What is it: Poster advertising 'The Wild Man of the Prairies' at the Royal Zoological Gardens, Surrey


The authors of this advertisement for a human curiosity show 'do not pretend to assert' what the nature of the creature depicted is, but this doesn’t stop them from speculating that it may be 'the long sought for LINK between Man and the OURANG-OUTANG'. In fact, the creature was a man, Harvey Leech (1804-1847), dressed in a hair suit and with stained face and hands. Shortly after this advertisement was published, the creature’s true human identity was leaked to the press, causing Leech, a skilled acrobat, a great deal of embarrassment and perhaps worse. He died six months later.

‘Human Curiosity’ fairs had been travelling Britain since at least the 1600s, charging the general public to see specimens of humanity that might be considered out of the ordinary. This included unusually tall and short people, conjoined twins, women with beards, and even just people with dark skin complexion – along with elaborate frauds such as this one.

Full title:
[The wild man of the prairies,] or, what is it? Is it an animal? Is it human? Is it an extraordinary freak of nature? Or, is it a legitimate member of nature's works?
estimated 1846
Playbill / Advertisement / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Evan. 2878

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Liza Picard

From music halls and waxworks to freak shows and pleasure gardens, Liza Picard looks at the variety of popular entertainment available in the 19th century.

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