Myrtle The Four-Legged Girl

Mrs. Josephine M. Bicknell died only one week before her sixtieth birthday; she was buried in Cleburne, Texas, at the beginning of May, 1928.

Once the coffin was lowered into the ground,her husband James C. Bicknell stood watching as the grave was filled with a thick layer of cement; he waited for an hour, maybe two, until the cement dried completely. Eventually James and the other relatives could head back home, relieved: nobody would be able to steal Mrs. Bicknell’s body – not the doctors, nor the other collectors who had tried to obtain it.

It is strange to think that a lifeless body could be tempting for so many people.
But the lady who was resting under the cement had been famous across the United States, many years before, under her maiden name: Josephine Myrtle Corbin, the Four-Legged Girl from Texas.

Myrtle was born in 1868 in Lincoln County, Tennessee, with a rare fetal anomaly called dipygus: her body was perfectly formed from her head down to her navel, below which it divided into two pelvises, and four lower limbs.

Her two inner legs, although capable of movement, were rudimentary, and at birth they were found laying flat on the belly. They resembled those of a parasitic twin, but in reality there was no twin: during fetal development, her pervis had split along the median axis (in each pair of legs, one was atrophic).

 Medical reports of the time stated that

between each pair of legs there is a complete, distinct set of genital organs, both external and internal, each supported by a pubic arch. Each set acts independently of the other, except at the menstrual period. There are apparently two sets of bowels, and two ani; both are perfectly independent,– diarrhoea may be present on one side, constipation on the other.

Myrtle joined Barnum Circus at the age of 13. When she appeared on stage, nothing gave away her unusual condition: apart from the particularly large hips and a clubbed right foot, Myrtle was an attractive girl and had an altogether normal figure. But when she lifted her gown, the public was left breathless.

She married James Clinton Bicknell when she was 19 years old, and the following year she went to Dr. Lewis Whaley on the account of a pain in her left side coupled with other worrying symptoms. When the doctor announced that she was pregnant in her left uterus, Myrtle reacted with surprise:

“I think you are mistaken; if it had been on my right side I would come nearer believing it”; and after further questioning he found, from the patient’s observation, that her right genitals were almost invariably used for coitus.

That first pregnancy sadly ended with an abortion, but later on Myrtle, who had retired from show business, gave birth to four children, all perfectly healthy.

Given the enormous success of her show, other circuses tried to replicate the lucky formula – but charming ladies with supernumerary legs were nowhere to be found.
With typical sideshow creativity, the problem was solved by resorting to some ruse.
The two following diagrams show the trick used to simulate a three-legged and a four-legged woman, as reported in the 1902 book The New Magic (source: Weird Historian).

If you search for Myrtle Corbin’s pictures on the net, you can stumble upon some photographs of Ashley Braistle, the most recent example of a woman with four legs.
The pictures below were taken at her wedding, in July 1994, when she married a plumber from Houston named Wayne: their love had begun after Ashley appeared in a newspaper interview, declaring that she was looking for a “easygoing and sensitive guy“.

Unfortunately on May 11, 1996, Ashley’s life ended in tragedy when she made an attempt at skiing and struck a tree.

Did you guess it?
Ashley’s touching story is actually a trick, just like the ones used by circus people at the turn of the century.
This photographic hoax comes from another bizarre “sideshow”, namely the Weekly World News, a supermarket tabloid known for publishing openly fake news with funny and inventive titles (“Mini-mermaid found in tuna sandwich!” “Hillary Clinton adopts a baby alien!”, “Abraham Lincoln was a woman!”, and so on).

The “news” of Ashley’s demise on the July 4, 1996 issue.

 

Another example of a Weekly World News cover story.

To end on a more serious note, here’s the good news: nowadays caudal duplications can, in some instances, be surgically corrected after birth (it happened for example in 1968, in 1973 and in 2014).

And luckily, pouring cement is no longer needed in order to prevent jackals from stealing an extraordinary body like the one of Josephine Myrtle Corbin Bicknell.

The wizard of soccer

But Nino don’t be afraid of missing a penalty kick
One does not become a good player
On the account of these details
You can tell a good player from his courage,
His selflessness, his creativity.

(F. De Gregori, La leva calcistica della classe ’68, 1982)

Carlos Henrique Raposo, a.k.a. “Kaiser”, active in the Eighties and Nineties, played in eleven soccer teams, such as Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo in Brazil, Ajaccio in Corsica and Puebla in Messico.
Eleven professional clubs, and zero goals scored in his whole career.
Yes, because Carlos Henrique Raposo, a.k.a. “Kaiser”, pretended to be a player. And in reality he was an illusionist.

Born in 1963 in a poor family, as many other Brazilian kids Carlos dreamed of a redemption made of luxury and success. He had tried to become a soccer player, without any major result: yet he had the right muscular and powerful build, so much so that he was often mistaken for a professional soccer player. Around his twenties, Carlos clearly understood his mission: “I wanted to be a player, without having to play“.
Therefore, he decided to trust his courage, selflessness and creativity.

