Culture Darwinism Intelligent Design

In addition to Oto Benga, there was Schlitzie the Missing Link…

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Now that the Bronx Zoo has apologized for putting Oto Benga on display in a monkey house back in 1906 (he suicided in 1916), it may be time to bring up another, later instance of popular Darwinism fastening on an individual in its pursuit of the subhuman, the missing link: Schlitzie (1901-1971).

As told at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in a review of Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead (2019) by Bill Griffith:

The fool of the title is a circus sideshow performer named Simon Metz — later known as Schlitzie — who was born in 1901 with a birth defect that resulted in a cone-shaped head. His lifetime fame began in 1922 at Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus Side Show, accelerated to a Hollywood film and continued in international entertainment circuits until his death in 1971…

Barkers shocked audiences advertising Schlitzie, the performer, as a “missing link,” “the last of the Aztecs,” and “pinhead.” Audiences reacted hurling “freak,” “cretin” and “moron” at the performer.

John Manbeck, “Schlitzie: The story of a Coney Island performer” at Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Here’s his grave at Queen of heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights, California.

Metz/Schlitzie was luckier than Oto Benga in that he had a manager who saw to it that he had the means of life.

Schlitzie, displayed as the “Last of the Aztecs”/public domain

The Eagle account doesn’t tell us as much about the Darwinian spiel that played out around him, but we learn from Jerry Bergman:

In the annals of sideshow performance, one of the most famous exhibits to “prove” evolution was Schlitzie (1901–1971) a microcephalic (Cantrell 2019). Schlitzie “was one of the top draws in [that] imitators, some even using his name, began to crop up here and there.” (Griffith 2019, 77, 165). Sometimes people with microcephalism were called pejorative names such as “pinheads” or “coneheads.” They had abnormally small brains, were usually intellectually disabled, and displayed many superficial purported ape-like features that made them candidates for the Darwin’s “missing link” label (Snigurowicz 1999).

Schlitzie was also billed “the missing link between Ape and Human” and as “Darwin’s missing link” or even a “Half Monkey, Half Human” man, but mostly “the Missing Link scientists have been seeking since Darwin . . . the Missing Link sought by scientists the world over” (Griffith 2019, 5, 10, 52, 61, 167). He also was for a time billed as Schlitzie “The Monkey Girl” and “The Last of the Incas” (Hartzman 2005, 210). Schlitzie even had a major appearance in the very successful but controversial 1932 film Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, the director of Dracula. He also appeared in the 1941 film Meet Boston Blackie (Hunter 2014, 40).

Jerry Bergman, “Schlitzie the “Missing Link” & Early Darwinian Sideshows” at Answers in Genesis (June 27, 2020)

It’s worth considering that many less-educated people may have learned their Darwinism more from these freak shows than from Darwin-promoting textbooks at school. The shows were more eye-catching and memorable.

See also: Apologies For Displaying An African Man In A Bronx Zoo Monkey House Conveniently Leave Out The Darwinian Motivation

3 Replies to “In addition to Oto Benga, there was Schlitzie the Missing Link…

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Yup. Most people immediately forget what they “learn” in the usual science class after they memorize the “facts” long enough to pass the test. We pick up far more from the ambient culture.

    But it’s also worth remembering that nobody NEEDS to know whether Darwin or God is right. Even practicing doctors and scientists don’t NEED to know what happened in the past. Both sides tend to believe that the choice of ideology determines the truth of everything else. The choice matters in the abstract, but lab tests and prescriptions and surgery and agricultural research are exactly the same for both belief systems.

  2. 2
    Fasteddious says:

    The statement, “many less-educated people may have learned their Darwinism more from these freak shows than from Darwin-promoting textbooks at school”, is undoubtedly true, but I think it is worse than that. Most people’s opinions and “knowledge” about most subjects, including Darwinism, are essentially absorbed by osmosis – exposure to the mainstream (or other) media assumptions, often unstated, but picked up subconsciously, reinforced by vapid talk from others, and then held firmly as their own views. One has to be careful to look for alternative perspectives, and to assess media exposures critically. Even when aware of the biases and subliminal messaging, I find myself adopting default positions based on limited exposure or evidence. One cannot fully investigate everything to form a truly informed opinion, and so many opinions are merely absorbed from the company you keep, in person, on-line, in books, on TV, etc. One obvious result is the extreme polarization we observe these days on so many topics: silo thinking.

  3. 3
    tjguy says:

    @1 Polistra You said: ” The choice matters in the abstract, but lab tests and prescriptions and surgery and agricultural research are exactly the same for both belief systems.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this. Evolutionary ideas influence morality, our view of and treatment of people(ie Schlitzie/Benga/Aborigines/ etc.)

    It’s true that anyone can do experimental science regardless of their beliefs about origins, but those beliefs have a great influence on society and are thus quite important.

    Sometimes, it even indicates how we do science – or rather our interpretations of the data. I remember reading about doctors who prescribed a misguided therapy for lordosis of the spine because they thought our back problems resulted from the change of going from tree dwelling to upright walking. But in the end, that belief led them to prescribe treatment that actually was harmful for people. In the past, doctor’s prescribed tonsillectomies routinely because they thought the tonsil was a vestigial organ. Beliefs matter because they influence our actions, decisions, and morality.

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