Meet Marcus “The Creature” Boykin from AMC’s Freakshow Reality TV Show

Tonight (February 14, 2013) AMC will be airing a new reality TV show called “Freakshow”, all about the Venice Beach Freakshow. The cast member who may be of most interest to ModBlog readers is Marcus “The Creature” Boykin, tattooed head to toe and wearing a face-full of self-pierced metal. The name “Creature” comes with a double meaning — he’s not just a creature in the monstrous sense, but also “create-ure” in the sense of creating himself as an artistic invention, a body that is “all original, unlike anyone else’s”, in the hope that he’d be able to not just entertain, but inspire and let people know that no matter how impossible something seems, you can do it.

Here’s the official video profile of Creature from AMC. Following that is a brief chat that we had yesterday letting you know a little bit more about what makes Creature tick — but if you really want to see what he and the rest of Venice Beach Freakshow are all about, don’t miss the show, which begins tonight on AMC at 9:30, 8:30 CST.

** What made you want to move from being a kid into piercings to someone at the “freak end of the scale” — and how did your family react?

My family are hard core Christians, and my mom is still in disbelief, but my dad supports me to the fullest in the craze of body art and piercings. My inspiration came from historical pictures like the Great Omi… warriors receiving scarification, like the great Shaka Zulu, and slaves chastisement as they got whipped and scarred and burned — also Jesus Christ himself suffered out of this world piercings and was scarred beyond any recognition — it goes reallly deeeep…


** How did you get into the industry professionally?

When I was a kid I always was attracted to the arts, and now consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist. I was someone who was always into creatures — that’s why my name fits so well. I first got educated on the industry by going to the store and grabbing ink magazines. I saw the abnormal things featured in magazines like Tattoo Savage, and these influenced my young mind. Even as a kid, I always wanted to entertain, from the art of popping, locking, and breakdancing, and being a creature known as Gizmo and Raver Dayn, as Yoshi, and rebel dancing as him toooooo… I’ve always been into the strange and unusual, so I’m not surprised by my profession. I believe I didn’t choose it — it chose me.


** Why do you have so many piercings specifically on your face? Do you have issues with rejection?

I have a lot of piercings on my face because I want to fill it completely with surface piercings. Ear stretchings, lips, nipples… a lot of the mods just takes time. Of course I suffer rejection but that’s just a part of the game. I’ve been piercing my own face and tattooing it for years now, and things just keep on improving in the industry so there are endless possibilities. The future holds many new creations in my body mods. It won’t be done until I am dead.

Creature with one of his many young fans

** What are your future body modification plans? Are you interested in going for one of the “most piercings” type records?

As my mods go, I am still adding more and want to continue to lead African Americans in this art form and represent the endless possibilities of our body. That’s very important to me, and in addition to my facial work, I want piercings over my entire body surface. I already hold the record as the most tattooed and modified man in America thanks to my layers of ink, mods, piercings, and stretchings but I’m going for more — of course I will keep delivering the blow! Art has endless possibilities, and I express that through the body as the Creature.


** What can we expect from you on the show?

Before I started body mod I did body balance circus tricks and planking, part of a world-wide crew I started called “The Freakshow”, and advancing to the world famous LA Breakers, tattooing and evolving my skills and receiving mod work to advance my power. Now as a tattooed man, following in the footsteps of the Great Omi, famous in the sideshow, I love what I do because of the influence I can have on children, telling them to be themselves — that’s what’s it all about.


** Have is been difficult walking this path due to your ethnicity?

Yes. I believe there is a big separation in piercing for minorities versus whites. Blacks in particular, because in modern times they don’t generally do these things, is why I felt I had to lead and do it personally. I believe we as African Americans come from the first culture to do these things historically, especially in the extreme categories like head shaping, lip plates, septum expansions, plugs in ears, lips, upper lips, nose, and of course also scarification and branding… As Americans, blacks have had to walk a straight edge to get jobs, so mods are uncommon. We are forced to look acceptable to work…

** Have there been positive aspects as well?

All the movies I watched growing up were about being black and proud, and I want to express that through my ink. Like everyone, I have an inner warrior, and I found mine through needles of ink and piercing, as well as through modifying my hair… I had my face fully tattooed at age twenty-three. My race helps me with this struggle because there is no one leading in the mod world as a black male, and I wanted to be the real first extreme real black make in the body mod community.

In addition to being in the sideshow and inking himself, Marcus has also worked as a tattoo artist in a classic urban LA style. Here’s a collection of the ink he’s put on others — click to zoom in for a closer look. Don’t miss the cartoon in the bottom right which wears the same nose jewelry as Creature!

Mr. O and Mr. R got nothin’ on this

The Monsters of Schlock, Burnaby Q. Orbax and his brother Sweet Pepper Klopek, just rigged up a tattoo machine to run on battery power and brought it onto the PNE’s big — and very shaky — wooden rollercoaster and tattooed a lizard logo onto Sweet Pepper’s leg. Photo by Syx Langemann (click to zoom), and there was lots of HD video shot so don’t be surprised if you see more that just this quick teaser video in the future on television.

Yes, yes, I know, this is an insult to everything you hold sacred. We’re all very offended.

