Four-legged woman….is my cousin!!

My Mom called me this week and asked had I read the genealogical newsletter that comes out for the “Four Families” 4 times a year( I know, sounds like we’re in the mafia)….we have just recently discovered this newsletter and I signed up my Mom and sisters to receive it. “No Mom I haven’t read it yet, but I have it”…and in truth I often wait a long time to look through it…usually pretty dry stuff about the past and current relations through my Mom’s side of the family. But this time…this time, I was sooooo mistaken. She exclaimed, “You have to read about the woman with four legs!!”

Josephine Myrtle Corbin and husband James Bicknell

Josephine Myrtle Corbin and husband James Bicknell

I’m sorry…what did you say?”…I can’t believe it. So when I get home I open it up ….and sure enough, there she is…Josephine Myrtle Corbin, larger than life, and with considerably more legs, staring back at me.  An article from The Southern Democrat dated 1928, was a report on her death at the age of 60. It read…”The fact that she was double from the waist down made her one of the wonders of her age. She had four fully developed legs, the inside two legs being shorter than the other two. Otherwise she was perfectly normal.(Please….normal?) She had traveled all over the country and had been viewed  by thousands of people who were amazed at this freak of nature.You reckon??

So what was the deal with this chick? She was one of the rarest forms of conjoined twinning known as dipygus, a variation of parasitic twins, which gave her two complete bodies from the waist down! You heard me. According to the newsletter, she had “two small pelves side by side, and each of her smaller inner legs  was paired with one of her our legs. She could move them but was unable to use them for walking.” I can imagine that would have been difficult….

And here’s the kicker…wait for it…wait for it…. She married a doctor and had FIVE CHILDREN!

It has been said” (and I certainly can’t prove it), that three of her kids were born from one set of organs, and two from the other.”  Baby, baby, baby…I know. I know. I know, OK? The possibilities simply stagger the mind, don’t they? But there it is…How, gentle readers, are we related? In a way so convoluted that I don’t understand it, much less be able to explain it to you in the space we have here, we just are in some distant, “four families “way.  I called my daughter and told her about the ….odd family relative we used to have….her comment? “Eeeeuuuuuwww!” But you know, I kinda look at Josephine…and think… here was was this poor little baby, born as what most people would call a freak, certainly in that time…and yet she managed to live her life to the age of 60, get married and have five children. That’s real resilience, wouldn’t you say? My cousin Josie!! My girl!! I claim you as kin, happily.

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18 Responses

  1. Wow, that is truly amazing!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I saw this on the news today, and had to check it out! Well, Donna, I’m not related to you, or Josie, but do have a similar, much more recent story. My own mother was supposed to be a twin, but the only thing that developed of her sister, was the internal reproductive organs. That twin never separated, so my mom was born with 2 sets of internal reproductive organs, but looks completely normal on the outside. My brother and I both happened to develop in the smaller set of organs, so, technically, we were born to our aunt, who, herself, was never born. Yeah, go figure that one out! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite understand all this until much later in life. I sure wish I had known about it sooner; can you imagine a teenager yelling “Why? You’re not my mother!”

  3. Oh wow…that is amazing. Truth really is stranger than fiction. And I love the part about her not being your mother….I wonder, did she not tell you because she thought it was freakish and was ashamed? I can imagine. The jokes in the newsroom since I revealed my four-legged cousin….well, you can imagine.

  4. Wow Donna that is fascinating! I’m that type of nerd that likes to learn about all those medical anomallies. I spend a day of my anniversary a few years ago at the Mutter museum in Philla. It has an extensive collection of genetic abnormalities, particular siamese twins. It is a very interesting museum and I can’t remeber if I saw your cousin there but I’m sure she probably is mentioned at least.

  5. That’s amazing Donna,
    I could assume back in that day, women usually wore dresses more often. Do you know if she wore long dresses to cover up the middle legs sometimes, and can you imagine in todays society how she would deal with it?

  6. Brian, I don’t know, but I would guess that when she was not on display…as she did travel the country as part of a sideshow…freak show, really….I would guess that she did. And probably would have been pretty successful at covering the other legs. Today…wow…I can’t imagine. No minis for Josephine!

  7. Hello Donna, I am always working my family tree. I have Roy Dean Hamilton as husband to Josephines grand neice Wynell Jones. I have Dwight Berkley Hamiliton as great grand nephew to Josephine.
    I do not have much info on Hamiliton cousins. Are you a 2nd great grand neice instead of a cousin?
    Gary Bicknell
    Fort Worth, Texas
    great grandson to Josephine Myrtle Corbin Bicknell

  8. [...] And fifth is still one of my favorites just becuse of the oddball quality of it all….A Four-legged Woman is My Cousin….she really [...]

