Schlitzie The Pinhead

 

First of all I want you to understand that Schlitzie was a MALE, but was always presented as a female because she had to be diapered and it was easier to care for her when she was in her Moo-moo.

Schlitzie and her sister Athelia were the children of (this is the story I was told about them) a socially prominent and wealthy family from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I think this would have been in the early nineteen twenties. These people, as the story goes, were very ashamed of these two pin heads. They didn't want any of the people in the area or their friends to know that they had these children so they kept them hidden away.

Finally I don't know how or why this came about but they were given to Pete Kortes.  He was the owner of some very big sideshows. Pete kept Athelia and gave Schlitzie to George Kortes and his wife.  They worked with Pete.

Just as a side note, Schlitzie is best remember for here appearance in Tod Browning's 1932 movie Freaks which has now become a cult classic film.

Now I want to jump ahead to nineteen sixty with the EK Fernandez  Circus in Hawaii.  This was the first time I ever met Schlitzie. I had seen her before that time but this was the first time I ever worked with her. As I remember I think Mrs. Kortes had passed away and George still had Schlitzie and we worked on the circus at the same time. That was on the Sam Alexander Sideshow.  They were working for him at the time and so was I. They had already been with Sam for quite awhile before I got to meet her.

I don't remember the year George Kortes passed away. He had a daughter that lived in Los Angles she didn't have the facilities to take care of Schlitzie or the desire to do so. She didn't know what to do with Schlitzie and she had never been in the business. His daughter took Schlitzie to the Los Angles County Hospital and told them “here she is, you need to take care of her” then she left her there.

Fortunately a sword swallower by the name of Bill Bunks was working at the hospital, this would have been in the winter time off season. Bill just happened to see Schlitzie sitting in one of the hospital's waiting rooms. So Bill tried to talk with her but Schlitzie didn't communicate very well which made it impossible for him to carry on a conversation with her. He went to the folks that worked at the hospital and ask them why Schlitzie was there by herself? They told him what had happened, he immediately went to the phone and called Sam Alexander. Sam came right over to the hospital and explained the situation to the hospital administration. They told him the first thing they had to do was to find out her mental capacity so they ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Schlitzie. The state psychiatrist said when he heard the story, that normally he would have ordered Schlitzie to be put in an institution. "If we institutionalize Schlitzie it would be less than six months and she would be dead from a broken heart." His concern was that if she was away from the show people and the attention of the public she wouldn't be happy. So the state of California made Schlitzie a ward of Sam Alexander.

In those years Sam spent most of the season in Belmont Park in Montreal Canada in the summer.  In late August when it was time for the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto he went there. He played that fair for many years.  Because he played the same spot so long and we were also playing for the most part the same fairs, a lot of the time we would exchange acts. He would take an attraction from us and he would send us one of his. I don't remember who we sent to Sam that year but Sam sent us Schlitzie. She was with us starting the season of nineteen sixty seven.  She was with us that year and again in nineteen sixty eight.  In nineteen sixty nine she went back with Sam Alexander

Schlitzie was a very funny person.  He would do things that would seem comical.  For instance we had a bus that Schlitzie and Dick lived in and we also loaded equipment in the back of the bus. On night in nineteen sixty seven it was late in the season at some southern fair and it was tear down night. They had to have the bus open so they could load it.  There was kind of a chilly wind so we had Dick bring Schlitzie into our house trailer. Chris said, "Schlitzie looks chilled, I'm going to give him a shot of whiskey to warn him up." He took the bottle out of the cupboard and poured Schlitzie a shot and he drank it. Well he watched Chris put the bottle back into the cupboard, then he would sit there and make these funny little noises and point to the cupboard where the bottle was.  He wanted more whiskey but of course we didn't give him any, that’s the kind of things he did.

Schlitzie didn't talk very much, but sometimes when the show was going on he would see people going around inside the show, especially women and he would call one or maybe more over near his stage. He would say "you see that man over there, that’s my husband”. He would also hear conversations and then repeat them. Women would stand there and listen to him, it may have taken them three or four minutes but then they would realize that they were speaking to someone they didn't understand. Then they would be embarrassed.  You could see them kind of looking over their shoulder and then they would back away.

These are the kinds of things Schlitzie did.  He had this gesture too.  He would take two fingers of his right hand and would tap them on the palm of his left hand. He would say “You See, You See”. He also became pleasantly amused when somebody would drop or break something.  He would think that it was really funny.

Schlitzie as an attraction, was a great attraction. I remember my partner Chris, he was just a young man at that time, I think he was around twenty two years old. Schlitzie first joined our show in Allentown, Pennsylvania it was the first week in August. Chris had never seen Schlitzie before, he said “that has to be the strangest human being that I have ever seen."  Just to show you how you build relationships with each other, by the end of the season there were people, as usual, gathered around the stage looking at Schlitzie and Chris said “why do people always want to stand around and gawk at Schlitzie? I don't understand what’s so strange about Schlitzie.” As you get to know people and get used to one another things don't seem to be strange anymore.

I don't remember the year but it wasn't too long after nineteen sixty nine that Sam retired Schlitzie. He got an apartment for Schlitzie and a nurse.  A guy by the name of Dick. Their apartment was near one of the City Parks in Los Angles.  On nice days Dick would take Schlitzie out to the park and they would sit on a one of the benches. People would come by and some of the would stare at Schlitzie while others might ask questions. But after awhile Schlitzie had a little following of his own made up of local people. This made Schlitzie happy and helped with his survival.  When he finally died I think he was up in his eighties.

 

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