Over at Rob Paterson's blog, I recently saw a reference to an article about a man who lived roughly 100 years ago named Chauncey Morlan. Chauncey Morlan's claim to fame was that he was obese -- so obese, in fact, that he appeared as a freak in circus sideshows. A photo accompanies the story, and is shown below.
There are a lot of "me too" blog posts about this (of which Rob's is one) -- all which pretty much say the same thing: that obesity is such a crisis these days because -- look! -- 100 years ago an obese man that wouldn't turn heads in the mall today was considered a circus freak back then! You can find the "me too posts" by searching for his name combined with the phrase "at the mall" -- they all talk alike.
It stuck with me because I smelled something strange about it.
So, today I went looking.
There is a page here with a number of photos of this man. The one at bottom right is the one that accompanies all of the blog posts I have seen about this man in connection with modern obesity.
The photo looks Photoshopped to me -- the border is too clean -- but let's put that aside. From the photos, it is clear to me that they have chosen the slimmest photo of this man to accompany their stories. It is true that a man who looks like the man in this photo would probably not turn heads at the mall. We might catch a glimpse and acknowledge that he had let himself go a bit, but it wouldn't arouse much curiosity.
I am wondering if the photo has been Photoshopped to make him look slimmer. What would be the motive? Well, to add a bullet point to the fanaticism over obesity; to talk about a past circus freak as being normal today by showing photo evidence of someone who was slimmer to our eyes than what people of the day actually saw. Yes, there was a fat man named Chauncey Morlan who was a circus freak because of his weight, and would not turn heads at the mall today if he looked as pictured, but is the person shown in that photo what people of the day actually saw?
From various reports around the web, this man during his adult life was anywhere from 600 lbs. to 875 lbs. in weight, suggesting that he never lost weight throughout his life and only continued to gain in weight. This could be wrong, but I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.
While attention would not be garnered by the man in that photo, I think that most people's attention would be caught today by a 600 lb. man and certainly would be by an 875 lb. man. Why? Because they are massive. They are truly freaks of nature -- so much so that you can't remember what they look like in your memory because the proportions are so unusual. And when you get that heavy, it is almost certainly genetic and a rarity. If I stuffed myself day to night for years on end with all of the worst foods for me, I would never weigh 600 lbs.
Would a 600 lb. person turn heads at the mall? As I said, I think they would. Here is a picture of one. What about an 875 lb. person? Well, here's one of an 895 lb. woman?
And the idea that obesity is a modern thing is silly. Here are four men -- all public figures -- who lived more than 100 years ago. I have linked to Google Image searches of them:
Alessandro del Borro (17th century)
Daniel Lambert (born 1770)
Grover Cleveland (born 1837)
William Howard Taft (born 1857)
After having public figures of this size, who would be caught surprised by the man in the photo above? Not many.