For the first time in recorded history, a man has been tattooed on a running roller coaster. That man was none other than Sweet Pepper Klopek, one half of the world’s most extreme two man circus sideshow comedy magic extravaganza known as the Monsters of Schlock. His brother, and other half of the daredevil duo, the great Orbax, performed the tattoo. As a matter of fact it was the first time he had EVER tattooed!

The wild stunt took place at the PNE Playland fairgrounds in Vancouver BC Canada on Oct 24th 2012 on the wooden roller coaster. Two successive trips around were required, totalling in just under four minutes of track time covering a total distance of 1732 m. At points the coaster hit 47 mph, took a drop of 75 ft and pulled 2.2 g’s.

The tattoo itself was a lizard face, the logo of their long time sideshow friend and coworker, Erik Sprague, the world famous Lizardman. As the coaster hit the first incline, the five time Guinness World Record breakers proclaimed ‘One small tattoo for man, one giant leap for douchebags everywhere!’.

The Monsters of Schlock have performed skilled, daring and dangerous all over the world but this, by far, they claim to be their stupidest.

The History of Play Piercing 1885-1940

Here’s an article I never thought I’d be writing — the history of play piercing and human pin-cushions, from 1885 through 1940, as collected from archival news clippings. I have spent the better part of the day reading story after story in historical archives about both sideshow performers who did play piercing, and people who seemed to do it for fun — sometimes with hilarious results — as well as the different ways that play piercing percolated into the mainstream via fictional prose and cartoons. It has been interesting to say the least. With the exception of cartoons, which I have placed at the very end of this article, I am presenting here, in chronological order a number of stories that caught my interest. You’d be amazed how many brief mentions and repetitions I’ve skipped over. I never would have guessed at how much the media of the time loved writing about this subject. It absolutely fascinated them! For all of these stories, if you want to see more than the excerpt that I have transcribed, just click on the scanned headline that starts the story to be taken to the original news clipping.

I hope you will find comfort and enjoyment in the fact that many of these stories could easily have been published today. We often fool ourselves into thinking we are the first people to have a set of unusual experiences, but a careful examination of history shows that even the oddest seeming things repeat themselves over and over ad infinitum.


Note: This is a very long post, so it continues after the break. I hope it will be fun for history buffs, and that I have not made too many typos.

   Frank De Leon, a New York boy, is a human pin-cushion, and sticks 500 pins and needles in his breast without pain to himself.
      -Albion New Era, October 22, 1885

I have to admit that the humor in this next one is going over my head, but it’s illustrative of the fact that in 1885 the idea of “the human pin-cushion” was a part of the mainstream concept of the world.

   “Did you advertise for a fat man?”
   “Yes, sir.”
   “Well, I’m after a situation, and I guess I’m fat enough for you. What do you want me to do?”
   “It’s not a pleasant job, and I’m afraid you’ll not undertake it.”
   “Oh, yes, I’m ready to do anything. What is it?”
   “We want a man to act as a human pin cushion in our museum. The salary is a dollar a day, and you may have all the pins a liberal public sticks into you. Is it a go?”
   “Yes–I’m going.”
      -Steven Point Daily Journal, November 7, 1885

Note: I have to wonder if hte “Harry Leon” in this story is the same person as “Frank De Leon” in the earlier story? You will also note a trend in these stories, that of doctors having absolutely no idea what they’re seeing. Rather than just realizing that some people can handle needles, they look for problems in the nervous system or disease.

   An interesting exhibition of mesmerism or physical phenomena was witnessed in the parlors of the American House yesterday afternoon. A number of physicians and prominent citizens was present, among whom were Dr. C. D. Ellis, Dr. Peck, Dr. H. J. Herrick, Mayor Gardner and John Kingsborough. The mermeric tests were conducted by Professor E. G. Johnson, a young man, who amused and mystified the gentlemen present, and fully demonstrated that he has a wonderful command over the minds of a certain class of people. Traveling with the professor is a young man named Harry Leon, who is styled “The Human Pin-cushion.” He was born without the sense of feeling, and is impervious to pain. He was stripped to the waist, and Professor Johnson immediately began to stick needles into his body, and fifteen or twenty were placed in his breast and left there. His cheeks, ears and tongue were then pierced through, and large needles driven through the fleshy part of his arms. The young man never winced while going through this trying ordeal, and asserted that he felt no pain whatever. The physicians present made several tests and were satisfied that the man was a peculiar phenomenon. He is healthy and good-looking, but has never been subjected to pain since birth. The professor then gave an exhibition of his mermeric powers. [article continues] The next test was a peculiar one. A common sewing needle was produced already threaded, and the patient’s cheek, tongue and limbs were sewed together. The spectators shuddered at the sight, but not a muscle of the mesmerized man moved, and not a drop of blood followed the needle’s tracks.
      -Iowa State Reporter, December 24, 1885

   Louis J. Beck, a Newark (N.J.) butcher, aged 23, is the latest freak. He sticks needles through his cheeks, nose, tongue, lips, fingers and external tissues generally, making of himself a human pin cushion, without experiencing any pain or discomfort.
      -Boston Daily Globe, January 29, 1889

This next one is about the same person, but with a little more detail.

