Ever wonder what conditions caused the phenomenons that were often included as sideshow attractions at carnivals and circuses? Between the concession stand funnel cakes and the fun house rides, there were some pretty amazing things in those concealed tents.
One classic example is the wolfman. Or, should we say, The Wolfman? A creature of legend, the subject of many a movie, and also a very real medical condition.
When one thinks of the “Wolfman” the images that come to mind are that of some dangerous, mythical half-human creature lurking in dark places, emerging only to terrify the populace before returning to his gloomy, isolated lair to hide from humanity. Imagination, fear and media (from the storytellers of past centuries to modern filmmakers) have added to the mystery and taboo surrounding the origins of this classic monster. What few people are aware of is that the basis of the myth may be rooted in a very human, very misunderstood legacy of genetic defect.
The “Wolfman Disease” (the more common name for hypertrichosis) is an extremely rare condition that results in an overgrowth of thick hair covering the entire body. The syndrome is so rare in fact, that only a few dozen cases have been recorded since the 1500’s. Little is known about the cause of the condition, and scientists have thrown around numerous theories over the past century, including a theory that the gene that causes the overabundance of hair may be linked to a past link in the human evolutionary chain.
Those that suffer from the syndrome face a difficult life. Treatment is still highly experimental, and most of those affected simply resort to constant shaving in an attempt to blend into regular society. Sadly, for some, a life of isolation from other people is the only means to cope, while others have resorted to becoming side show acts in circuses and carnivals. In any of these situations, it seems that modern science has yet to learn how to fight a genetic defect that appears nothing short of primeval.