In 1889 a journalist payed a visit to the London Hospital that had become home to Joseph Merrick aka The Elephant Man…
Wondering how the unfortunate so-called “Elephant Man” was faring now that be had ceased to be nine days’ wonder, a London journalist journeyed the other day on his way to the London Hospital. After a few minutes of lounging and parleying in the waiting-rooms, watching all sorts of cases being brought in, from compound fracture to a put-out thumb, the emissary gained his point and was escorted by attendant towards the secluded part of the institution where poor Joseph Merrick makes his home.
Some time back, when the latter was abiding in one of the wards, he used to receive numbers of visits from curious impertinents, to use Cervantes’ phrase; but now, though various ladies of rank, in particular, are still very kind and thoughtful in their attentions, the general public is fast forgetting the “Elephant Man”. Merrick was having a meal when the reporter entered bis little room, built out on the ground floor of the ward that bears the singular name of Blizard (with one z). He brightened up visibly seeing new face, and affably motioned his visitor to taka a chair, but than relapsed Into his favourite attitude of resting his head upon his strangely disproportion ed right hand. This he does, as he has no hesitation in telling you, to relieve the pain that he constantly feels in his head, which measures as many as 36 inches in circumference.
It would serve no good purpose to descant upon Merrick’s many malformations, though, to be sure, he is willing enough to talk about himself; but it may be noted that his left hand is quite normal, and gripped the newspaper man’s band in right hearty fashion, and that he walks very lame, using stick, and alleging that this lameness it the result of fall in boyhood, which his family carelessly treated of no account. He is decidedly short and rather slight, and speaks in a very intelligent manner. His accent shows plainly that be is not Cockney.
As matter of fact, Herrick was born in Leicester some 29 or 30 years back. The disease only began to manifest itself noticeably when was in his teens, while, unhappily, his mother, who might have looked after him, died when be was ten. There were two other children by this first marriage, but his father married again, has had large family by his second wife, and has not set eyes upon his hapless son for 14 ysars. Merrick speaks with considerable bitterness of the way in which he was swindled on his tour in Belgium by his Austrian entrepreneur.
In his own words he is pretty comfortable in the London Hospital, where he has been now for considerably over two years, but how can the man, whose terrible malady seems it anything to be growing worse, be cheerful as cricket or as blithe as a lark. His little room is hung round with pictures and decked out with knick-knacks. Joseph Merrick spends a good deal of his time in making card-board models, but his chief relaxation and solace is reading. He has some shelves filled with books of various kinds, and loves nothing better than to plunge into some exciting, sensational novel or book of travel. He says that he is apt to imagine himself actually in the position of the hero of these tales; and without this comfort, indeed, he might possibly turn melancholy.
Cornish Times – Saturday 18 May 1889