   Louis J. Beck, a human pincushion, recently gave an exhibition to a large audience in the office of a New York paper. He used two-inch needles, which he passed through his ears, cheeks, tongue, arms and legs. He then filled his breast with the needles. He shoves them into the very bone. The most remarkable thing about the performance is that little, if any, blood appears after the incisions. Beck is 23 years old and was born in Newark, N.J. He was formerly a butcher. His father is one of the largest wholesale butchers of Newark. The pincushion was finely attired in dark red costume and light leather slippers. He says that reputable physicians who have examined him say that he suffers from paralysis of the nerves. He has lost several needles while giving exhibitions, but they have all worked themselves out at different points of his body.
      -Indiana Progress, March 6, 1889

   Brief Excerpt: Another curiosity is a troubled looking young man who poses as the human pin cushion. He sticks numerous sharp needles into his face, neck and breast, and each particular needle stands on end “like quills upon the fretful porcupine.” He presents a very peculiar appearance when his countenance bristles with needles, but he says they don’t hurt him a bit. He can lie about as well as the adertising managers of the fair.
      -Bradford Era, September 9, 1889

   The town of Corinth, Penobscot County, is proud in the possession of a young man who may truly be called a human pincishion. The remarkable Corinthian sticks pins and needles all through his flesh and jabs horseshoe nails into his breast without apparent pain. He also sticks needles through his chest and pulls them out of his mouth. He does this sort of thing “for the fun of it,” and never saw a dime museum in his life.
      -Oelwein Register, March 27, 1890

As a point of trivia, best I can figure is that the address referred to in this next article is the current site of the National Education Association in Washington DC.

   The “human pin-cushion” is the rather suggestive title applied to William Dudley, a short, coffee-colored man, who resides at 1211 Sixteenth Street northwest. Dudley succeeds in capturing a good many pennies, nickels, and dimes during the course of the day by frequenting bar-rooms and other resorts and converting his wooly head into a veritable pin-cushion. He never uses less than a full paper of pins at one exhibition of his skill, and the bystanders are permitted to drive these up to their heads in his cranium. He claims that they penetrate his skull and clinch on the inside, much after the fashion of a wrought-iron staple. Dudley is proud of his prowess, and takes evident delight in giving exhibitions and talking about it.
      -Gogebic Advocate, July 16, 1892

   He inserts pins and needles into any part of his body without pain or inconvenience, and eays glass, tacks and oyster shells with perfect impunity.
      -Boston Daily Globe, May 28, 1893

   A drunken man arrested in Lawrence last night, surprised the police by telling them he was a human pin cushion. He had been amusing a crowd by sticking pins in his face. When taken in he had 25 sticking in his face, only the heads being visible.
   Several were put through his ears. On the neck a line of pins could be seen, only about a quarter of an inch being exposed to view. He was free from blood save one place on his right ear. Other pins were put through the skin on various parts of his face only the head and point being visible. He said he could “swallow horse cars, electrics, steam cars and crowbars.”
      -Boston Daily Globe, October 13, 1894

   Sheboygan Falls has a freak in the person of S. C. Plece, son of Levi H. Plece, an old resident. The young man calls himself the human pin cushion, and gives exhibitions of having needles and pins passed through his arms, legs and tongue and allowing his hands to be nailed to boards. He seems to suffer no pain and jokes and laughs while the experiments are made. Physicians are greatly interested in the case.
      -Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 6, 1899

This next story is quite disturbing, and I wonder what the truth of it is.

   Two Ways of Accounting for the Presence of the Needles, One Being That of Penitence for Sins, the Other Carelessness
   At least seven and probably more needles are embedded in the stomach of Lena Walshlaeger, aged 19, residing at 314 Center avenue. Her physician has already removed three needles from the young woman’s body, and another operation will be performed soon. The needles have, it is believed , been in the stomach for two years. The girl accounts for the presence of the bits of steel in an unusual way. She says that before her widowed mother left Germany some two years ago she put her in a convent. The young woman admits she was a rather unruly student, and says that as a punishment the priests told her to prick herself with needles. Not being brave enough to inflict this pain upon herself, the girl says she filled a belt full of needles and fastened it about her body in such a way that energetic movement cased the needle points to prick her. The girl believes that some of the needles from the belt entered her body and worked their way into the stomach. She ran away from the convent at last and followed her mother, who had come to Chicago.
   Put Her Under the X Ray: Miss Walshlaeger frequently suffered excrutiating pain and doctors treated her with no good results. A few months ago she went to live with the family of Dr. George M. Silverberg. He decided the pains came from a foreign object in the stomach and performed an operation. He was astounded to find a needle in the stomach. The bit of steel had turned black, but was not at all rusty. The pains continuing, another operation was performed last Monday and two more needles were removed. The young woman was then put under the X ray, and to the astonishment of all the negative showed five more needles, and when the negative was developed seven of the bits of steel appeared in the picture.
   Neighbors Doubt Her Story: Miss Walshlaeger has now recovered entirely from the operation and is ready again to undergo another ordeal. Mrs. Silverberg rather casts doubt upon the girl’s convent story. She says that if the young woman had used more care in pinning on her clothes she might not now be a sufferer. “I have to watch her closely even now,” said the doctor’s wife, “to see that the needles she uses in pinning on her skirts are placed so they will not enter the flesh.” Miss Walshlaeger is a well-appearing young woman with brown hair, good features and figure.
      -Waterloo Daily Courier, January 14, 1899

In this next case, it appears that a human pincushion put himself at risk because doctors assumed his ability to handle the pain of the needles came from leprosy! Not that doctors are terribly good at understanding body play today, but at least we don’t get accused of being lepers.

