Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ota Benga: The Man Who Was Caged In A Zoo

 1906 photograph of Ota Benga taken at the Bronx Zoo.

Ota Benga was a Mbuti (Congo pygmy) man born in the Ituri Rainforest of the Belgian Congo
in 1883. His village was attacked by the Force Publique, established by King Leopold II of
Belgium as a militia to enslave the natives for labor in order to capitalize on the large supply
of rubber  available in the Congo. During the assault Benga's wife and two children were killed.
Benga survived only because he was on a hunting expedition when the Force Publique
attacked his village. He would later be captured by "Baschelel" (Bashilele) slave traders.

In 1904 American businessman and explorer Samuel Phillips Verner travelled to Africa under
contract from the St. Louis World Fair with the sole purpose of bringing back a group of 12 pygmies to be part of an exhibition. When he arrived in Africa, Verner met with a tribe known as the Baschelel and he found that they had a pygmy in a cage as a captive. He managed to negotiate an agreement for the purchase of Ota Benga for several bags of salt and a spool of brass wire. Verner would later profess that he had rescued Benga from cannibals.

Samuel P Verner took Benga captive in Congo and brought him back to the United 

Verner and Benga travelled together  until they reached a Batwa village. The villagers did
not trust the muzungu (white man) due to the abuses of King Leopold's forces. With some persuasion from Benga, four Batwa, all male, ultimately decided to accompany them to St. Louis. Verner managed to recruit other non-pygmy Africans to also make the trip, including the son of King Ndombe, ruler of the Bakuba.

The group was brought to St. Louis, Missouri, in late June 1904 without Verner, who had
been stricken with malaria. The St. Louis World Fair had already begun, and instantly the
Africans became the prime attraction. Ota Benga was the most popular of the group with
people especially  eager to see his teeth, which had been filed to sharp points in his
early youth as ritual decoration. One newspaper called Ota Benga the  "the only genuine
African cannibal in America", and claimed that "[his teeth were] worth the five cents he charges
for showing them to visitors". It had not taken the Africans long to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and begin charging for photographs and performances.

Ota Benga, at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, showing his sharpened teeth.

Benga (second from left) and the Batwa in St. Louis.

When Verner arrived a month later, he realized the pygmies were more prisoners than 
performers. Their attempts to enjoy the forests surrounding St. Louis on Sundays was 
interrupted by the public's incessant obsession with them. At the end of the World's Fair 
Verner was awarded the gold medal in anthropology for his efforts in bringing the pygmies 
to St. Louis.

Benga went with Verner when he returned the other Africans to the  Belgian Congo. He 
briefly lived amongst the Batwa (becuse his village had been wiped out in the aforementioned attack), while continuing to accompany Verner on his African mission. He married a Batwa woman who later died of snakebite, and very little is known of this second marriage. Not feeling that he belonged with the Batwa, and being totally alone, Benga decided to return with Verner to America and landed in New York with Verner in 1906.

After a brief stint at the American Museum of Natural History, Verner took Benga to the 
Bronx Zoo. Shortly thereafter Benga was displayed as part of the New York Anthropological 
Society’s exhibit on human evolution. Once again he became the most popular public display 
item in America.

Ota Benga at the American Museum of Natural History, 1906.

African-American clergymen immediately protested to zoo officials about the exhibit.  
James H. Gordon stated that "Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting 
one of us with the apes ... We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with 
souls." Gordon felt that the exhibit was antagonistic to Christianity and was in effect a 
promotion of Darwinism: "The Darwinian theory is absolutely opposed to Christianity, and a 
public demonstration in its favor should not be permitted." 

Reverend James Gordon led the protests against Ota Benga’s exhibition and captivity at 
the Bronx Zoo. 1906.

One report states that as many as 400,000 people a day went up to the zoo just to see Ota 
Benga. The 1900s were a decade when the theory of evolution was still being hotly debated. 
It wasn't as broadly accepted even in the scientific community as it is today. And people 
were probably led to believe by the nature of the exhibition that this was a missing link. 
This was a bridge between the animals and the humans that had never been seen before.

After the dispute, Benga was given free reign of the zoo. Despite this, and because of 
continued verbal and physical prods from the gathered crowds at the zoo, he became more 
vexatious and somewhat violent. Eventually the zoo finally removed Benga from the grounds. 
For reasons unknown, Verner and Benga decided that it was best that he stay in America.

