Monday, July 25, 2011


I am not making this up!  There really is such a thing as werewolf syndrome, and the real name for it is hypertrichosis.  This is not like in the movies, where a person turns into a werewolf every time there's a full moon.  No, this is different.  It's where a person has a whole bunch of hair growing on them, like for instance all over their entire face, where you would not expect a human to have hair.

There are two ways you can get hypertrichosis, and one is that you are born with it, and the other is that you get it later in life, like because of some drugs you are taking or because you have cancer or maybe because of an eating disorder.  If you have this second kind of werewolf syndrome, it can usually be treated, but if you are born with it, you are pretty much stuck with it.

Luckily, it's very rare for people to be born with this condition.  The first case ever recorded was in 1648, and the man who had it was named Petrus Gonzales.  He lived in the Canary Islands.  In the Gonzales family, there were also two daughters, a son, and a grandchild who had hypertrichosis.  Since 1648, there have only been about 50 cases of people born with hypertrichosis, so it really doesn't happen very much.

In the past, a lot of people who had werewolf syndrome got jobs in circus freak shows because they looked so strange.  One of these people was Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Man.  His real name was Fedor Jeftichew, and he was born in Russia in 1868.  Mr. Jeftichew's father had hypertrichosis also, and they both toured with French circuses until the father died.  Then P.T. Barnum brought the son to the U.S. when he was 16.

Mr. Barnum made up a story about how Jo-Jo and his father had been living as wild animals in a cave, and a hunter captured them, but the father could never be tamed.  Mr. Barnum pointed out to everybody how much Jo-Jo looked like a dog, and he said that when Jo-Jo was upset, he would bark and growl.  Then Mr. Fedor would bark and growl to please his boss and scare the audience.  But really Mr. Fedor was a very civilized man who could speak three different languages.

Stephan Bibrowski was called Lionel the Lion-Faced Man.  He had hair all over his body that made him look like a lion.  When he was born in 1891 in Poland, his mother thought her son had all that hair because while she was pregnant, she had seen her husband get mauled by a lion.  She couldn't really stand having the boy around, so when he was four, she gave him to a German showman named Meyer.

Mr. Meyer started exhibiting Stephan all over Europe.  By then, the boy's hair was 8 inches long on his face and 4 inches long on the rest of his body.  The only places he didn't have hair were the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet.

In 1901, Lionel came to the U.S. and joined Barnum & Bailey's Circus.  He did gymnastic tricks and spoke to people in a gentle way to show them he was a very nice man, in spite of looking like a ferocious lion.  He wore stylish clothes, was well-educated, and could speak five languages.  He settled in New York City in 1920 and worked at Coney Island for several years.  Then in the late 1920s, he moved back to Germany.  He died of a heart attack in 1932 at the age of 41.

Julia Pastrana was another person with hypertrichosis who made a living in sideshows.  She was born in Mexico in 1834.  Besides having lots of hair, she also had a double row of teeth that made her mouth stick out, sort of like a gorilla's.  A man named Theodore Lent discovered Julia Pastrana and purchased her from a woman who might have been her mother.  He taught her to dance and play music, and she also learned to read and write in three languages. Mr. Lent took her on a tour all over the world.  He called her the "Bearded and Hairy Lady."

Eventually, Mr. Lent married Ms. Pastrana.  While they were on tour in Moscow, she had a baby that also had hypertrichosis, but sadly, the baby only lived for two days.  And five days later, Ms. Pastrana died, too.  But Mr. Lent did not want to stop touring, so he got a professor at a Moscow university to make mummies out of his wife and son.  Then he mounted them in a glass cabinet so people could still come and see them.  After a while, he found another hairy woman.  He married her and changed her name to Zenora Pastrana.  Finally, Mr. Lent was sent to a mental institution, which was probably a good place for him.

Meanwhile, the mummies disappeared for a while, but then they showed up in Norway in 1921.  They were on display there until the 1970s.  Then somebody thought they should come to the U.S. for a tour, but lots of people said this was a very bad idea.  So after that, the mummies weren't shown to the public anymore.  In 1976 some vandals got into the storage area and damaged the baby's mummy, and after that it got eaten by mice.  Julia Pastrana's mummy was stolen in 1979, but then it got found again.  Now it is in a sealed coffin in the Department of Anatomy at Oslo University.  In 1994, the Norway Senate said they thought the body should be buried, but the Minister of Sciences decided to keep it so that research could be done if scientists wanted to, but you have to get a special permit if you want to study Ms. Pastrana's body.

Now I will tell you about a modern girl in Thailand who has werewolf syndrome.  Her name is Supatra Sasuphan, and she is 11 years old.  Her classmates used to make fun of her and call her "wolf girl" and "monkey face," which made her really sad.  But then a special thing happened.  Supatra got into the Guinness Book of World Records as "The World's Hairiest Girl," and now she is very popular and has lots of friends.

When Supatra was born, she not only had a lot of hair, but she also had very small nostrils that were only one millimeter wide.  So she had to stay in an incubator and have surgery twice, just so she could breathe.  Then she had to have another surgery when she was two, but now she can breathe perfectly well.  The doctors did laser treatment on her hair, but it didn't make the hair go away.  It just grew back even thicker.  When it gets too long, her mother trims it for her so that it doesn't get in her eyes.

Supatra likes to do the same kinds of things that other girls her age like to do.  What she loves most is swimming, dancing, playing with friends, and watching cartoons on TV.  She says, "I like to study maths so I can be good at it and teach it to younger children so they can do it too.  I want to become a doctor so I can help patients when they get injured.  I want to help people who get hurt and help cure people."

Anyway, that is the story of werewolf syndrome.  There are some other famous people in history who had it, but I didn't have time to write about all of them.  I'm just glad that people don't have to be treated so much like freaks nowadays if they have something different about them such as hypertrichosis.  And if any of those people want to give up some of their extra hair, I'd be glad to have it to use in some of the spots where my hair is getting so thin!