Freak-onomics

by on April 16, 2010 at 7:30 am in Economics, Food and Drink, History | Permalink

Here, courtesy of Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior, is a picture of Chauncy Morlan (1869-1906) who, because of his “freakish” weight, people once paid good money to see as he toured Europe and America with the Barnum & Bailey circus.  Although a tinge of freakishness still attaches to shows like The Biggest Loser the dominant theme is a feeling
of camaraderie and the hope that if the contestants can lose weight then so can anyone
with similar problem and goals.

What would the circus goers of 1890 have thought if they were told that in the America of 2010 Chauncy Morlan would be unremarkable?

Chauncy

Tom T. April 16, 2010 at 7:40 am

It says in the linked page that Morgan weighed as much as 875 pounds. I think that’s still a bit unusual even today.

razib April 16, 2010 at 8:36 am

perhaps he swallowed lead? dude is fat. but he ain’t springer worthy.

T. Shaw April 16, 2010 at 8:56 am

Life, then, was harsh and short.

People needed distractions/entertainments. The Gracchi brothers gave Roman Plebs bread and circuses. The pharaohs made them build (and enjoy it!) pyramids.

They (the congress/IRS of the day) also presented public executions, free of charge.

Who says these are the good old days?

Ryan Vann April 16, 2010 at 9:09 am

Dude still looks hugenormous to me. He’d probably be a Pro-Wrestling oddity in today’s world.

Slocum April 16, 2010 at 9:29 am

Meh — it’s not as if fat people were all that unusual at the time. William Howard Taft went as much as 330. And much longer ago than that, Erasmus Darwin (Charles’s grandfather) grew so fat he supposedly had a cut-out in his dining table to accommodate his huge girth.

To me what’s interesting about the story is how starved for entertainment people were in 1890 that they would be willing to go and pay money to see circus freaks at all. How bored would you have to be before that sounded like a worthwhile way to spend time and money?

Yancey Ward April 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

Yesteryear’s reality TV, Slocum.

Jeff April 16, 2010 at 11:40 am

I’d peg him at around 400 pounds based on that picture, but he might’ve weighed more if he were unusually tall. Simply knowing that he toured the country and Europe is probably enough to put some upper bounds on his weight.

Swimmy April 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Ryan Vann: I take it you don’t live in the south.

Floccina April 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

We had 2 recent movies showing stories of 2 poor kids each weighing over 300lbs. What a rich time and place.

Paul McCaffree April 16, 2010 at 9:46 pm

The picture gives testament to the fine construction of the delicate chair he is sitting on — with those little rollers on the legs, that the bearings could sustain the weight.

liberalarts April 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

That is not a chair, it is a love seat designed for 2 people. Forget the bearings, the impressive thing are the tied springs that were part of the cushioning system in that era.

Tom April 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Maybe Jamie Oliver is on to something?

Phatty April 19, 2010 at 3:28 am

“It’s amazing that so many Americans have become so fat. I think the CDC says that a bug majority of adults are either overweight or obese.”

Almost as bad as not even being able to Spell “big” huh ace?

dj spellchecka April 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm

just the other night,in northeast ohio, i saw a man at least this big, stugging to get to the top of a bar stool….he was a paramedic…

rosetta stone spanish June 24, 2010 at 10:27 pm

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