Frontispiece for “The Life of W.T. Sapp, the World Famous Ossified Man”
W.T. Sapp was born in Lebanon, KY, in 1854, and had a normal early childhood. By age seven, though, a significant stiffening of the joints had begun to appear in his legs and arms. By age ten, Sapp was completely immobilized aside from his left forearm, left hand, and jaw. He was still able to feed himself and write, but needed to be attended to in order to move about and care for himself in other ways. The disuse of his muscles led to a complete atrophy of the tissue (leading to a weight of only 40 lbs at adulthood), and the cost of his care led to his family displaying him as a sideshow freak.
However, unlike the majority of historical “freakish” persons, W.T. Sapp was cared for by a loving caretaker (a member of his church as a child) and family, and was very intelligent, referred to as an “encyclopedia in a baby carriage”. His successful career as a “circus freak” was not at the cost of his personal dignity and fulfillment, according to his own hand. He lived for over 45 years, and became one of the most renowned medical anomalies in the Western hemisphere and Western Europe.
This book was written Sapp’s his 43rd year of life. The exact condition Sapp was afflicted with is not known. However, there are many juvenile-onset muscular dystrophy/atrophy conditions known to exist today, and no doubt the majority existed in the past, as well.