Johnny Eck the
half-man was a leading sideshow attraction during the
1930's. Born in 1911 without legs he got around by running
on his hands.
He gained national recognition after his appearance, along
with dozens of other human oddities, in the film FREAKS.
In April of 2008 Eck was voted into the Coney Island "Freaks
Hall of Fame." A special program was presented May 10, 2008
at the Creative Alliance Theater in Baltimore MD Eck's
"Half Man/Whole Life: Johnny Eck!" began when Elias Savada,
historian and co-author of Tod Browning bio "Dark Carnival"
presented a commentary on the film FREAKS. The film would
prove to be one of the most influential horror flicks of the
early sound period. When the 1932 shocking film was released
many theaters refused to exhibit it. Many states heavily
censored it and it was banned in England for three years.
Savada described the scenes cut from some of the censored
versions and also related alternate endings that were made
to the film. These were later shown in his presentation. The
horror film which is technically primitive by today's
standards has become a cult favorite and is available on
Following the film presentation^sideshow historian and
author James "Shocked & Amazed" Taylor discussed Eck's
To add a sideshow flavor to the evening, champion sword
swallower Johnny Fox and Taylor performed several sideshow
Local magician Jack Gaylin, friend and colleague of Eck,
told of personal experiences with Eck who often performed
magic as part of his sideshow act. Jeff Gordon a local
collector of Eck's artifacts recently purchased the house
where Eck was born and lived all his life. Gordon has long
range plans to turn it into a museum honoring one of the
city's most fascinating figures. Gordon has spent $100,000
on all things Eck.
Gordon related that Eck whose height was only 18 inches was
extremely talented. He carved and painted toy circuses,
perfected magic tricks, and operated Punch & Judy shows.
He drove race cars, kept in shape with gymnastics, swam for
the weightless fun of it and was a scenic artist.
He owned and operated his own railroad from 1957 through
1970's: a miniature train with engine, three cars and 300
feet of track. It carried 20 kids at a time. Eck died of a
heart attack Jan. 5, 1991 at the age of 79.
Following Gordon's presentation there was an hour long
question and answer period with the panel consisting of
Savada, Taylor, Fox and Gordon.
It was an informative and entertaining program about
half-man Johnny Eck, Baltimore's multi talented Renaissance