   It is reported here from Chicago, that Sydney Pierce [Great name -Shannon], the human pincushion, is believed to be a sufferer with leprosy. He is a former Sheboygan Falls young man and entered upon the career of making his living by permitting pins and tubes to be stuck into his body in this city a few weeks ago. He went from here to exhibit himself at a museum in Chicago. Physicians of this city seem to think that the young man has some nervous trouble, which caused him to be impervious to pain.
   The report is that the man’s arms turned black where they had been punctured and blood trickled from his face where the tube was inserted to burn the gasoline from his mouth. While here he gave only one exhibition a day and at Chicago he showed what he could do several times a day. It is claimed that Pierce now lies at the point of death in a Chicago hospital, where examinations of prominent physicians resulted in a belief that the patient is a leper.
   Before he left here he was told by doctors that the exhibition of his feats would in no way cause him injury.
      -Fort Wayne News, March 3, 1899

This is a follow-up.

   The parents of Sydney Pierce, the so-called human pincushion, deny that he is a leper. His home is in Sheboygan Falls and he is giving exhibitions of himself in Chicago. A letter from him says that the doctors are still at a loss to understand his absence of pain.
      -Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, March 4, 1899

This story reminds me a little of the “mystery needles” above, but in this one I’m quite certain it is a person who is play piercing in a traditional “self harm” context and afraid to admit it, and doctors not understanding the issue. Actually the size of their blinders are frankly hilarious.

   The medican fraternity of Elwood is greatly interested in a most unusual case, and is at a loss to satisfactorily explain its peculiar conditions. A young woman of that city has called upon surgical skill to have removed from her arm needles, pins and other small articles that have, during the past few days, worked their way to the surface, and the point that is causing all the conjecture, is how they got into her arm. She is the daughter of Mr. John Turner. She is about nineteen years old. Saturday morning Miss Turner called at the office of Drs. Newcomer & Dick and complained of the soreness of her arm between the elbow and shoulder.
   The physicians made an investigation and removed a needle. The pain was not alleviated, and Monday morning Miss Turner returned. Two needles were taken out, in the evening she went back and six more were removed. A hair pin and the tooth of a comb were also taken from the arm. Since that time the girl’s father has removed a brass pin, and there are indications that all of the articles beneath the surface are not yet removed.
   The young woman cannot throw any light on the manner in which the articles found resting places in her arm nor can her parents solve the mystery. It is possible that they might have been swallowed when she was a small child. This theory brings up the question as to how they passed from the stomach to the arm, and why all of them should work out on the same portion of the body.
      -Logansport Reporter, March 2, 1901

   The human ostrich is dead. He ate too many hat pins. A most interesting post mortem was held by the coroner. The “ostrich” was Robert Naysmith, formerly a peddler, aged thirty-four. For ten years he has been traveling as a sideshow freak, swallowing nails, glass, ladies’ hatpins, tacks, needles, and any old thing given him.
   A few weeks ago he had to go to hospital. There he died, and last week’s inquest showed that he had swallowed too many indigestible hat pins. Thirty of these and a few brass-headed nails were found in his liver and kidneys.
      -Washington Post, July 15, 1906

This story is not actually about a human pin-cushion, but it shows what an awareness of the profession there was at the time. Also pretty funny courtroom theatrics.

   A human pin cushion was on exhibition in Criminal court here recently when Martha Geyyer, suing the city of Pittsburgh for $10,000 damages [about a quarter million dollars in today’s money] because she fell through a board walk maintained by the city, was brought before the judge and jury by counsel, who proceeeded to run a needle through her flesh. The woman apparently felt no pain.
   A match was struck and a doctor was about to burn a blister on the arm when the court said he guessed that would not be necessary. A verdict has not been reached.
      -Advance Argus, July 25, 1912

   Sorry, I’m not transcribing this one because it’s very long but it’s a fictional story (many papers of the time included short fiction). However, I loved the description that starts it:
   It was plain to every spectator of the side show of the Collin’s Colossal Consolidated Circuses that Prof. Matt, the human pincushion, was greatly peeved about something. Instead of pushing the needle, hat pins and other sharp instruments into his arms, legs and face gently, as was his wont, he was jabbing them in viciously, as if trying to get even with himself for something. The side show manager made no attempt to stop him, because, if anything, it added interest and excitement to the act.
      -La Crosse Tribune, March 17, 1914

I’m sure the idea of piercing oneself over and over with random dirty needles brought in my complete strangers is absolutely horrifying to people these days!

