Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A Brief History of Pig People & Phantoms


There has been a recent spat of 'pig people' stories on the internet...so I decided to get into the fray with this past post:

"The incident concerned a gentleman who was staying at Markham Square, Chelsea in order to visit his two sons. On the first night of his stay in a dingy room, only escaping the grip of full darkness by the hue of a lamp, the man awoke with a sudden nightmarish jerk, and found himself face to face with a ghastly creature.

He commented, “It was a dwarfed tubby figure, with a face like a pig, perfectly naked, in a strong light. The whole figure resembled in appearance the scalded body of a pig, but the legs and arms were those of a human being brutalized; male or female, I could not say.”

Within fifteen seconds the awful beast vanished, leaving the witness huddled and shaking under his sheets, hypnotized by fear as the sweat dripped profusely from his brow. The occasional bout of slumber provided no respite from the memory of the presence, and only the morning light erased what the witness believed was no nightmare.

Only a picture which had fallen from a connecting door provided any answer. Maybe after hitting the floor in the night it had awoken the sleeping man, but no explanation was forthcoming on the pig-faced humanoid which had mortified the man. No other such haunting was ever reported from the area, and the tale of the pig-faced spectre was long forgotten...until now."
- Haunted Britain

There have been stories of pig-faced women (and occasionally men) that originated in Holland, England and France in the 15th century. The majority of these tales told of a wealthy woman whose body was of normal human appearance, but who had the face of a pig.

In the earliest forms of the story, the woman's pig-like appearance was the result of witchcraft. Following her wedding day, the pig-faced woman's new husband was granted the choice of having her appear beautiful to him but pig-like to others, or pig-like to him and beautiful to others. When her husband told her that the choice was hers, the enchantment was broken and her pig-like appearance vanished. These stories became particularly popular in England, and later in Ireland.

The magical elements gradually vanished from the story, and the existence of pig-faced women began to be treated as fact. The story became particularly widespread in Dublin in the early 19th century, where it became widely believed that reclusive 18th-century philanthropist Griselda Steevens had kept herself hidden from view because she had the face of a pig. In late 1814 and early 1815, rumour swept London that a pig-faced woman was living in Marylebone. Her existence was widely reported as fact, and numerous alleged portraits of her were published. With belief in pig-faced women commonplace, unscrupulous showmen exhibited living "pig-faced women" at fairs. These were not genuine women, but shaven bears dressed in women's clothing. - The Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square: And Other London Medical Marvels


Dr. Jan Bondeson wrote at least four books on the bizarre, and the Pig-faced Lady is a tour de force and highly researched.

Was the early-nineteenth-century pig-faced lady in the title real or just a hoax? The author's meticulous research cannot find the answer. Her predecessor Tannakin Skinker from Holland, who made her first appearance in London in 1639 where she was hoping to find a husband, was much featured in ballads and songs but she too may have been more legend than fact.


Tannakin Skinker was born to Joachim and Parnel Skinker in 1618 in "Wirkham, a neuter towne betweene the Emperour and the Hollander, scituate on the river Rhyne". Joachim Skinker is described as "a man of good revenue, but of a great estate in money and cattle." During Parnel's pregnancy, an elderly woman had begged her for money. Parnel was busy and refused to pay, and the old woman had left, "muttering to her selfe the Divells pater noster, and was heard to say 'As the Mother is Hoggish, so Swinish shall be the Child shee goeth withall'". At Tannakin's birth her body and limbs were correctly proportioned, but her face had a pig's snout, "not only a stain and blemish, but a deformed uglinesse, making all the rest loathsome, contemptible and odious to all that lookt upon her in her infancie." The midwife who had delivered the baby was sworn to secrecy, and the Skinkers raised her in a private room. She ate from a silver trough, "to which she stooped and ate, just like a Swine doth in his swilling tub".

Tannakin's deformity was soon discovered, and many locals came to hear her pig-like speech or to watch her feed from the trough. The old woman was located, tried and convicted for witchcraft, but even at the stake refused or was unable to reverse the enchantment.

When Tannakin was between 16 and 17 years old, her father consulted Vandermast, "a famous Artist, who was both a Mathematician, and an Astrologian a man who was suspected to have been well versed in blacke and hidden Arts", as to how the curse might be undone. Vandermast concluded that as long as Tannakin remained a virgin she would retain her pig's face, but were she married, and not to "a Clowne, Bore or Pesant", she might be cured.

The Skinker family announced that any gentleman who "would take her to his bed after loyall Matrimony" would receive a dowry of £40,000. The dowry, a huge sum for the time, prompted a large number of would-be husbands. A Scottish captain arrived, having spent the greater part of a month's pay on a new suit, and was taken by Tannakin's figure and deportment. On lifting the veil to view her face, however, "hee would stay no other conference, but ran away without further answer, saying; they must pardon him, for hee could indure no Porke." An English sow-man (pig farmer) assured the family that his familiarity with pigs meant he would accept Tannakin's appearance, but after meeting her he left the building, saying that "so long as I have known Rumford, I never saw such a Hogsnout".

Several further would-be suitors visited the Skinkers, but all were repulsed by Tannakin's face and she remained unmarried. Despairing of finding a suitable husband in Wirkham, the Skinker family moved to London, and took up residence in either Blackfriars or Covent Garden. Many who met her were taken by her elegant dress and excellent demeanour.


