Zip the Pinhead

Today’s Zippy, with yet another freak:


Possibly the source of Zippy’s name, though the model for the character was almost surely the microcephalic Schlitzie, who’s figured in several Zippy strips posted here.

From Wikipedia:

Zip the Pinhead, real name William Henry Johnson (ca. 1842 in Liberty Corner, New Jersey – April 9, 1926 in New York City, New York), was an American freak show performer famous for his tapered head.

William Henry Johnson was born one of six children to a very poor African-American family. His parents were William and Mahalia Johnson, former slaves. As he grew, his body developed normally but his head remained small. His tapering cranium and heavy jaw made him attractive to agents from van Emburgh’s Circus in Somerville, New Jersey. His unusual appearance caused many to believe that he was a “pinhead”, or microcephalic. Microcephaly patients are characterized by a small, tapering cranium and often have impaired mental faculty. It is arguable, however, that William Henry was not mentally deficient.

William Henry’s parents agreed to allow the circus to display him in return for money. He was billed as a missing link, supposedly caught in Africa and displayed in a cage. He was a popular draw, and his success led young William Henry’s agent to show his charge to P.T. Barnum.

Barnum purchased the right to display William Henry Johnson from the circus and gave him a new look. A furry suit was made to fit him, and his hair was shaped to a tiny point that further accented his sloping brow. Finally, he was given the name, “Zip the Pinhead,” the “What-Is-It?”

Eventually he went on display at Coney Island and lived until the end of his life there.

Photos by Matthew Brady (the Civil War photographer):


And a (poor quality) photo of Johnson as a wild man of Borneo:


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