Toward the end of 1906, Benga was released into Reverend Gordon's custody.

Gordon placed Benga in the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, a church-sponsored orphanage 
which he supervised. As the unwelcome press attention continued, in January 1910, Gordon 
arranged for Benga's relocation to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he lived with a local 

In order that Benga could more easily assimilate into local society, Gordon arranged for 
the Benga's teeth to be capped and gave him American-style clothes. He was then sent to 
elementary school to improve his English as well to learn other subjects.

Once he felt his English had improved to acceptable levels, Benga decided to leave school. 
He began working at a Lynchburg tobacco factory. He proved to be a valued employee because 
he could climb up the poles to get the tobacco leaves without having to use a ladder. His 
fellow workers knicknamed him "Bingo". He would tell his life story in exchange for 
sandwiches and root beer. He began to plan a return to Africa but when World War I broke 
out, he was unable to do so.

Benga became despondent as his dreams of a return to Africa diminished. On 20 March 1916, 
at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth, and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol. He was finally free. 

Thus ended Ota Benga's heart-rending saga of unhappiness and abuse at the hands of a great 
many misguided and deluded people.

Ota Benga at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair

A group of pygmies, including Ota Benga, dancing at the St. Louis World Fair.

New York times article covering Ota Benga's display in Bronx Zoo, 1906.

Samuel P Verner in Congo in 1902 with members of the Batetela tribe.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Grady Stiles - The Murderous "Lobster Boy"

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1937, Grady Stiles Jr., aka "Lobster Boy", was one in
a long line of people in the Stiles family, dating back to 1840, who suffered from a rare
and strange physical condition known as ectrodactyly. This genetic condition was one in
which the fingers and toes are fused together to form claw-like extremities.

Grady Stiles Sr. was a sideshow attraction in a traveling carnival when his son was born
and he jumped at the opportunity to add his son to the freak show act at the age of seven.
Stiles Sr. married twice and had four children, two of whom also had ectrodactyly.

Many have viewed this disorder as a handicap, yet for the Stiles family it was seen, and
used as, an opportunity. As far back as the 1800s, as the family grew and produced more
children with unusual hands and feet, they developed a circus act: The Lobster Family,
which became a carnival freak show staple throughout the early 20th century.

Grady Stiles, the Lobster Boy, as an adult (L) and as a child (R).

Grady Stiles Jr.’s case of ectrodactyly was very extreme: as well as affecting his hands,
the disease also took hold of his feet and therefore he was unable to walk.

For most of his life, he mainly used a wheelchair — but he also learned to use his upper
body to propel himself across the floor thus developing amazing strength. As Grady grew
older, he became formidably strong, something that would not work well with his homicidal
rage later in life.

Throughout his childhood, Stiles and his family toured with the carnival, spending down
time in Gibsonton, Florida, as many “carnies” did. The family made out well financially:
they made anywhere between $50,000 to $80,000 per season, and unlike a lot of freak show
acts didn’t have to subject themselves to anything more than curious stares.
While working the carnival circuit, Lobster Boy met another young "carnie" woman named
Mary Teresa. Though she did not suffer from any mutations, she ran away to join the
carnival at 19 and fell in love with Grady. The two married and had several children
together, two of which inherited Grady’s ectrodactyly.

They began to tour as the Lobster Family, but things went south when Grady began drinking.
Regarded as a mean drunk, Grady apparently assaulted his wife and children for years until
one night in 1973. Stiles was notoriously verbally and physically abusive to people, often
hitting them or choking them with his claw hands. He would often head-butt people in
anger. On that night, Grady fought with Mary, threw her to the ground and ripped her IUD
out of her body with his bare hands. She immediately divorced him. Grady Stiles would
eventually remarry, though his second wife, too, would divorce him as well.

Things would continue to go downhill for the family after that. In 1978 Stiles' eldest
daughter, Donna, fell in love with a young man that he didn’t approve of,  and again he demonstrated
his penchant for violence.

The facts of the story are unclear. Stiles either went to see his daughter’s fiance, Jack
Layne, at his home, or invited the young man over under the guise of giving his blessing
for the wedding planned for the next day.However it began, on the night before the
wedding, Stiles used his shotgun to unmercifully murder his daughter’s fiance.