   After traveling for years with Barnum & Baily, and being featured in the side show as the “human pin cushion.” Cornelius Shoep has come home to Grand Rapids, a physical wreck from the results of the peculiar stunts he did in his act. Shoep was accustomed to take pins from persons in the crowd in front of his booth and run them into his flesh until only the heads remained in sight. He evidenced no signs of pain and no blood followed the withdrawal of the pin. Shoep’s body is covered with dark scars. He was fequently compelled to take to his bed from sheer exhaustion, and now it is said blood poisoning has developed in a virulent form.
      -Coshocton Daily Tribune, June 3, 1916

This is a funny set of stories about a guy that must have been completely hilarious to deal with.

   Something wholly novel in the way of candidates for enlistment drifted into the Marine Corps Recruiting Station from Scollay sq this morning. He was a human pincushion from Middleboro, by name Artois Crawforiski, with emphatic red hair and an ardent desire to hitch a tin can to the ultimate and penultimate syllables of his label.
   Artois brought a hat pin up the stairs with him and handed it to 1st Sergi Doherty, with the request that his bullet proof qualifications be tried out.
   Sergt Doherty obliged. P-l-i-s-h! in a spot where nature had been bountiful to Artois [Please tell me is a euphamism for his penis! -Shannon], but no response from him save a low, satisfied chuckle. Then he volunteered to defy a bayonet, but Sergt Doherty threw up his hands and passed the applicant along to Dr W. Randolph Angell.
   The examining surgeon found nothing the matter with him but a heart which murmured too much. So Artois went away from there, headed in the direction of a nearby hotel, where, through some ingenious device, it was thought he might be able to effect the etymological change he so desired.
      -Boston Evening Globe, August 28, 1917

This is a funny expansion on the story you just read.

   “I’ve seen 60 Winters, but it seems like only 20 Summers, and they say a man is only as old as he feels,” he announced to Top Sergt Doherty, on climbing the stairs to the Marine Corps recruiting station yesterday afternoon and applying for enlistment.
   But the heartless top sergeant turned him down–politely, yet firmly–just as he did, a few hours earlier, a Middleboro man who announced himself a human pincushion and brought along a hat pin for the examiners to probe him with, when offering to defy German bayonets by fighting in the front ranks of “The Soldiers of the Sea.”
      -Boston Daily Globe, August 29, 1917

   Found: The human pin cushion!
   “I could lick Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion–if I were a heavyweight–and with a few months’ training I could lick Harry Greb, middleweight champion of the world.”
   Thus did Charles J. Adams, of Bridgeport, Conn., unburden himself here while he stuck heavy pins deep into his flesh–arms, legs, face and other parts of his anatomy just a little demonstration of his ability to take punishment.
   Being a little skeptical, the correspondent inspected the pins with due care and found them to be the usual variety. Adams asserted he has been able to stick pins into his flesh since early childhood.
   “Physicians say I am minus many of the nerves possessed by the average person that register bodily pain to the brain,” Adams explained. “I don’t know why it is, but I know I can laugh while my body is being tortured.”
      -Sandusky Register, October 27, 1923

   William Hume of Blyth, London is a human pin cushion. He can be stuck with pins anywhere without their hurting him. Pins can be stuck in his arms, his jaw, legs or ears, and he’ll keep them all day without them hurting. Doctors cannot explain his case, because he is said to have the same nerve system as an ordinary human.
      -Laredo Times, April 27, 1930

This story is interesting because not only is it a bio of a pin cushion, but it also describes the first reference to scarification in modern America that I’ve seen.

   Remember that old corncob which used to nestle in the middle of your back when you slept on a dusk mattress? Remember the expression on needles and pins? Well, neither of these expressions has a meaning to Walter Easier, Venice boy, now of Lorain, who dropped into Sandusky for a visit with newspapermen this week.
   And–mosquito bites are not felt by this “human pin cushion”–as they call him in Lorain. He is pictured here with a hat pin stuck through his cheeks.
   Walter, as he introduced himself, is a brother of Clarence Easier, 1025 Jay-st, of this city. His parents, who have died since his birth in 1906, lived in Venice. Walter is at present making his home in Lorain with a sister, while a second lives in Cleveland. He can stick needles and pins into his anatomy waithout the slightest tinge of pain.
   Doctors who have examined Easier say that this strange ability of his is caused by what is known as sensory anasthesia–that is, the nerves which carry the sensations of heat, cold and pain to the brain do not function.
   “I surely spent a happy childhood,” Easier grinned. “I could do anything I wanted and get away with it because a spanking meant nothing in my young life. It didn’t hurt at all. One of my father’s greatest problems was to figure out ways to punish me other than the usual lambasting that the average father’s son receives for misbehavior.”
   Easier rolled up his sleeve to show to some of the skeptics that is true. The dim outline of the initial, “W. E.” could be seen. “These,” he explained, “were made in school with a penknife, just to show the kids that it didn’t hurt”–and he added, “I was expelled for being a sideshow artist during school hours.”
   He declared that an ice pick, when inserted into his body, draws blood, while a darning needle, or an object of like character, does not draw blood.
   Although at first this would seem to some to be a great favor, it also carries an acute danger with it–that of warning of appendicitis or acute indigestion in which cases of primary warning is great pain.
   He told of several times when he suffered injuries of which he was not aware until later when informed. Once a finger was cut and he was not aware of it until seeing blood. On another occasion he suffered a bad cut in his back that required several stitches.
   In both cases it was necessary for them to tell him he was injured.
   He also told of going to a circus and challenging one of the artists who was sticking pins into his body. Easier duplicated the feat and had a contract offered to him, but he refused, he said.
   He also appeared on the stage, sewing up his mouth with needle and thread. Several women fainted and the manager offered him a job but he refused, declaring he is not fond of performing. However, since the death of his mother he is considering going into the show business.
   Recently when representatives of the Universal News Reel Service company of Los Angeles visited Lorain they took pictures of Easier.
      -Sandusky Star Journal, July 20, 1931

This story is very funny!

