German-born George Krooner and his Canadian wife Georgianna had three children: Ralph, Lillian, and Edward. Of these three, only Ralph Albert, the eldest (b. July 2, 1888, in Montpelier, Vermont), was afflicted with a strange skin condition. Instead of the lamellar ichthyosis displayed by most "elephant-skinned" people, Ralph had hyperkeratosis of the feet, hands and knees. It was most severe on his feet, where the skin grew so thick and crusty that his toes were almost indistinguishable. One patch of hyperkeratotic skin on his knee bore a resemblance to an elephant’s head with its trunk extending down his shin.

He claimed in his autobiography that he'd spent most of his childhood in the hospital. "I have tried such things as X-ray, Radium, Grafting and Acids. The growth has been taken off, but cannot be kept off, a birthmark, caused by a fright my Mother received while witnessing a parade at a circus. The Elephants in that parade Stampeded, killing five people and injuring twenty-one people," Ralph wrote. Records show, however, that Ralph attended school at least until the age of 12, so his hospital visits couldn’t have taken up too much of his time.


Ralph worked for Wortham & Allen shows in the 1910s, where he invited doctors to examine him and debate the cause of his condition (most doubted his elephant-scare story). "His hands feel like a piece of wood," commented one doctor in 1912. He was married and earned $25 a week (about $530) plus whatever he could make selling pitch cards.


When Ralph appeared in Sheboygan in 1922, he was the center of a controversy, just as moral watchdogs were considering whether or not to ban the carnival from the city altogether. One of the chief complaints was that Ralph, himself an alleged victim of maternal impression, could "mark" the babies of pregnant mothers in the crowd. The suspiciously-named Dr. Elfers stepped in to clear up the matter: "There is no such thing as fright or fear or seeing things causing marked children or deformities, but this is not meant to encourage [pregnant women] to be too bold, as a calm and restful mind during this period has proven best." Nevertheless, complaints to the health department forced Ralph and his management to purge his show of any mention of maternal impression.


Ralph seemed to attract trouble. In 1936 he was arrested for stealing a car from the airport in his hometown of Montpelier. Just a few days earlier, he had gone to police claiming to have been hit by a car in Michigan City.


He died in Tampa in 1952.


Text courtesy of Elizabeth Anderson

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