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Looking for information about Rudolph Grauwitch aka ‘The Gorilla Man’ who performed for Adam Forepaugh’s circus in the early 1880s. Any information will be greatly appreciated!

Kory Rogers, Shelburne Museum.

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Bona fide gorillas were a rarity and thus anything bearing the name, including known animal frauds, provoked interest. Other beasts were billed as gorillas, such was the interest to observe one outside the natural habitat. The only true gorilla brought to Europe during Grauwitch’s time reportedly died at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in the spring of 1884. This was in Clipper, May 24, 1884, page 150. At an estimated age of less than four years, he was exhibited during the time frame when Grauwitch was active.
The first true gorilla didn’t arrive in North America until 1897; it was preceded by fraudulent presentations. The 1897 example and other aspects of the species here are covered in ‘The Ringling-Barnum Gorillas and Their Cages’ in Bandwagon, Nov-Dec 2006. There are surely numerous zoological papers on the topic.

Rudolph Grauwitch, the ‘Gorilla Man’, was possibly an example of an extremely hirsute man, enduring hypertrichosis, akin to JoJo (The Dog-Faced Man/Boy), Lionel (Lion-faced Boy) and others who appeared with side shows, dime museums and the like. The February 18, 1882 New York Clipper, page 791, stated: Two features of Forepaugh’s sideshow imported to this country, we are informed, will be a man with the head of a horse, and a gorilla man entirely covered with hair from head to foot. So, Grauwitch was presumably from abroad, European given his name, and was with Forepaugh for the first time in 1882 – unless his true origin was aggrandized for publicity purposes as was common practice. You’ve already found his listing in the 1883 Forepaugh route book, on this website: https://circushistory.wpengine.com/History/Forepaugh1883.htm. In that entry, arrivals from Europe are noted as such, giving rise to questions about his origin. The Forepaugh sideshow roster published in the Clipper, May 3, 1884, page 105, fails to include Grauwitch. So, he may have done a typical two-year turn and moved on, perhaps shaving or dropping his disguise.

Neither ‘gorilla man’ nor Rudolph Grauwitch garnered many search hits, which might reflect limitations of OCR, spelling variations, or little interest in his presentation. His two-year stint stands in contrast to JoJo’s career. Being back-to-back, the comparison may be revealing. Forepaugh white-washed an elephant for the 1884 ‘white elephant war’ season and had previously tried to pass off a very young imported elephant named ‘Chicago’ as a domestic birth. Perhaps his ‘gorilla man’ was an equal ruse; not a really hairy man, but one in a suit that portrayed a gorilla. This fit in with portrayals of wild men, missing links and the like, all popular in the wake of Darwin’s publication.

JoJo, reportedly born Fedor Jeftichew, is alleged to have been signed by Barnum in 1884, but during 1883-1886 the sideshow privilege was contracted out to others. ‘Discovered by Barnum’ may be a meaningless assertion generated later and needing confirmation. The sideshow attractions would have been contracted by the sideshow concessionaires. It could be argued that JoJo first garnered national attention while touring with Barnum & London in 1885. His arrival in the US, on October 12, 1884, accompanied by a personal manager, is documented in newspaper accounts in late 1884 (Sacramento Daily Record-Union, October 14, 1884; Morrisville (VT) News and Citizen, November 6, 1884). It was announced he will be exhibited. The earliest booking located was for the dime museum in Indianapolis in January 1885 (Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 5, 1885, ‘dog face man’). This preceded any affiliation with the Barnum outfit. JoJo’s name is first listed as a Barnum & London attraction in an advertisement in the New York Sun, April 14, 1885. He’s listed as a show museum attraction in the 1885 route book, his manager identified as Nicholas Foster. The museum had an ethnological character, more so than the sideshow, and may have been a presentation controlled by the circus. His whereabouts during the summer of 1886 are unknown, he was not with the Barnum show, but findable bookings before and after the touring season place him in dime museums. In 1887 he traveled with the S. H. Barrett show. The remainder of his career can be documented elsewhere.

Other ‘gorilla men’ donned hairy suits and another was a mummy (1891). In 1898 there was a clever chimpanzee named Sally accompanied by her consort, Congo, the gorilla man. The true nature of Sally was ambiguous in reviews, but Congo seems to be of the ‘missing link’ sort of attraction generated by Darwinian interpretations.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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