SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Born John Eckhardt, Jr., on August 27, 1911, Eck was an artist, photographer, circus performer, magician, actor, and “King of the Freaks.”
Johnny Eck was born along with a twin brother named Robert. Johnny was born sans legs and with a truncated spine, resulting in the appearance of his body stopping midway through his torso.
In the mid ’20s, Johnny began performing as a single-o (solo sideshow), although his brother traveled with him to emphasize their difference. He worked for years in the entertainment business, and is best known for his role in Tod Browning’s Freaks.
Eck had essentially no body below his ribcage, but was otherwise healthy. His twin brother, Robert, and his older sister had no deformity. Despite his disability, Johnny taught himself to walk with his hands before his brother would walk with his feet.At an early age Eck seemed headed for the ministry.
In 1923, while the boys were attending a church fair, magician John McAslan was astonished by the half-boy and convinced his parents to let him join the carnival. Robert was hired as his manager and assistant. McAslan allegedly duped Eck’s parents by adding a zero to a one-year contract after it was signed.Eck was a solo sideshow act, where he did magic tricks and acrobatics, including his famous one-armed handstand.
Along with Robert, the twins were also used by a magician as subjects in a “sawn in half” illusion.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN71bF5DTck
Eck is perhaps best known for his role in the 1932 cult classic film Freaks. He also had uncredited parts in three Tarzan movies. In 1938, Eck walked the stairs to the top of the Washington Monument on his hands.After his Hollywood and carnival career, the twins retired to Baltimore and operated a miniature train ride, with Johnny serving as engineer. He also had a custom miniature car that was street-legal.
Eck was also an avid screen painter – a theme reflected in the headstone marking his grave.In 1987, the brothers were robbed and physically assaulted in their home. Embittered and having lost his faith in humanity, Johnny spent his remaining years in total seclusion, contending that the real freaks were outside his house.Eck died in 1991 at age 79, in the Milton Street house in which the twins were born. Robert died four years later.
Years ago, it was not considered demeaning to work as a freak in a circus or sideshow. It was an honest living and many of the people above made a good income and supported families. Yes, there was terrible mistreatment and exploitation of some individuals by ruthless handlers (isn’t there always?). However, there was also a community, friends, a sense of acceptance and belonging that came from being in a freak show that they would not have gotten in Suburbia.Freaks Movie Cast Todd Browning Circus Sideshow Johnny Eck Pinheads Bearded lady Chicken Girl Black Metal Cigarette or ID or Business Card Case Wallet