There was no doubt about Grady’s guilt as he openly confessed to the crime, but he would
never serve any time for the crime. Although he was found guilty of  third-degree murder
in 1979, Grady’s life of alcoholism and cigarette smoking had taken a toll. He had
cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema in addition to his ectrodactyly. Therefore, it was
determined he would not receive adequate medical care in prison and it would be unusually cruel
punishment to incarcerate his under conditions where his maladies and infirmities could not be properly addressed. Although he had been convicted of murder, Grady was remarkably sentenced to house arrest and 15 years probation.

Escaping prison made Grady arrogant and overconfident, and he had apparently told others
that he could kill them and get away with it since he already done it once. Inexplicably
Grady’s first wife Mary remarried him in 1989. His Angry and abusive drinking coupled with
a feeling of indestructability from getting away with murder made Grady even more brutal
than he had been before.

Grady Stiles and his children.

In 1992, a few years after she had remarried Grady, she paid her 17-year-old neighbor,
Chris Wyant, $1,500 to kill him. Stiles incessant drinking and his immense feeling of
invulnerability had become too much for Mary to handle. The beatings were increasing and
showing no signs of letting up. Maria Teresa’s son from another marriage, Glenn, had
helped her concoct and carry out the plan. One night, Wyant took a .32 Colt Automatic he’d
had a friend purchase for him into Stiles’ trailer in Florida and shot him dead at point-
blank range while he watched television.

Not one of the co-conspirators denied that they had ever meant to kill Grady Stiles.
During the trial, his wife spoke at great length about his abusive history. “My husband
was going to kill my family,” she told the court, “I believe that from the bottom of my
heart.” At least one of their children, Cathy, testified against Grady as well. Stiles was
so hated in his community that no one was willing to be his pallbearer at his funeral.

In the end, Wyant was sentenced to 27 years in prison, with no chance of parole, for first
degree murder. Mary was sentenced to 12 years in prison for manslaughter.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Poignant Photos Showing Children During World War 2

An untold number of children were touched by the atrocities of World War II. Throughout the
war, the proportion of civilian deaths to military deaths is said to have been as high as
three to one — and some countries were definitely affected much worse than others.

The country most affected during the war was Poland. More than 6 million people, equal to
one-sixth of the country's pre-war population, died during World War II. All of these
victims were predominantly civilian, with a great many of them being children.

However, getting caught up in the maelstrom of war, whether it be a mass execution or a
bombing raid were not the only tragic circumstances that Polish children had to worry
about. Many of them faced the distinct possibility of being kidnapped by their German
oppressors. Under "Generalplan Ost" — the Nazi plan for genocide and ethnic cleansing in
Europe — tens of thousands of Polish children were kidnapped and taken to Germany to become

It has been calculated that over 250,000 Polish children were kidnapped during World War
II. It is estimated that nearly 75 percent of these children never made it back home to
their families in Poland after the war.

Aside from Poland, a large number of other countries suffered immensely horrifying civilian
casualties during World War II. Some of the countries include the Soviet Union,
China, Germany (where an estimated 76,000 children died as a direct result of Allied
bombing raids), Japan, India, and the Philippines.

Let us not forget that more than 1 million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis and
their allies or packed into ghettos across Eastern Europe. In these ghettos, children often
died from starvation and other privations. Those that did not die in the ghettos were
either consigned to the death camps to be gassed or were executed and placed in mass

Only those adults and children who were considered productive and useful to the German war
effort were spared and even then, their fate was effectively secured by the horrendous
working conditions and the miniscule amount of food given to each for subsistence.
What made these mass killings even worse was the fact that, during the war, most of the
world thought that these stories of mass extermination and death camps were propaganda -
tales not to be believed.

Many of the most touching photographs that depict children during World War 2 show Britain
during the Blitz. A large number of British children were sent away to the countryside as
part of the government’s evacuation scheme known as Operation Pied Piper. The evacuation
scheme had been touted as a great success in the media but in actual fact, by early 1940,
more than 60 percent of children had returned home, just in time to witness the Blitz. All
told, at least 5,028 children died during the Blitz.

While historians have tended to focus on other more high profiles topics relating to the
Second World War the fact remains that without a doubt, children are the forgotten victims
of the war.

Children in a concentration camp during WW2

A homeless boy points out his bedroom to his friends after his home had been wrecked 
during a random bombing raid in an eastern suburb of London. 1940.

Evacuee children sent away from London greet their parents during a special one-day 
reunion. December 4, 1939.

