play the part without make-up. This performance was rewarded by a Tony Awards, the role was taken again then by David Bowie. The part was adapted and played in sixteen countries. In 1982 Jack Hofsiss carried out a telefilm drawn from the part, with Philip Anglim which took again the role that it had created.

In 1980, David Lynch realized starting from the biography of Doctor Treves a film celebrates the Elephant Man with John Hurt in the role of the man elephant incorrectly fore-mentioned John Merrick, who accepted inter alia the Grand Prix with the festival of science fiction film of Avoriaz.

In the film From Hell , which evokes the crimes of Jack the eventror appears the figure of Joseph Merrick in a short sequence.

In 1998, the type-setter and French leader Laurent Petitgirard composed the opera Joseph Merrick says Elephant Man on a booklet of Eric Nonn, created in 2002.

In the Years 1980, following the exit of film of David Lynch, a rumor ran, according to which Michael Jackson, who stated to feel near to Man Elephant, would have tried to buy the remainders of the disabled person. This rumor was not confirmed. The book Michael Jackson on other side of the mirror (Publibook edition) offers an interesting reading of this rumor.

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