The Elephant Man; Part 1

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Yes, you read it right, part 1. The story told in this article is too majestic and intriguing to be bound and held in just one article and also my internals have started :|  . A few days ago, I stumbled upon a list of “21 Best Metal Albums of the 21st Century… So Far” compiled by the online blog MetalSucks. A list based on a lot of prominent metal musicians rating their favourite albums. The list places Mastodon’s 2004 album ‘Leviathan’ on the coveted #1 spot, a spot the album rightfully deserves. So I scavenged through my hard disk, found the album and transferred it to my cell phone. Also to enhance my listening experience, I started reading Herman Melville’s 1851 epic Moby-Dick (the inspiration for the album).

The album left me speechless for I had never heard it in its entirety. The album’s 10-track attack spans a full 46 minutes and 43 seconds and is filled with epic tracks like ‘Blood and Thunder’ (featured in NFS: Most Wanted, PGR 3 and Saints Row), ‘I am Ahab’, ‘Ísland’, ‘Iron Tusk’, ‘Naked Burn’, ‘Aqua Dementia’, ‘Hearts Alive’ and ‘Joseph Merrick’. The last track of the album, the instrumental ‘Joseph Merrick’ was the track that lead to a number of events in the weeks that followed the first time I heard it. It’s a pretty haunting track for it sticks to your brain (something Mastodon songs are famous for) like a bee to honey. The song somehow creates an environment that makes you feel at sea; slowly rocking in whatever vessel you’re travelling in.

Well, coming to business now, the track shares its name with a rather famous personality of the late 1800s. A man whose story still equally amazes a layman as it amazes medical experts around the world.

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Joseph Merrick, sometimes incorrectly referred to as John Merrick was an English man who developed several deformities as he grew older. He was exhibited as a human curiosity by the name of ‘the Elephant Man’. Born to Joseph Rockley Merrick and Mary Jane (née Potterton) on August 5th 1862 in Leicester, Leicestershire, Merrick began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life. He was born apparently healthy and displaying no signs of a body disorder. But around five years of age, his skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed an enlargement of his lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead. One of his arms and both feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness.

Joseph Merrick had two biological siblings, William Arthur (born 1866) who died of scarlet fever aged four and Marion Eliza (born 1867), who was born with physical disabilities and died in 1891. As Merrick grew, a noticeable difference between the size of his left and right arms appeared and both his feet became significantly enlarged. The Merrick family explained his symptoms as the result of Mary’s being knocked over and frightened by a fairground elephant while she was pregnant with Joseph. The concept of maternal impression (the emotional experiences of a pregnant woman could have lasting physical effect on their unborn child) was still common in the 19th century Britain. Merrick held this belief as the cause of his deformities for his entire life and although affected with physical deformities, Merrick attended school and enjoyed a close relationship with his mother. His mother died in 1873.

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Merrick left school aged 13 (usual for that time), and found work rolling cigars in a factory, but after his right hand deformity worsened he no longer possessed the dexterity required for the job. Unemployed, he tried running away from his unsympathetic father and stepmother but was brought back by his father every time. Merrick then earned a hawker’s license; however this was a pretty unsuccessful endeavour as most of his speech was unintelligible and the people got terrified by him. Some people even started following him out of curiosity. On returning home one day, he was severely beaten by his father and he left home, never to return.

Now homeless, his uncle Charles Merrick offered him shelter but with young children to provide for, he eventually had to let him go to the Leicester Union Workhouse in December 1870. Till 1884, Merrick was one of 928 residents in the workhouse. Around 1882, Merrick underwent surgery on his face to remove a protrusion from his mouth that had grown to 8-9 inches and severely affected his speech and made it difficult to eat. He was operated on at the Leicester Infirmary and had a large part of the mass removed.

He later spent his life as a curiosity and travelled throughout Europe and was visited by some of the most prominent people of Europe at that time.

I’ll cover the rest of his life in my next article soon.

So till the second part of this article… Stay tuned.

And as always stay curious and keep that head bangin’!!!

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An Economics Honors student in Delhi University. A metalhead since the age of 11. Loves Tool, Opeth, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Primus, The Porcupine Tree, The Pixies, Pink Floyd, Lamb Of God, Mastodon, Machine Head, Pantera, Buckethead, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arctic Monkeys, Alice in Chains, Gojira, Rage Against The Machine and The Prodigy. A movie buff and a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton and David Fincher. Loves Cryptozoology, Photography, Conspiracy Theories, Economics, History, Sociology and Psychology. What else?....Loves to read books on a wide variety of topics and will surely, sooner or later offend you ;p

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