   A Kiel young man who went on the stage at a carnival show at the fair last week to help demonstrate that a “pin sticking” act was not a “fake” fainted and had to be carried from the tent, according to Kiel reports.
   The Kiel man and a friend were spectators at one of the shows and watched a man billed as the “human pin cushion” jab pins into his arm. Apparently the crowd suspected a fake of some kind. The performer came down into the audience and the Kiel man volunteered to become part of the act to the extent of trying a few easy thrusts of a pin into the performer’s arm.
   Encouraged by the freak the Kiel man gave the pin a lusty jab and sank it in the performer’s arm. The volunteer does not remember what happened after that. When he came to he was outside the tent and his friend was fanning him with a newspaper.
      -Manitowoc Herald Times, August 29, 1935

Not sure how you can crucify yourself, even if you don’t mind the pain?

   George J. Timmerman, 39, had nail holes through his hands and feet today as the result of a “crucifixion” which Sheriff S. C. M. Thomas declared faked for notoriety or sympathy.
   Found by Friend
   The jobless bricklayer and carpenter who was employed until recently on the cross-Florida ship canal was found by a friend James M. White, shortly after dawn yesterday in a wooded section near where he lived in a housecar.
   Seemingly semi-conscious, Timmerman told a rambling story about being pounced upon by a group of men and nailed hand and food to an improvised cross.
   He stuck to that story through a day of questioning but investigators discounted his claims.
   “He is faking,” said Police Chief J. H. Spencer, “he is seeking either notoriety or sympathy.”
   Although in a hospital for treatment, Timmerman showed no outward signs of great pain from his experience which also included having his lips stitched together.
   No Bones Broken
   These was little blood on the makeshift cross when Timmerman was found, but police officers who pulled out the spikes said there was some bleeding from his hands. No bones were broken by the big nails which pierced his hands.
   White was held in jail for further questioning today. No charge has been placed against him.
   Officers investigated reports that Timmerman had given exhibitions of a “human pin cushion” allowing pins, needles and nails to be punched through his hands, lips and other parts of his body.
      -Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, March 19, 1936

   George J. Timmerman, 39, a jobless bricklayer, is pictured above at Ocala, Fla., his bandaged hands mute evidence of the nail holes in both hands and feet. Below is the crude cross on which Timmerman alleges a “gang” crucified him, an ordeal from which he was rescued by a friend. Police called the crucifixion a hoax, charging Timmerman is a “human pin-cushion.”
      -Sandusky Star Journal, March 23, 1936

Oops! That’s embarassing.

   A man was “stuck up” at the Cass County Fair Wednesday. No crime was charged, however.
   “The human pin cushion” who entertains fair patrons by sticking pins in his face, yesterday injected a pin in a vulnerable spot on his cheek. The ensuing pain sent him rushing to the First Aid Bungalow of the Health and Welfare Association, where Mrs. Julia Haner, city nurse, and Miss Genevieve Shaw, county nurse, are in charge.
   Dr. E. A. Spohn, county health officer was present and treated the victim, assisted by the two nurses.
      -Sandusky Star Journal, March 23, 1936

And another oops! This was the 1937 version of “Jackass” I guess.

   Henry Harsch, mail room employee of the Daily Hawk-Eye-Gazette prided himself on one trick which he performed for the edification of his friends, whenever he could obtain the floor. It consisted of pushing a threaded needle full length into the fleshy part of his arm and withdrawing the same with the thread without shedding blood. The thread pulled out of the needle’s eye Sunday after he head performed the human pin cushion feat, leaving the needle imbedded in the flesh. He hurried to a hospital, where a surgeon in probing for the needle broke it off, and it was necessary to make an incision to find and remove the broken piece. It required 10 stitches to close the incision and Henry says the trick is “out” from now on.
      -Mucatine Journal and News Tribune, January 11, 1937

   Charles Pereckinsky, 23, of Old Forge, known in the circus and carnival world as the “human pin-cushion,” died at his home, following a short illness.
   Pereckinsky, who worked for shows under the name of Charles Perkins, and earned his livelihood by piercing his skin with needles and pins and sewing buttons to his flesh without evidence of pain, recently offered his body for sale to medical science. There were no takers of the unusual offer.
      -Chester Times, April 19, 1937

This next story flushes that out a little, explaining how much he was demanding for his body and how someone so young might have died.

