Friday, June 10, 2016

The Elephant Man's Skeleton Should Be Buried


A woman whose grandfather is blamed for turning Joseph Merrick into a Victorian "sideshow freak" as The Elephant Man would like to see his remains buried with dignity in Leicester.

Valerie Howkins' wants his bones returned from a London teaching hospital and laid to rest in the city of his birth.

The 83-year-old former circus performer is the granddaughter of Tom Norman, a showman who ran penny gaff shops in London's East End exhibiting human curiosities and went on to manage Merrick.

His remains are currently in the care of the Queen Mary University of London, where they continue to be the subject of medical research.

Valerie said: "The bones have been copied and all the scientific work must have been done by now – so having them lying in a storeroom box seems so undignified.

"They got the bones of King Richard III reburied in the city so they can surely do it for Joseph."

Born in 1862, Merrick began growing disfiguring tumours before he was two and his condition rapidly worsened, paralysing one of his arms.

Leicester's Joseph Merrick: The Elephant Man

Increasing health problems forced him to enter the Leicester union workhouse, which he escaped to gain fame touring as The Elephant Man.

Mrs Howkins' is also campaigning to clear the name of her grandfather, who has been depicted in numerous accounts of Merrick's life – including the 1980 film starring actor John Hurt – as a cruel man who exploited his disfigurement for his own gain.

She said: "My father helped Joseph Merrick out of the workhouse, into a world he chose to join – as a fairground sideshow., and which saw him end his days as a celebrity visited by royalty in a specially-built apartment at the back of the London Hospital.

"He never agreed for his skeleton to be put on show in a glass case.

"Yet he did agree to join the fairground circuit, and my grandfather was criticised for exploiting him – that's what really gets me incensed."

She added: "Joseph needs to be given a decent Christian burial possibly near to his mother in the cemetery at Leicester where he was in the workhouse, and where he would have ended his days in misery without my grandfather's help."

Merrick died in 1890, aged 27.

His skeleton is kept in a private room in Queen Mary University where it can been examined by doctors and students.

It is believed Merrick suffered from Proteus syndrome.

A spokesman for the Queen Mary University of London said his remains can only be viewed by supervised medical students and professionals, and by appointment only.

He said: "Those viewing the skeleton are expected to consider Merrick's feelings and gain experience of the considerable challenges of living with his condition.

"These ethical and humanitarian considerations are an invaluable part of the learning experience for health workers during their training."

He added: "It is understood that Joseph Merrick expected to be preserved after his death, with his remains available for medical education and research.

"As custodians of his remains, the university regularly consults with his descendants over their care." - Elephant Man should be buried in Leicester says granddaughter of his sideshow manager

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