the elephant man's skeleton and the coroner that examined it...
william r. maples
As far as I am concerned, the Elephant Man's skeleton is not a piece of art or a strabge object offered to us by history. Joseph Merrick's skeleton is the skeleton that has most influenced and moved me throughout my professional career.
People have become familiar with the story of the Elephant Man by means of the theatre or through David Lynch's play. I have held it in my very own hands. Yes that skeleton that resembles heating milk boiling over the brim of the pot is a book that I will never reach the end of.
The skeleton and the mould of it cast on Merricks death are kept in the London Royal College of Surgeons. In 1989, the curators of the museum received an unusual offer: the singer Michael Jackson was prepared to offer a million dollars for the Elephant man's skeleton. The museum turned down the offer but the sound of money rustling and clinking soon had Merrick's family and descendants inquiring of the well being of the skeleton. I was contracted to prove that the skeleton was still of scientific worth and that it must remain in the museum.
Even though he had died in 1890, shivers still ran down my spine when I saw the hairs stuck in the mould that was made right he had passed away. It was like seeing a ghost in the flesh.
Until recently, it was believed that Merrick suffered from neurofibromatosis. In the last few years, the theory is that the unknown disease Proteus-syndrome (named thus after the Greek sea god who could change shape) caused the malformation of Merrick's body.
When one sees Merrick's skeleton, tears fill one's eyes and one is overcome with emotion. Until he was rescued by Doctor Treves, he worked as a circus attraction and was never diagnosed by a doctor or took any type of medicine. Merrick' skeleton is the mirror image of suffering; physical suffering and suffering of the soul.
He trod the streets of Whitechapel with his deformed and enlarged left side and head hidden under a type of shawl as if he were a physical Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. The bones don't lie. You cannot manipulate bones and in those of Joseph Merrick's, the Elephant Man's, skeleton we clearly appreciate the caged sensitivity and intelligence of the man.
Anthropologist and forensic scientist William R. Maples is the doctor who has, amongst others, examined the skeletons of Nicholas II and his family, Pizarro and the aforementioned Elephant Man. He details his interesting and entertaining experiences in the book "Dead men do tell tales". The editorial Trayectos published it here under the title "Los muertos tambien hablan" in 2001