Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, January 17, 1891
This Article is Titled: Half Seal, Half Woman
New York has a seal-woman. She was born and bred in the metropolis and lived there for thirty years, yet the fact of her existence has never been published until now. To the writer she was described as being a living mermaid, but this description does not do her justice, for although she resembles both, the upper portion of her body is that of a woman, while the lower portion is shaped like that of a seal. This strange freak of nature is now living with her mother and father at Number 115 "West Houston-street, between Sullivan and Thompson-streets. Her father is a German butcher named Gerson Krieger, and her mother is a stout healthy, well-built woman, who weighs over two hundred pounds.
The couple were born in Germany, and over forty years ago, settling at Number 60 Attorney-street. Five children have been born to them since their residence in this city. Shortly before her birth, her mother visited Barnaul's Museum, then where the Herald building now stands, at the corner of Ann-street and Broadway. While looking about curiously she received a terrible fright. One of a dozen seals exhibition flapped about the enclosure where it was confined and then raising itself high in the air began to bark. Mrs. Krieger, who was then in delicate health, fainted with fright and had to be carried from the place.
She was taken to her home, where she remained in poor health until the birth of her child. The latter, to all appearance, was a perfectly formed girl at the time, of birth and the physician who attended Mrs. Krieger congratulated the lady upon the narrow escape she had had, for fears had been previously expressed that the child would turn out to be a freak.
"You had a narrow escape," said the doctor, "and ought to be happy, for you have a beautiful little girl, perfect in every particular." But as days wore on, a great change appeared in the baby, which had now been named Bessie. It became ill and two physicians who were called in made the startling discovery that the child had no bones in its lower extremities. "Why said one of the physicians, " this baby has been born a freak. The mother answered that the doctor who had attended her at first had stated that its limbs were contorted, but that everything would turn out all right in a few weeks. However, as time wore on the girl Bessie grew more and more to resemble a seal. She was pretty and perfectly formed above the waist, but below it seemed as if both her limbs had grown into one solid piece of flesh, without bone tissue of any sort. At the age of five her relatives who saw her described her as a mermaid, the upper portion of her body resembling that of a girl and the lower portion that of a fish.
Her father, who had accumulated considerable wealth in his business, decided to take Bessie to Europe for the purpose of having the physicians and professors of the German college, see her. They said the case was a puzzling one but could offer no relief for the grief-stricken parents. Professor Saydam examined the child and said she would not live. " Although she is formed like a human being," said the professor, "she is not one. That is she has not the brain of a human being. She has the head and trunk, but that is all. In my opinion, she will die before she is twelve years old." The doctors of Heidelberg said the same thing. They all agreed upon the fact that Bessie had the brain of one of the lower animals. Some of them thought she would live until the age of fifteen, but not over that. Nothing could be done for her, however, and again she was brought back to New York. Here Professor Diedrich, of Twenty-third street; Professor King, Professor Cummings and scores of physicians examined Bessie, but their skills were useless in a case of this sort.
The family then moved uptown, where they resided until a year ago, finally moving to their present address 011 Houston street, where Mister Krieger opened a butcher's shop. Then came an offer from Messrs Meeham and "Wilson, proprietors of a museum in the Bowery, to put Bessie on exhibition. They offered 250 dollars a week to Mister Krieger if he would consent to exhibit Bessie in the museum. But Mister Krieger had refused an offer from London of 3,000 dollars a year, and he did likewise in this case, refusing the offer of the New York museum people.
Although half a hundred doctors know of the existence of this seal woman it remained for the Telegram to give the facts to the public at large. After considerable searching, she was found at her home on West Houston street. So quiet was the secret kept that not one of the neighbors knew of Bessie's existence. The policeman on post there had been patrolling the block ever since the Kriegers moved to Houston street, had never heard of the seal woman. Even the barber opposite had never heard of the freak, notwithstanding the fact that barbers are supposed to know everything. Officer Gilliam of the sanitary squad, has charge of the district in which the Kriegers reside and he visited the house frequently, but, there was no need of this, as the parents of Bessie took the best care of her and always kept her neat and clean. Every attention has been paid to her, and although she does not speak, her father and mother treat her even better than any of the other children.
