Poster advertising the South London Palace 972
Printer: Clement Smith & Coy
One of the performers featured in this poster is Sam Torr, who was also a well known music hall manager and booking agent for many stars of the day. Perhaps his most famous client was Joseph Carey Merrick, infamously known as the Elephant Man.
Born in Leicester in 1862, Merrick had begun to develop huge tumours on his face before the age of two. In time, his head and body were covered with bulbous cauliflower-like growths. The skin on his right hand and forearm hardened with strange cartilagenous tissue, restricting his circulation, and rendering the entire arm a club. Most seriously, the tumours covering his body inside and out pressed upon his lungs in repose. He could only sleep sitting up, and generally breathed with difficulty.
Doctors of the time theorised that Merrick was suffering from elephantiasis, a disorder of the lymphatic system that causes parts of the body to swell to grotesque proportions. This diagnosis did not explain the extent or the nature of Merrick's deformities. It seems more likely that Merrick was suffering from Proteus Syndrome, an extraordinarily rare condition that causes overgrowth of bone and other tissue.
Merrick wrote to Sam Torr, suggesting that he exhibit himself to the public for money. With a consortium of other managers, Torr organised Merrick's first tour of the country's music halls, theatres and circuses. Merrick died of asphyxiation at the age of 29.