"Alzoria, the Turtle Girl" was born in 1912, the only child in a family of nine afflicted with her peculiar condition. She made a career for herself exhibiting at Coney Island from the 1930s-50s, under a variety of unflattering names including "Walrus Girl" and "Pig Woman". Her arms, stunted and without recognizable elbows, ended in small hands with six stubby, boneless fingers apiece. She had six toes on one foot, and only one toe on the other. Despite this, men were attracted to her - or at least to her bank account. She was married twice and was known at various points as Alzoria Green and Alzoria Lewis.

Accompanying Alzoria on the Coney Island stage was Johanna Dickens, a younger woman with similar limb deformities. She was known as The Bear Girl and was billed as either Alzoria's sister or her cousin.

Coney Island magician Walt Hudson offers a remarkable account of Alzoria's stage act in the April 1990 issue of Circus Report, reprinted by Chris Fellner in his zine Freaks in February 1996: "She was a black girl in her mid-twenties. She was really just a torso with stubs for arms and legs. At the end of each 'arm' was a deformed hand. As she made her entrance, waddling on all fours, she looked more like an animal than a human being. She hobbled onto the stage carrying a cigar box, which contained photo postcards of herself."

Alzoria addressed the crowd in a stereotyped Southern Black dialect, which Hudson relates phonetically: "Ah wuz born on a small farm near Opelika, Alabama, twenny-fo' years ago. [At other times, she claimed to be from Frankfort, Kentucky.] Mah momma wuz jest twelve years old, an' she wuz teched in her head. Ah don' know who mah poppa wuz, an' I wuz raised by anudder lady who got me from mah momma when ah wuz a teeny child o' two. Momma an' me wuz walkin' down a country road when diz lady an' her husban' seen me an' mah momma an' axed her where she wuz takin' dat po'child. Momma said, fo' a walk, an' dah lady said she would like to have a baby, an' could she take me fo' a while?

"Mah momma axed dah lady what she would pay her fo' givin' me to dah lady. Dah lady give momma twenny-five cents an' a string o' glass beads she was wearin', an' momma give me to dah lady. Ah never seen mah momma again, an' ah was raised by dah lady an' her husband, who give me mah name.

"When ah wuz bigger, dey sold me to a travelin' show each summer. Many times ah wuz molested by boys on dah show, but ah couldn't do nothin' about it. When dah shows closed fo' dah winter, ah went home. Ah only went to dah third grade in school. Now ah work heah every summer. If you'en wan' mah pitcher, dey's ten cents each, an' ah t'ank you." Alzoria proceeded to sell all of her pitch cards to the sympathetic crowd, autographing as many of them as she could. Then Hudson met Alzoria backstage and expressed condolences about her sad past.

She replied, "Fooled you, didn't I, little white boy? Don't believe that crap I tell the marks. I make them feel sorry for me, and they buy the photos. Some of them toss a quarter in the box and don't take any change. I was born and raised a couple of blocks from here, over on Bridgewater Avenue. I went to public school here in Brooklyn and graduated high school. My brother picks me up every night and I go home to my own apartment. I live comfortably and make enough money during the summer months to keep my all winter. I even have a boyfriend."

Many modern people express shock and disdain for the "exploitation" of the old freak shows, but stories such as Alzoria's make one question who, indeed, was being exploited.

 

Text courtesy of Elizabeth Anderson  phreeque.com

 


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