Horror of the Monster Makers - Real Life Freaks made by Frankensteins: Mystery Files
When we hear stories of man-made monsters, we think of science-fiction or horror stories such as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. We naturally assume that such stories are fiction, mere inventions produced for our entertainment. It would never cross our minds that such tales could in any way, shape or form be true. Would such a thing even be possible? Who would do such a thing, and why?
Well, such sinister things are possible, monsters have been created to order for centuries and the motive was, and is simple financial profit.
Bertholde, was the Prime Minister of the sixth-century Kingdom of Lombardy. He was an extremely unusual man, both in character and appearance.
He was a breathtakingly ugly, spectacularly deformed dwarf, who had risen from the lowly rank of a court jester, to become premier of his country.
But Bertholde had not been dealt a bad hand by nature. His deformations were not the result of any natural process - he had purposely been created this way - for profit.
Monsters created for profit
It was said that Bertholde was the product of a sinister organisation which produced monsters for money. They worked by stealing children, and by the use of horrific techniques, disfigured and deformed them as they grew, to produce hideously deformed freaks.
The novelist Victor Hugo describes such an organisation in his novel The Man Who Laughs. This sickening organisation is known as Comprachicos (The Child Buyers).
Hugo says "They worked on human beings as the Chinese worked on trees...They could mark a child as though he was a pocket handkerchief...they produced toys for men".
He goes on, "In order that a human toy should prove a success, he must be taken in hand early. The Dwarf must be fashioned when young... A well formed child is not very amusing; a hunchback is much better fun. Hence grew an art. There were trainers who took a man and made him an abortion; they took a face and made a muzzle; they stunted growth; they distorted the features. The artificial production of teratological cases had it's rules. It was quite a science; what one can imagine as the opposite of orthopedy."
The Comprachicos were by no means a unique organisation. Dr. Carlos Garcia, writing in 1619, describes a monster-making sect known as the Dacianos.
His chilling narrative tells how "They kidnap children three or four years old and, breaking their arms and legs, lame and disfigure them so that they may afterwards sell them to beggars, blind men and other vagabonds".
Techniques breathtaking in their cruelty
The Cairo national Museum houses a mind-boggling collection - Hundreds of figurines depicting these made-to-order monsters. Ancient Egypt had an insatiable appetite for such unfortunates to be used as court jesters.
The method of their creation was described by archaeologist George Ebers. He explains how the chosen children would be brought up confined in a small box, which would inhibit natural growth and distort it's body.
Another method was to strap their limbs to boards, and purposely contort them into bizarre attitudes until the bones would dislocate, grow and finally set into the distortions that had been inflicted upon them.
These devillish techniques were believed to have originated from the Orient. The Chinese tradition of tightly binding children's feet from birth to produce the tiny feet that were so prized in that culture, had taught them that restricting and distorting growing bones in any part of the body could produce life-long deformities.
Such man-made monsters were a prized possession in Ancient Rome. There was even a special "Freak Market", the Forum Moronium which dealt exclusively in these unfortunate people.
It was a huge market and wealthy Roman ladies would collect "freaks" as a hobby and would often own massive "stables" of Dwarfs, Midgets and otherwise deformed people.
More modern monsters
The creation of monsters is by no means only an ancient practice.
As Recently as 1878, a report in the China Mail told how"Young children are bought or stolen at a tender age, and placed in a ch'ing, or vase with a narrow neck, and having in this case a movable bottom. In this receptacle the unfortunate little wretches are kept for years in a sitting posture, their heads outside being all the while carefully tended and fed... When the child has reached the age of twenty or over, he or she is taken away to some distant place and "discovered" in the woods as a wild man or woman"
Before we look back at these ancient purveyors of misfortune and assume that we in the modern civilised west would never be a party to such deeds, let us remember that such barbaric acts were only carried out for profit and what made these acts profitable, was the fact that there was a market in "freakery".
This market continued to be a big money-spinner in relatively recent times. In Victorian Britain the peep-show and freak show was big business, whilst over in the USA, Phinias T Barnum was using the self-same voyeur-fodder to make a phenominal fortune for himself.
Who are the real Monsters?
So before we are too quick to congratulate ourselves on how far our "civilisation" has come, perhaps we should consider how thin and brittle the varnish of civilisation actually is, and how the vulgar process of grasping for money can make monsters of many of us.
From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitive - the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainmen
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