A Telegram reporter, accompanied by an artist, trudged along West Houston Street, toward and across Thompson street, to the little butcher's shop at number 115. Here Mrs. Krieger was found in charge of the store. She is short, stout, ruddy-faced and very pleasant to talk to. When the reporter informed her of the purpose of his call she became greatly excited and wanted to know who had given him his information. " "Why," said she, " this has been kept a secret for thirty years, and none but our relatives and medical men have seen Bessie. She was born shortly after I had received a fright while visiting Barmaids museum. Nobody on earth can tell whether she knows what is going on about her, for she is unable to speak. Here comes my husband. Talk to him about the matter." At this juncture, Mister Krieger appeared and seemed perfectly willing to discuss the case when it was explained to him that thousands of professional people would be interested in Bessie's history. "If you will call around tomorrow, I'll permit you to see her," said Mister Krieger, who is a pleasant-looking man of about sixty years. On the following day, Friday, the writer, accompanied by the artist again visited the little butcher's shop on Houston-street. Mister Krieger was very courteous in receiving the visitors and immediately brought them to a room in the rear of the butcher's shop, where there was a bed, a table, and two chairs. Drawing aside a portiere the aged father pointed to a figure sitting upon the floor. To all appearances, it looked like that of a pretty Jewish maiden and as if the lower portion of her body was protruding through a hole in the floor and away from view. In fact, it was like the museum illusions of The Sphinx. Drawing aside the clothing of the body the father pointed out the lower extremity. The sight was startling. Could it be possible that this head, shoulders, and bust of a pretty girl were attached to that indescribable lump of flesh, that serpent-like, living, moving thing that continued down below the abdomen? Another tug at the clothing and this was proven beyond a doubt. The aged father lifted the curious thing up in his arms and laid it face downward upon the bed. The speechless creature lugged for a minute at her covering and two white arms reached out either side. Then two white hands sank into the snowy folds of the bed and the body straightened out. They were beautiful white hands and tapering fingers, ending in the pinkest of nails. The head turned and the face looked up. The face reminded one most forcibly of a corpse. Now it colored, again it whitened. Still, the upper part of the figure was that of it lovely woman. Still, there was a certain snake-like movement never before seen in the human form. When she moved her arms her entire frame seemed to undulate; and the neck did not bend, it curved. Finally, she murmured something, as if she was trying to speak. Her voice had a sweet sound, but it suddenly changed and she screamed. Her voice rose to anger and rang clear and cold against the walls of the room. The father removed more of her covering and told the visitors to watch her closely. With a sudden move, she turned upon her side and pulled the clothing from her rounded arm, twisting her hand against its milky beauty. Then all of a sudden she turned again face downward and rested her head upon her elbow. The eyes of the visitors traveled up her form, now only in a robe of beauty. Her form now seemed corpse-like. In an instant, all was changed.
She twisted like a snake into another position. The corpse-like form now took life, the life that was more then life, if the expressive could be properly used. She opened her large eyes and gazed steadily at the visitors. Those great changing eyes of deepest, softest black seemed to look but to see nothing. The tint of red upon her cheeks, the short black hair that fell in little curls over her forehead, the delicate, straight lines of her features and a bust more perfect than, ever sculptor dreamed of, all helped to make her look beautiful. Still, there was a shadow of sorrow that not even the lovely smile that crept about the dimples of her mouth could hide. It shone even in the light of her glorious eyes. Probably she knew of that ugly and unnatural extremity that could never be removed. "Who could tell her thoughts? ' Who will ever know them? Now, these lines of sorrow and of trouble returned and passed across that pretty brow until she became awful to look upon. This thing in which the spark called "divine" still lingers, kept turning and twisting and twisting and turning, like a serpent. Now she appeared shriveled, contorted, without the power to think, with no human conception, drawing herself into a bunch, and rolled upon the bed, a perfect picture of most of Rider Haggard's "She," after passing the second time through the fire of life. Again she becomes calm, straightens out that beautiful form to which is attached the ugly portion where limb sought to have grown and then she is fascinating. Like a serpent, she bends herself, twists herself and then a tremor passes over her. One minute she resembles a mermaid and the ugly extremity moves from side to side like a fish's tail. Tiring of this she raises herself on her hands and takes a few minutes rest. It is in this position that she is half seal, half woman. She moves her head first this way, then that, staring at objects about her, but apparently seeing nothing. The fascinating spell she had cast among the visitors was suddenly broken by a long, loud, piercing wail that was heartrending to hear. "She wants something to eat," remarked her father. Going into an adjoining room he brought out a small cocoanut pie. The creature in the bed smiled sadly, then threw herself upon her back and reached forth her hands eagerly. Mr. Krieger handed her the pie and she devoured it ravenously. Then she licked her fingers, smacked her red lips and stared around with a satisfied air as much as to say "Thank you."
"She has never spoken," said Mr. Krieger, " excepting to say 'papa' and 'mamma.' Still, she understands many things we say to her in German, things which she has learned just as any of the lower animals would learn." Mr. Krieger here turned to the object, saying: " Shake hands with the gentlemen" Again the round arm came from beneath its covering and reached forward. Each of the visitors shook hands with her. She held the reporter's hand in a vice-like grip and he could not get away from her until Mr. Krieger told her to let go. Then she smiled again. Mr. Krieger proceeded to explain that Bessie was very strong. "She's twice as strong as any ordinary woman," he said, " and can lift a chair with one hand and throw it across the room without the least exertion." The creature seemed to know what her father was saying, and as if to corroborate his story she raised a chair in her hand and dashed it forcibly against the table.