Jewish children, survivors of Auschwitz, stand with a nurse behind a barbed wire 
fence. Poland. February 1945.

A mother and child wear gas masks during a tear gas exercise in Kingston-On-Thames, 
England. 1941.

Children in London, who have been made homeless by the Nazi night bombing, wait 
outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940.

Three young evacuees sit on their suitcases ready for their journey away from the 
danger of the city. England. 1940.

An elderly woman and several children walk to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. 
Poland. 1944.

A group of children wearing gas masks carry out a practice evacuation of a school in 
Kingston, Greater London, after a canister of tear gas was discharged. 1941.

Children perch on a tree near the Brandenburg Gate to watch a U.S. cargo plane arrive 
during the Berlin Airlift. June 24, 1948.

A group of child survivors stand behind a barbed wire fence at the Auschwitz-Birkenau 
concentration camp in southern Poland on the day of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army. 
January 27, 1945.

Children play on the bomb sites and wrecked tanks in Berlin in the aftermath of the 
fighting there. 1945.

A young child cries upon arriving at King's Cross Station in London for wartime 
relocation. 1939.

London children wear their gas masks as they play in the park at their temporary homes 
on the south coast of England. 1940

A Jewish boy raises his hands at gunpoint during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 
civilians against the Nazis. Poland. April-May 1943.

A little girl holds her doll in the rubble of her bomb-damaged home. England. 1940.

American Supply Sergeant Ralph Gordon kneels in a street to give a piece of gum to a 
barefoot German girl during the Allied occupation after the war. Scheinfeld, Germany. 
October 1945.

A young refugee hangs onto his dog's leash whilst awaiting wartime evacuation. 
Location unspecified. 1940.

London schoolchildren try on their gas masks. 1941.

Children play in a bomb-damaged area of London. March 1946.

A boy retrieves an item from a rubble-strewn street after German bombing raids in the 
first month of the Blitz in England. September 1940.

A group of London children inspect bomb damage outside their front door. 1944.

 Two little girls read a board advertising carrots instead of ice pops. Wartime 
shortages of chocolate and ice cream made such substitutions a necessity. London. 1941.

Mothers and their children step out of the train at Auschwitz concentration camp. 
Poland. 1944

Father Christmas hands out toys and games, including a set of building bricks, to 
children at a home for evacuees in Henley-on-Thames, England. 1941.

Although "Ramshaw" the eagle is hooded, this little evacuee decided to take no 
chances, and made use of her gas mask to take a closer look at the eagle. England. 1941.

A young "Sergeant Major" inspects some British schoolboys who have been evacuated to 
Kent at the start of the war. The "soldiers" are carrying carry wooden guns. 1939.

Young boys swing from a lamp post in the midst of rubble left by a bombing raid on 
London during the Blitz. 1940.

An abandoned boy holds a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following a German aerial 
bombing of London. 1940.

A porter pushes the luggage of evacuees bound for Wales on a trolley at a London 
railway station, with a young boy perched on top of the suitcases. 1940.

 Child survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp stand near the fence just before 
being liberated by the Red Army. Poland. January 27, 1945.

Some of the first children to be evacuated from London under a new law which compels 
parents to send away any child suffering in any way from shelter life. Children participate 
in a gas mask drill at a residential school near Windsor. Date unspecified.

A little French girl finds three admirers from the ranks of American forces who have 
made a speedy and successful advance through Normandy, France on June 22, 1944. 

Young London residents celebrate VE-Day, 1945

A little girl waits nervously with her doll and luggage before leaving London for her 
billet. 1940.

A woman fits a child with a gas mask at school. England. 1940.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Nat Love: America's Greatest Black Cowboy of the Wild West

Nat Love

Mounted on my favorite horse, my … lariat near my hand, and my trusty guns in my belt … I 
felt I could defy the world.

— Nat Love in The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, 1907

Thousands of black cowboys drove cattle up the Chisholm Trail after the Civil War, but only
Nat (pronounced Nate) Love wrote about his experiences. Due to this, Love's exploits would
make him one of the most famous black cowboys in post-Civil War America.

Nat Love was born in June 1854 as a slave on Robert Love’s plantation in Davidson County,
Tennessee. His father was a slave foreman on the plantation's fields, and his mother the
head of its kitchen. He was looked after primarily by an older sister when he was young,
but she, like her mother, worked in the kitchen so Nat basically looked after himself.
Despite the fact that black literacy was banned by law, Nat learned to read and write as a
child with the help of his father, Sampson.