Eventually, the Skinkers found a man in London willing to marry Tannakin. On the day of the wedding, and despite all efforts to improve her appearance, her face was as pig-like as ever. With the wedding service concluded, the newly-wed couple retired to the bedroom. When they lay in bed together for the first time, Tannakin reached for her husband's arm, saying that she would release him from his vows provided that he would look at her in the face. He turned to look at her, and saw "a sweet young Lady of incomparable beauty and feature, the like to whom to his imagination he never had in his whole life time beheld". He reached to kiss her, but she refused, saying:

Sir, I am indeed no other than I now seeme unto you; and of these two things I give you free choice, whether I shall appeare to you thus as you now see me, young, faire, and lovely in your bed, and all the daytime, and abroad, of my former deformity: or thus beautifull in the day, to the sight of your friends, but in your armes every night of my former Age and Uglinesse: of these two things I give you free choice of, which till you have resolv'd me, there can be no other familiarity betwixt in: therefore without pause give me a speedy answer.

A man bows before an elegantly-dressed woman with a pig's head. The man says "God save you sweet mistress"; the woman replies "Ough".

Torn between the choice of a wife who would appear beautiful to him but hideous to all his friends, or hideous to him but beautiful to all his friends, he could not reach a decision but instead said to her "into you owne hands and choyse I give the full power and soveraignty to make election of which you best please." On hearing this, Tannakin turned to him and said:

Now Sir, you have given me that which all women most desire, my Will, and Soveraignty; and know I, was by a wicked and sorcerous step-dame inchanted, never to returne to my pristine shape, till I was first married, and after had received such power from my Husband · And now from henceforth I shall be the same to you night and day, of that youth and lively-hood which you now see mee; till Time and Age breed new alteration, even to the last period of my life. - A Certaine Relation

This account of Tannakin Skinker is no doubt a fable, but the next tale may be more truth than fiction:

Steevens Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

Griselda Steevens (1653–1746), sometimes written as "Grizel Steevens", was the twin sister of Dr Richard Steevens (1653–1710), a Dublin physician. Dr Steevens died in 1710, bequeathing an estate with an income of £606 per year to Griselda. A clause in Dr Steevens' will stipulated that on Griselda's death, the income was to be used to provide a hospital for the poor of Dublin.

Although the terms of Dr Steevens' will were that work on the hospital would not begin until after Griselda Steevens' death, she decided to begin work on the hospital in 1720. Reserving only £120 per year for her own use, she used the remaining funds to buy a plot of land near Kilmainham and to build the new hospital, with the sole condition being that she be granted a suite of apartments in the building.

As a youth Griselda had suffered a disorder of the eyes, and since then had worn a veil while in sunlight. Shy and reclusive, while conducting her charitable works in the Dublin slums she would remain in her carriage while servants gave out alms to the poor. By 1723 a sufficient portion of the new Dr Steevens' Hospital was completed to accommodate 40 patients, in addition to Griselda's apartments. The remainder of the hospital, with space for 200 patients, opened in 1733. Griselda lived in the hospital from 1723 until her death.

At some point, it became a common belief in Dublin that Griselda Steevens had a pig's face. It is unclear when the rumour arose. Robert Chambers and Irish Georgian Society founder Desmond Guinness claim that the rumour was current in her lifetime, but Thomas Kirkpatrick, author of History of Dr Steevens' Hospital Dublin, says that "There is absolutely no evidence of this story in contemporary records, nor indeed does it appear to have been connected with the good lady until the nineteenth century. It is not quite certain when this story first gained circulation. Croker-King, who wrote a history of the hospital in 1785, makes no mention of it, nor is there any suggestion of it in the newspaper accounts of the death of Madam Steevens, or the published account of the hospital in the eighteenth century."


The rumour was that Griselda Steevens' reclusiveness and always being veiled were owing to her having been born with a pig's head. Chambers speculates that her unusual name may have contributed to the legend, and notes the common belief that she was named "Grisly" on account of her appearance when born. It was claimed that while pregnant with Richard and Griselda, Steevens' mother had said "take away your litter of pigs!" to a woman beggar asking for money to feed her children, and Griselda had then been born with the head and face of a pig. Dismayed by the popular belief that she had a pig's head, Griselda took to sitting on an open balcony to allow the public to see her face. This failed to stem the spread of the rumour, and she commissioned a portrait of herself to be hung in the main hall of the hospital. The portrait failed to have the desired effect; many of the public chose instead to believe a portrait in a pub neighbouring the hospital, which showed Steevens with a pig's head; the pub also displayed a silver trough alleged to have belonged to her. She eventually withdrew from public view completely before her death on 18 March 1746.

Surgeon and historian William Wilde recollected that as a medical student at Dr Steevens' Hospital in 1832 he was shown a silver trough, alleged to have belonged to Griselda Steevens, and accounts suggest that in the early 19th century a plaster cast of a human face with a pig's snout was on display at the hospital. Although the hospital authorities later forbade the display of alleged Steevens memorabilia on pain of dismissal, in the later half of the 19th century the belief that Steevens had a pig's face remained common. In the 1860s, a Dublin woman recollected that in her youth a large silver punchbowl, embossed with a family crest of a boar's head, was shown to visitors and was claimed to have been the Pig-faced Lady's trough. - The History of Mercer's Charitable Hospital in Dublin

NOTE: I didn't intend for this post to be a 'freak show' but these instances do fascinate me...especially when it comes to pig-faced phantoms. I can truly say that's a new one for me. Cryptid researcher / writer Linda Godfrey has written about 3 'pig people' legends in her book Monsters of Wisconsin: Mysterious Creatures in the Badger State...Lon

UFO's Werewolves & The Pig-Man: Exposing England's Strangest Location - Cannock Chase

The Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square: And Other London Medical Marvels

Freaks: the Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square




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