Before his 2nd birthday, Joseph Merrick began to grow tumors over his body. His right arm became as a club, about three times the size of his left arm. This also happened to his legs. His left arm, however, remained normal. When he was three, he damaged his left hip and had trouble walking from then on. Joseph lived with his mother until her death when he was eleven years old. He gained several new siblings when his father remarried, but his stepmother despised him. She wanted him to work, and at age thirteen, Joseph began to work at a company, making cigars. When his right hand became too heavy, he became a peddler. He underwent an operation to remove several ounces of flesh, and then had an incredible idea.
He would become part of an exhibition run by Sam Torr, a promoter. This exhibition was akin to a carnival sideshow, but it was good money. While in the exhibition, he wasn’t taunted as severely as before. A few months later, Merrick went to work for Tom Norman. Frederick Treves, a surgeon, examined Merrick and soon found him to be quite intelligent, with a love of poetry. The freak show went on, and two years later a man cheated Merrick out of all his money and left him stranded in Europe. He managed to find his way back to England.
Around the end of his life, freak shows were falling in the eyes of the public. Although Merrick himself didn’t mind parading around, normal people felt it was degrading to all humanity and it had to be stopped. Merrick needed a final home, a place he could live the rest of his life in. That place was Whitechapel. Although it was generally against the rules for anyone with an incurable illness to live in Whitechapel, an exception was made for Merrick. While in the hospital, Joseph kept his spirit up by making models and baskets for the staff and for his friends. His head was more than thirty inches in diameter, so he could only sleep sitting up. It is believed that one night, Merrick wanted to sleep like a normal human being, but this desire only succeeded in getting him killed. The weight of his head collapsed his windpipe, and he died at the age of 27. His autobiography was only three pages long, yet it mentions mostly the good aspects of his life. It includes a poem that shows his aspiration to satisfy people.
'Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man.