   Charles Perechinsky, 23, “human pin cushion,” who recently offered to sell his body to science for $4,000, died Saturday.
   Perkins, as he was known professionally, was able to pierce his skin with pins and needles and sew buttons to his flesh without showing pain. A hip injury as a child resulted in 23 operations. He traveled with a sideshow until he became ill recently.
      -Titusville Herald, April 19, 1937

   A brief excerpt from this article describing the festival: The fourth act presented “Believe It or Not” stunts by Henry Chouinard who gave an amazing performance of hair-raising acts “read about but seldom seen.” He first represented a human pin-cushion, sticking hair pins from six to 12 inches long through all parts of his body; next the human volcano act, in which the young man devoured lighted torches; and the last feature, in which he swallowed knives and swords, some as long as 15 inches, and in which he chewed up razor blades and glass which he proceeded to swallow. Henry Chouinard is known to undergo three operations a year, for the removal of nails, spikes and other items from his body. On one occasion, a pair of shears was removed, after an act which has been performed by only one other human being, that person having died last year from the effects of the act.
      -Lowell Sun, July 25, 1937

“Got so hilarious” is a great expression for “trashed”. And you know what? I don’t think there is a cooler job description than “superintendent of speed”!

   James Upton, 22, of Detroit, who is appearing with the carnival at the fair as the “human pincushion,” can take a lot of self-inflicted punishment, but when he took a few drinks to shake off the gloom of Monday evening’s dismal weather, he got so hilarious that it became necessary to call county police. They said they found Upton attempting to ride away on a bicycle owned by J. Hiram Glass, the superintendent of speed. After spending the night in jail, Upton appeared before Municipal Judge S. J. Luchsinger on a charge of being drunk and disorderly this morning and was fined $10 and costs.
      -Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 27, 1940

And now to wrap up, below from left to right are some related comics of dubious humor level that may or may not translate across the ages — Mansfield News (January 18, 1902), San Antonio Light (December 4, 1939), Sioux County Capital (November 14, 1940), and Capital Times (January 19, 1941).

Rasmus Nielsen Ripley’s Appearance

After my success yesterday in digging up some old news clippings about The Great Omi, I thought I’d do some digging for Rasmus Nielsen, an amazing tattooed strongman that performed from the early 20th century until disappearing after his 1950 retirement. While tattooed strongmen were common, Rasmus was unique because of his stretched piercings through his nipples, nose, tongue, and collar (a “Madison” piercing that rightly should be known as a “Rasmus” piercing perhaps) from which he would lift anvils weighing as much as 250 pounds. Unfortunately the extent of what I could find was the June 16, 1938 edition of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which I hope is of interest nonetheless. For more, see his entry on The Human Marvels and The BME Encyclopedia.


Early news coverage of The Great Omi

One of the most famous “tattooed freaks” of the classic sideshow era — heck, of ANY ERA! — was Horace Riddler, better known as The Great Omi (read more on the BME wiki). I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the very early news clippings about him — the very first I could discover was dated October 20th, 1934, and was printed in the Lethbridge Herald of Alberta, Canada. Since it’s more than a little hard to read (scanned from old microfiche archives), let me transcribe it:

MIRACLE OF TATTOOING GETS FINISH:The Great Omi, called the ninth wonder of the world, being completely tattooed head to foot. He designed the tattoo patterns himself and the work on his head alone took nine weeks to perfect. Prof. Burchett, shown completing this part of the job, considers it a masterpiece.


A slightly later AP story expanded on those comments and was widely reprinted in papers across the nation (I happened to find it in the Galveston Daily News of April 7th, 1935). It reads:

TOTALLY TATTOOED: The Great Omi, who believes himself to be the only man in the world who is “tattooed all over,” explains it by saying, “I was penniless after the war and–well, I had to do something, so I decided it should be something never done before. It has taken me three years to be tattooed from head to foot–a dreadfully painful process. I suffered agonies. Moreover, it was meant sacrificing every social asset I had. Some people would say I look pretty terrible, but my wife has been wonderful about it. She assures me it is only a matter of getting used to it.” The Great Omi served during the world war as a major in the British army.

He quickly became the most famous sideshow performer of the time and people clamored to see him all over the world. For a time — especially in late 1934 and 1935 when his tattoo transformation was complete and his popularity exploded — his name became synonymous with tattooing, and if you were a journalist assigned to write about tattoos, odds were good you’d fill some column inches with The Great Omi’s story. For example, I was reading an interesting article about the 1934 Tokyo tattoo convention in The San Antonio Light‘s December 2nd, 1934 edition, and they actually spent more time talking about Omi than the convention itself!

Convention of Tattooed People, But the Champion Didn’t Attend

Despite the fact that it is a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment and fine, for a Japanese to have his person indelibly inscribed with the tattooer’s needle, a convention of tattooed people recently was staged in the city. The alert police did not molest the delegates to the conclave because every one of them was able to prove that he, or she, had not been tattooed within the past few years, since the ban has been in force.

As the photograph of some of the delegates shows, when an Oriental makes up his mind to get himself tattooed, he does a thorough job of it and covers himself with the sort of red and blue skin pictures that seamen carry around on their arms and chests.

But the convention was not all that it might have been because the grand champion of all tattooed men–a fellow who calls himself the Great Omi–either was unable to attend or just passed up the event as unworthy of his notice.