Courage
Carlos “Kaiser” certainly had the nerve. As a nightlife aficionado and regular clubber in Rio, he managed to bond with a series of famous soccer players (Romário, Edmundo, Bebeto, Renato Gaúcho and Ricardo Rocha who later called him “the greatest conman in Brazilian football“); he offered his favors and used his connections to organize parties and meetings. In return, he began asking to be included as a makeweight in his friends’ transfer deals.
It’s importanto to keep in mind that in the mid-Eighties the internet did not exist, and it was quite difficult to find information on a new player: Carlos was enthusiastically presented by great players vouching for him, who granted him with his first professional contract (for a three-month trial) in the Botafogo club. And thus began his career, always behind the front line but nonetheless enjoying relatively high wages, and an incredible fiction which lasted more than twenty years.

kaiser-renatogaucho-pauloroberto

Selflessness
First of all, it was essential for Carlos to earn his teammates’ unconditional trust, their cover and benevolence.
As soon as I knew which hotel we would be staying in, I went there two or three days beforehand. I rented rooms for ten ladies in that hotel, so that instead of sneaking away at night, my teammates and I could simply walk down the stairs to have some fun“.
Another important step was ensuring to have some newspaper article backing up his non-existing talents. Again, that was not a problem for the “Kaiser”, thanks to his socialite connections: “I have an incredible aptitude for making friends with people. I knew several journalists very well at the time, and treated them all kindly. A little gift, some insider information could come in handy, and in return they wrote about the ‘great soccer player’ “.

Creativity
Once he obtained a contract, leaning on other players’ transfer negotiations, the second part of Carlos’ plan kicked off: how could he manage to remain in the team without the coach realizing that he wasn’t even able to kick a ball? The solution Carlos came up with was simple yet brilliant – he had to gain as much time as possible.
He started by saying he was out of shape, and that he needed to follow a special workout program with a mysterious personal trainer. He then spent the first two or three weeks running along the sidelines, without participating in the team’s exercises. After that, when he could no longer postpone his presence in the field, he asked a teammate to make an irregular entrance on him during a training game and to inflict him a (not too serious) injury. Sometimes he didn’t even need outside help, he just pretended to sprain his muscle, an injury which was difficult to verify in those years: “I preformed some strange moves during the training, I touched my muscle and then stayed in the infirmary for 20 days or so. There was no MRI at the time. Days went by, but I had a dentist friend who certified I had physical health problems. And so, months went by…
In this way, scoring zero minutes of playing time during each season, he jumped from team to team. “I always signed the Risk Contract, the shortest one, normally for a six-month period. I received the bonus, and went straight to infirmary“. To enhance his great player image, he often showed up talking in English through a huge cellular phone (a true status symbol, back then), presumably to some foreign manager offering him some outstanding deal. Unfortunately his broken English conversations made no sense whatsoever, and his cellphone was in fact a toy phone.

When he went back to Brazil, in the Bangu team, Carlos’ hoax almost collapsed. The coach, taking him by surprise, decided to summon him for the sunday match and around the half of the second time he told him to warm up. Given the dangerous situation, and the forthcoming disaster a debut would entail, Carlos reacted with an exceptional stunt: all of a sudden, he started a fight with an opposing team’s supporter. He got immediately expelled from the game. When in the locker room the coach furiously approached him, he pretended like he acted on behalf of the coach himself: “God gave me a father and then took him away from me. Now that God has given me a second father, I can’t allow anyone to insult him“. The incident ended with the coach kissing him on his forehead, and renewing his contract.
He had another stroke of genius at the time of his debut in the Ajaccio club, in Corsica, France. The new Brazilian soccer player was greeted by the supporters with unexpected enthusiasm: “the stadium was small, but crowded with people, everywhere I looked. I thought I just had to show up and cheer, but then I saw many balls on the field and I understood we would be training. I was nervous, they would realize I was not able to play on my first day”. So Carlos decided to play the last trump, trying yet another one of his tricks. He entered the playing field, and began kicking each and every ball, sending them over to the gallery, waving his hand and kissing his shirt. The supporters went into raptures, and of course never threw back the precious balls, which had been touched by the publicised champion’s foot. Once out of balls, the team had to engage in a strictly physical training, which Carlos could manage to do without problem.

Reality and lies
After leaving Guarany, aged 39, Carlos Henrique Raposo retired having played approximately 20 games – all of which ended with an injury – in approximately 20 years of professional career (the numbers are a little hazy). But he came away with a wonderful story to tell.
And here’s the only problem: practically every major anecdote about this intentionally misleading stunt comes from no other than Kaiser himself. Sure enough, his colleagues confirm the image of a young man who made up for his lack of ability with immense self-assurance and cockiness: “he is a great friend, an exquisite person. Too bad that he doesn’t even know how to play cards. He had a problem with the ball, I did not see him play in any team, ever. He told you stories about games and matches, but he never played even on Sunday afternoon in Maracanà, I can tell you that! In a lying contest against Pinocchio, Kaiser would win“, Richardo Rocha declared.
So, why should we believe this Pinocchio when he comes out of nowhere and tell us his “truth”?

Maybe because it feels good to do so. Maybe because the story of a “man without qualities”, a Mr. Nobody who pretends to be a champion, cheating big soccer corporations (which are frequently nowadays amid market scandals) is some kind of a revenge by proxy, that has many soccer aficionados grinning. Maybe because his incredible story, on a human level, could come straight out of a movie.

In the meantime, Carlos shows absolutely no regrets: “if I had been more dedicated, I could have gone further in the game“.
Not in the soccer game, of course, but in his game of illusion.