When slavery ended, Love's parents stayed on the Love plantation as sharecroppers,
attempting to raise tobacco and corn on about 20 acres, but Sampson died shortly after the
second crop was planted. In order to keep the farm going for his family, young Nat took
another job on a neighboring farms to help out. During this time he developed a keen skill
for breaking horses which would soon come in handy to him. After a period of working extra
odd jobs in the area Nat won a horse in a raffle, and then promptly sold the beast back to
its original owner for $50. He would use this money to leave town and, at the age of 16,
after leaving his family in an uncle's care, he headed West.

Nat's first stop was Dodge City, Kansas where he came across the crew of the Texas Duval
Ranch (located on the Palo Duro River in the Texas Panhandle). Having just brought a herd
to the Kansas railhead, the Cowboys were having a leisurely breakfast when Nat decided to
join them. In the range-cattle industry 25 percent of cowboys were black. Usually former
slaves many black men had gained experience in cattle handling and horse-breaking. While
discrimination was still prevalent, it was not as bad as other industries and a black man
was able to generally be treated equal to white men in terms of pay and responsibilities.
So it was a not un-toward of Nat to present himself to the trail boss asking for a job. The
trail boss agreed to give the young man a job if he was able to break a tough horse called
"Good Eye". The wildest horse in the outfit, Nat would later say it was the toughest ride
he’d ever had. But ride the horse he did and was given the job with the Duval Ranch at $30
a month.

Black Cowboys of the Wild West

According to his autobiography, Love fought cattle rustlers and endured inclement weather.
He trained himself to become an expert marksman and cowboy, for which he earned from his
co-workers the moniker "Red River Dick." He soon became known as one of the best all-around
cowboys in the Duval outfit. Eventually he became a buyer and their chief brand reader. In
this capacity, he was sent to Mexico on several occasion and soon learned to speak Spanish

By 1872, After three years with the Duval Ranch, Love decided to head off to Arizona, where
he went to work for the Gallinger Ranch on the Gila River. There he traveled many of the
the major western trails, sometimes working in dangerous situations in Indian battles and
fighting off rustlers and bandits. He wrote in his autobiography that while working the
cattle drives in Arizona he met Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, and others as
well as seeing a soon-after view of the Custer battlefield in 1876.

In the spring of 1876, the Gallinger outfit were given a herd of three thousand steers to
deliver to Deadwood, South Dakota. When they arrived there on July 3rd, the locals were
busy preparing for a 4th of July celebrations. One of the many organized events included a
“cowboy” contest with a $200 cash prize to the winner. Love entered the contest and he
subsequently won the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle, and bronco riding contests, thus
taking with him the grand prize. It was at this rodeo that he claims friends and fans gave
him the nickname "Deadwood Dick." He became known as DD all over the West, “entering into
dime novels as a mysteriously dark and heroic presence”, says his autobiography.

Love writes that in October 1877 he was captured by a band of Pima Indians while rounding
up stray cattle near the Gila River in Arizona. He claimed in his autobiography: “I carry
the marks of fourteen bullet wounds on different parts of my body, most any one of which
would be sufficient to kill an ordinary man, but I am not even crippled.”  Several of the
aforementioned bullet wounds were received in his fight with the Native Americans while
trying to avoid capture. Love wrote that his life was spared because the Indians respected
his heritage, a large portion of the band themselves being of mixed blood. The Pima nursed
him back to health, wishing to adopt him into the tribe. In spite of the warmth shown to
him, Love writes, he stole a pony and escaped into west Texas.

By 1889 Nat had decided to leave the cowboy life and settle down and get married. The next
year he took a job in Denver, Colorado as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande
Railroad. As such, he worked on the routes west of Denver and moved his family several
times to Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada before finally settling down in southern California.

In 1907, Nat Love published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better
Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick.”  “Written with an air of braggadocio,
Love’s story is, in places, of questionable veracity. Nevertheless, it is a charming
first-hand account of the life of one cowboy that emphasizes the necessity of cooperation
and camaraderie in the performance of work on the trails, ranges, and ranches of the cattle
kingdom,” writes American Black History. Love spent the last part of his life as a courier
and guard for a Los Angeles securities company.

Nat Love, America’s most famous black cowboy, passed away at age 67 in 1921 in Los Angeles,