While the convention was in session and the human art galleries were getting their pictures in the newspapers of the Japanese capital, the Great Omi was touring the British Isles and astounding people who did not envy him in the least. Not for a million dollars would the average human being let himself be so “ornamented.”

The Great Omi is one of the few tattooed men in the world who has permitted the artists with the needle to work on his face as well as his body. As two of the photographs show, there is hardly a square inch of Omi’s head that isn’t covered with a design that makes him look stranger and more savage than the wildest of African medicine men, who go in for that sort of disfigurement.

Prof. Burchett, said to be the world’s outstanding expert in the art of tattooing, supports Omi’s claim that he is the most tattooed man in the world.


I have corrected Their Annoying Capitalization, but underneath the first photo of Omi it says, “The ‘Great Omi,’ most thoroughly tattooed of humans, who holds forth in London. He has spent most of his life decorating his skin with weird designs.” The rightmost picture of Omi reads, “The ‘Great Omi’ submitting himself to the needle to put the finishing touches to the bewildering decorations of head and face.” Finally, the central picture which is of the convention attendees reads, “Six of the many delegates to the convention of tattooed people recently held in Tokyo. These animated Japanese prints are covered with designs from their necks to their thighs but the ‘Great Omi,’ now traveling through the British Isles, found it inconvenient to attend the conclave and told spectators that he is the grand champion of all tattooed people, including the human picture galleries of the orient.”

In addition to being called “The Great Omi” proper, he was often colloquially referred to as “The Zebra Man”, and then as in now, when you become a pop culture icon, you can expect yourself to be referenced in the most unexpected places. For example, the September 17th, 1938 edition of the syndicated serial pulp comic strip “Ella Cinders” (running from 1925 through 1961), which I think is as good a place as any to end this entry. Zoom in so you can read the words clearly.


Ladies and gentlemen, freaks of all sizes…

I absolutely love this portrait of Sanjula Vamana, and I’ve been meaning to share it for some time, taken by one of his favorite photographers, Mandy Dempsey, for a Circus sideshow photo project. Sanjula is a modern master of classic vaudevillian acts (and his wife is a burlesque performer), performing everything from beds of nails to swinging weights from his junk to intense skewering acts that would put the shivers into even experienced play piercers — chainsaws, whips, fire, escapology, knives, sledge hammers, pain proof, blockhead, human pincushion, stomach pump, dart board, and many other “dangerous acts of perilous danger!” Catch his show if you ever have the opportunity, and if you’re interested in booking him, you can reach Sanjula at [email protected]


Click to see it at full size of course.

Take that Batman, The Penguin is taking over!

I know, I know I failed to provide you guys with the much anticipated follow up to the first installation of The Cadaver Chronicles . For that, I am extremely sorry. For some odd reason BME’s wordpress site sometime’s chooses to deny me access for a few days. Then it, out of nowhere, will forgive me for whatever transgressions I may have imposed upon it, and it lets me back in. I decided to putt Cliff’s piece up Friday, and just get back on schedule with that.

However, since I managed to log in, why not post something and if I am going to post something why not some penguins? Really, after that whole March of the Penguins movie, and Bob Saget’s spoof of it, who doesn’t love these waddling little creatures?



I am sure some of the modblog readers are already picking these pieces apart and condemning me for even posting this quality of tattooing to Modblog. However, sometimes there is more to a tattoo then just the finished piece, sometimes who did the piece makes up for a lack of technical prowess.  For a look at the “man” responsible for these pieces, keep on keeping on….

Oh you coy fox you. I can’t get anything buy you can I? You noticed right off the bat that the word “man” was in quotes, and you quickly figured out it wasn’t a man at all that did these pieces. But if not a man, then what?

Well, what better to do a tattoo of a penguin than a penguin person?


No! Not that penguin!

THIS penguin, my buddy Penguin Boy!


With no arms, and two left hands I think Penguin Boy did a pretty killer job on these pieces, what do you guys think?

They’re getting hitched!

I heard on the radio last week that christmas eve is the #1 day of the year for wedding proposals.  Sure enough, this christmas that held true and a couple of IAM members got engaged.  Now, you’ve seen Dirk and JackeeLynn on here before, most recently in their christmas photos.  Now if you don’t know these two, not only do they send in a lot of photos to BME, but they’re also part of the Local Hookers suspension crew.  Here’s a couple of photos from their last halloween bash.  (You can find a lot more in the Local Hookers gallery).

Here’s Dirk enjoying a beer after lifting a cinderblock by his neck.  He also happens to be taking a beating from some lightbulbs.

As for Jackee, she spent the night hanging out with another Local Hooker, Inhale-Exhale.

Of course the best part of getting engaged is the story behind it.  Now I wasn’t there, but from what I understand Dirk surprised her with the ring and something else in a box…

Congrats you two!  When do I get my invitation?

The penguin flys on…

Currently modblog regular, Penguin Boy, his partner Baron Von Geiger (amazing earlobe weight lifter) and the rest of The Squidling Bros. are on tour with the Coney Island Cockabilly Roadshow.

I don’t make it out to shows too much anymore, but this may be worthy of making an exception for. Hell, they are even performing with Hick’ry Hawkins, a cat I used to watch at local South Carolina venues a bunch back in the nineties.


For tour dates, keep on keeping on.