Monday, April 12, 2010

Schlitzie Surtees - The Most Famous Freak of the 20th Century

Well-known American sideshow performer and actor, best known as Schlitzie Surtees for his role in the movie Freaks, was possibly born under the name of Simon Metz in the New York’s community Bronx in 1901. According to other rather "mystical" sources, he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maybe that’s why many of the circus posters billed Schlitze under the title "The Last of the Aztecs".

According to many sources, Schlitzie had to wear a dress to hide diapers (he had incontinence). The idea to present him as a girl appeared later on. Schlitzie often was dressed in a muumuu in public.

At those times microcephaly was very popular in carnival business. People watched microcephalics as if they were aliens. Mircocephaly is a disorder that leaves people with very small brain, skull and a stature. Schlitzie had the cognizance of a 3-year-old child.

The history doesn’t mention Schlitzie’s birth parents. They were probably drunkards or beggards, and most likely sold their sick child to a sideshow.

People who knew Schlitzie said he was affectionate and sociable person. He enjoyed dancing and singing. Throughout his life-long career, Schlitzie was a major sideshow attraction. He was performing the sideshow circuit till his death at the age of 70 of pneumonia.

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Anonymous said...

Whats with the haircut?

Anonymous said...

~"Whats with the haircut?"~

You seriously need to gain some respect. It's people like yourself that make this world get dumber by the minute. Do some reasearch, educate yourself, and THEN, when you your mouth and speak. Good day, sir!!

Stephanie said...

What an interesting character! The more I learn about the carnival and the people behind it, the more fascinating it is!

Wolf Krakowski said...

In the summer of 1965, I turned eighteen. I was working with the Conklin and Garret Shows at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, where I lived with my family.

When the show moved on to the Western Ontario Fair in London, I stayed on, figuring it would beat Grade 13 . . . I assure you, it did.

In London, after setting up, I was made foreman of the bumper cars ride. Everybody stayed at the Clarendon Hotel in the tenderloin district. I came to know Schlitzie and his guardian, one "Frenchy," a former sword-swallower and (as he claimed) a "Gypsy prince."

In the morning, Frenchy would drive us all to the fairgrounds, stopping off at the liquor store first, as it would be closed in the late evening, when our workday was over.

One morning, passing a pawn shop with long knives and swords in the window, Frenchy stopped the car. He wanted to go in and swallow a sword, to keep in practice.

Schlitzie and I stayed in the car a few extra moments, until the song we were listening to on the car radio was over. (Schlitzie enjoyed music very much.)

When we walked into the shop, hand in hand, Frenchy was disinfecting a sword and proceeded to swallow it. The two elderly women running the place, stared in horror and disbelief.

When they turned and saw me ( I wore my hair rather long for the times) and Schlitzie, all the blood drained from their faces.

Frenchy never did buy the sword, but would practice using a straightened coat-hanger from the hotel closet. He always disinfected it first, of course.

With best wishes,

Wolf Krakowski
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