A guy who learned to play football despite having a third leg, twins who lived and never spoke to anyone but each other, a man who had 24 different personalities — these people’s names should be synonymous with “incredible,” but yet their stories are true and keep inspiring people.
“The Man of the Woods” Petrus Gonsalvus
Everybody knows the story of the Beauty and the Beast who have fallen in love with each other. Yet few people have learned that there were actual prototypes to this story. It all began in 1537, when an odd baby was born in Tenerife: his whole body was covered with hair.
The parents believed their child had a supernatural disease (nobody knew about hypertrichosis back then) and they sold him to French pirates when little Petrus turned 10. They called him “The Man of the Woods,” and introduced him to the King of France, Henri II.
Henri II found that the odd boy was very intelligent and he was learning the French language pretty soon. The king assured Petrus would receive a decent education. Since Henri II died, Petrus was cared for by his wife Catherine de Médici. She also arranged Petrus’s wedding according to some sources. His wife was Catherine called a stunning Queen’s Lady.
Though obviously this couple was different from other families, they still had a good marriage. They had six children, four of whom inherited features from their father. Girls Magdalena and Antoinette are the best known descendants of Petrus and Catherine.
Magdalena Gonsalvus and Antoinette Gonsalvus
But after Catherine de Médici’s death, the Gonsalvus family fell out of the “Cour de France” favour, and could no longer live there. So, Petrus had taken his family to Italy where they lived under Margaret of Parma’s protection.
The family moved to Viterbo after some time where Petrus died at the age of 81 (that was a very long life back then).
Petrus’ story was not only the rationale behind the “Beauty and the Beast” myth but also what motivated scientists to research hypertrichosis.
“3-Legged Football Player” Francesco Lentini
Francesco was born in 1889, in Italy. He may have had a twin brother but something went wrong, and the body of his twin fused to the spinal cord of Francesco. He was born, in the end, with three legs.
Francesco had 11 brothers and sisters but they all seemed regular. His parents soon declined to raise their special boy and gave him to his aunt who would later give him to an orphanage for children with disabilities.
Francesco said he felt he was the unhappiest child in the world before this moment but when he saw children who couldn’t hear or speak or were mentally incapacitated, he realized that his problem wasn’t as bad as it encouraged him to enjoy the beauty of the world.
So, the boy decided to learn how to use his body. He learnt to ride a bike and play soccer. And he went to the US at the age of eight where he grew up and became a circus artist.
The 3-legged man’s shows were very successful and Francesco wanted to use them to help people solve their problems. He wrote an autobiography which he sold during his shows.
Within the novel, he wrote about how he learned to cope with his dilemma, and explained how by being a performer he made the best of it.
“I buy a normal pair of shoes and one more shoe I buy from a guy I know who lost his leg.” However, Francesco tried to figure out what could contribute to this issue and shared his results with women, telling them what they shouldn’t do during pregnancy.
At the age of 30 Francesco was made a citizen of the United States and married Theresa Murrey. They’d had 4 good kids. Francesco was 77 years old, and died. He continued to make shows all his life.
Incredibly smart child, Christian Heinrich Heineken
The boy, still called a child prodigy, was born in Lübeck, Germany, in 1721. His father, Paul Heineken, was an artist and architect and his mother, Catharina Heineken, was an artist and alchemist. He could already communicate by repeating object names and sometimes even sentences when he was just 10 months old.
Christian Heinrich Heineken in an engraving created by his mother
He had a remarkable memory and he could quote the New Testament in Latin at the age of one according to witnesses. At the age of 3, in the time of Frederick IV, he gave a lecture on Danish history. And his lecture was so thorough and fascinating that even courtiers were impressed with this tiny genius.
Christian only lived to be 4 years old, sadly, because he had celiac disease (gluten intolerance) that was not studied back then and his parents constantly fed him cereal.
A couple of giants, Martin and Anna Bates
Do you think it is easy for a girl who is 7’5′′ tall to find a husband? And find someone with her, who looks good? No, that is not so. But it was followed by Anna, who was born in Canada in 1846.
Anna with her parents
She was born into a normal family: the average height of her mother, brothers, and sisters. Yet Anna was 6’8′′ tall, at the age of 15. She weighed around 220 lbs, and had huge feet. Notwithstanding her scary height, Anna was a really pretty lady.
She had fallen in love with circus star Martin Bates when she was 25. He was also born into a family where everyone was of average height but when he was 6 he began to develop steadily and was already 6’8′′ tall at the age of 14.
Bates was 7’6′′ tall when Martin and Anna met and she was even taller (though she was 9 years younger) according to witnesses.
They married. Both were talented people, and it was not because of their height that everyone recognized them, but because of their acting and music abilities.
The couple tried to have two kids. Anna had a daughter on May 19, 1872 who weighed more than 17 lbs and died instantly and 7 years later they had a son weighing more than 22 lbs. He only lived for 11 hours but he was good according to his family.
Nine years later Anna suffered a heart attack and died and Martin was remarried. This time, a woman of average height was selected.
24 personalities in one person: William Stanley Milligan
William Milligan had a rare psychiatric condition that caused him to have 24 full-fledged personalities that were not responsible for the actions of one another. William himself could control only his (Billy) personality, but not the others.
There were powerful ones among Billy’s personalities who knew about the others and could even control them and weak ones who could not control anything. There were people that helped him to manage those tasks and challenges, and there were others who had negative objectives.
In his view, there were men and women, adults and children and people who had different accents and features at various levels of intelligence. And these were not all good. Some also committed crimes which led Billy to trial.
The judge who listened to expert advice did not sentence Billy to prison. He was later sent for medical care. Billy spent 10 years in the rehab ward, and his psychotherapists gave him a clean mental health bill at the end. Billy established a small film production company after he was released, that went bankrupt after not having released a single film.
Billy soon started interacting with everyone he met and moved on. It’s believed he died at age 59 in a nursing home.
“The Camel Girl” Ella Harper
Ella was really handsome. The first thing people saw, sadly, was not her stunning face but the mysterious illness she had. She was born with recurved knees, and they bent like usual knees in the opposite direction. She could just get around on all fours.
She joined the Harris’ Nickel Plate Circus program at the age of 12 where she was dubbed “The Camel Girl.” She was portrayed as a beautiful woman who walked like a camel on all ads. Ella paid $200 a week (which now is about $5,000).
Ella wanted to quit the series at the age of 16, to go to school. Once she was 35 Ella married and shortly after the wedding she became pregnant. She had a daughter who died for unexplained reasons, before one’s age. She and her husband adopted a baby girl when Ella was 48 but also died when she was just 3 months old.
Three years later Ella died and was buried beside her family.