  9. Donna: How insensitive you are about an accident of birth. I never knew Myrtle Josephine Corbin Bicknell, but it was my understanding that she was a kind, intelligent woman who loved and nurtured her family of three daughters and one son. Would you also be so callous to make light of some one who was mentally retarded, or born without arms or legs, or blind? Birth defects do happen. If you have children, I truly hope they do not suffer any abnormalities; think how sad it was for Myrtle’s mother and for Myrtle herself to be labeled a “freak.” Myrtle Corbin never robbed a bank nor was she ever involved in a scandal. She never murdered anyone and she did nothing to end up in your blog as a subject of ridicule, jokes and scorn. How sad I am to see how flippantly you have regarded her handicap. She was not an oddball. She was never married to a doctor, but a farmer by profession. She was a grandmother I never knew.

  10. Betty, I did not call Myrtle a freak, but she was referred to as such in press reports…and she traveled in a sideshow, as I understand it for many years, both here and in Europe. I can only imagine what here life what was life, as can you, but she managed to make one…complete with family. As I said, that is being resilient….I admire here…completely. And wish I knew more about her. And was she really married to a farmer? Again, that was in something I read about her….I didn’t just make it up. I’m sorry you thought I was making fun of her…I wasn’t.

  11. I am not sure exactly how you are related to Myrtle Corbin, but I am guessing that you are probably the granddaughter, perhaps the great granddaughter or decedent of Wynelle Jones Miller who had a son named Dwight Hamiliton by her first marriage to Hamilton. Wynelle’s mother was Mae Bicknell Jones who was the daughter of Willie Mae Corbin who was married to Hiram Bicknell. Willie Mae and Myrtle were sisters and they married brothers, Hiram and James Clinton. Clinton was Myrtle’s husband. Yes, Myrtle did go on tour, and I have copies of letters written to various promoters of these shows. This was the time of Annie Oakly and Buffalo Bill. She supported her family as I don’t suppose farming was a very lucrative occupation in those times. If indeed you are related to Dwight Hamilton and Wynelle Miller, Myrtle Corbin would be a great, great aunt to Dwight. If you are his daughter add another great to the lineage or if a grand daughter, add two more “greats.” A diagram is easier to understand:

    Myrtle Corbin m James C Bicknell Willie Mae Corbin m
    Hiram Bicknell

    Mae Bicknell m Roy Jones

    Wynelle Jones m –Hamilton
    m Miller

    Dwight Hamilton m ___?

    This makes Myrtle a great great aunt of Dwight’s. All of Myrtle’s children and their children would be his cousins., first second, third, etc. So Myrtle was not have been a cousin to you but an aunt if I am guessing correctly.

  12. Hello, My name is Rickey Young. My sister was talking to a Doctor today at the Guntersville hospital and mentioned our great aunt with four legs. She works in the O R and the doctor was vey interested to say the least. She called me to see where the picture was of .Great aunt Myrtel and I looked on the internet to find her so she could show the doctor. Hence your email adress was there and I thought I would drop you a line to see if we were related? . Her name was Fanny and her brother was Coy Bicknell. They lived in Blount county,Alabama. The last years were in Oneonta Alabama. If you are interrested you can drop me a line. We have a good bit of infrmation on the Young family tree but not much on the Bicknell or Murphee side.Myrtel’s husband was related to me.Myrtle only by marriage.
    Thank You,Rckey

  13. Donna,
    While going through the old family photos with my mother a couple weeks ago, we came across a very old photo of Myrtle and what looks to be her husband. At the time we had no idea who they were, so we figured someone must have purchased the picture from one of her shows. It’s still in very good condition, and since they are no relation to us, I would be happy to send it to you, if you would like to have it.

  14. I have to agree with the reply by Betty, while you don’t CALL her a freak, you do treat this so insensitively! I couldn’t believe as I was reading at the joking, laughing, even making fun tone of your article. How sad you are!

  15. hello: my name is marvella kee, and Myrtle Corbin was my great Auant. My Father’s Mother, Laura Ann (Corbin) Blakley was Myrtle Corbin’s Sister. She and my Father told us a lot of intresting stories about her. She could use her two smaller legs to run on when she was young. I was told she only had three children. I went to visit one of her daughters in Ft. Worth when I was about 15 yrs. old with my cousin and Myrtle’s brother Merideth Corbin.

  16. Hi. I ran across your blog today while researching Myrtle Corbin. I found a photograph of her made in New York by the famous photographer Charles Eisenmann the year she was married. Let me know if you would like to see a it.

  17. investigación genealógica…

    [...]Four-legged woman….is my cousin!! « Hamilton's Habitat[...]…

  18. I’m with Tammy and Betty. And I quote (you):
    “Otherwise she was perfectly normal.(Please….normal?) She had traveled all over the country and had been viewed by thousands of people who were amazed at this freak of nature.” You reckon??”
    The “Please…normal?” and “You reckon??” are unnecessary and callous. And you’re related to this woman!

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