Feedback

The Amazing Johnny Eck

screens eck tractor

One of the photos on display at “The Amazing Johnny Eck,” at the Maryland College Institute of Art.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Take a closer look at the photo above.

Sitting in the tractor seat – his smile jaunty, his body pretty much ending at the seat – is Baltimore’s Johnny Eck.

The sideshow performer (1911-1991) is being remembered and celebrated in a display at the Maryland College Institute of Art that includes more than 200 photos, artwork and personal objects.

The Amazing Johnny Eck,” curated by Jeffrey Pratt Gordon (curator also of the online Johnny Eck Museum) and running through March 16, asks people to look even closer still.

For such a small man, Eck lived a life that was truly large – he was an artist and sculptor, a race-car driver, an illusionist, ran a miniature railroad amusement, made Punch-and-Judy puppets and put on shows with them. He was featured in the 1932 cult classic “Freaks.”

Eck's exploits were celebrated in films, comic strips and around the world. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Eck’s exploits were celebrated in films, comic strips and around the world. (Photo by Fern Shen)

He was famed for his one-armed handstands. He performed for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus.

He once climbed the Washington Monument, using only his arms, scaling the 898 steps in 48 minutes.

He was in Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller.

Clearly nothing but a vast and ambitious show like this would begin to do him justice. Here’s an also pretty-vast effort – a long piece by Stephanie Shapiro about Eck and fans working to tell his story.
_______________________
The exhibit, which is free, runs through March 16. It’s in the Decker Gallery at MICA’s Fox Building, 1303 W. Mount Royal Avenue). Open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m.

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • ushanellore

    Johnny Eck–partly apocryphal

    This Johnny Eck I didn’t know
    must have been a grand fellow,
    everything he did with hands–
    what others did with feet,
    he bounded up 890 steps
    on his hands he pushed
    his small body followed close behind
    until the top he reached,
    from up above
    looking down below,
    when crowds cheered him for his feat,
    he said, “Aw shucks!
    that wasn’t the Everest I conquered,
    just a monument called Washington,
    named after our first chief!”

    The wonder boy of Baltimore,
    they sing his praises to this day,
    they even have a show
    to showcase those crazy days,
    when he pulled the strings of marionettes,
    painted pictures and sculpted stones,
    being Jack and also master
    of the many trades he learned–

    So if you find yourself with a body
    missing parts from here or there,
    before you rush off
    to be fixed or bioengineered,
    remember Johnny Eck who functioned like a wiz,
    his lower portion missing
    ever since his birth–
    he used this major defect
    as an asset to his climb
    within the circus circles
    famed for his handstands–
    he raced cars and drove tractors–
    this one of a wonder kind–

    His small body an anti gravity machine,
    he knew that he could do with it
    what others only dreamed–
    so before you rush off to be fixed
    or bioengineered,
    before you decide you want to be normalized,
    remember normal is as normal is–
    it may not bring you bliss,
    and perfection often can be
    as boring as a kiss
    that never got placed
    on a pair of eager lips…..

    Usha Nellore

  • May 27, 2015

    • The mayor and Board of Estimates today agreed to pay $42,500 to a 39-year-old woman who was mistakenly shot by a Baltimore police officer during an early morning scuffle on York Road. According to the out-of-court settlement, which ends a $1 million civil lawsuit filed by Tasha Coleman, Officer Quinton O. Smith discharged his service […]

  • May 26, 2015

    • Nine people were killed and at least 20 were wounded as gun violence continued to rack Baltimore over the Memorial Day weekend. The last reported shooting over the weekend took place at 1400 North Fulton Avenue, a well-known crime hot spot. An adult male was shot multiple times in the torso about 11:30 p.m. Monday. […]

  • May 20, 2015

    • The Ingenuity Project has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to bring supplemental STEM programming to 500 high-achieving Baltimore middle-school students. Ingenuity provides about 530 of Baltimore’s advanced 6-12th graders with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum and is hosted by three Baltimore City middle schools – Mount Royal, Hamilton, Roland […]

  • May 19, 2015

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • December 15, 2014

    •   “Ha ha, so not a surprise.” “Shocking…not!!” We get applause but also the occasional eye-roll these days for our accountability reporting – like last week’s piece about how tax cuts promised by the mayor as a selling point for Horseshoe Baltimore probably won’t happen, thanks to the casino’s lower-than-expected revenues. We get where the […]

Twitter

Facebook