Nature always has its own way of creating spectacles. The animal and plant kingdom has its wide array of extraordinary traits from various organisms – shape-shifting species and carnivorous organisms. Human beings are known for their knowledge, the trait that highly elevates the species from the animals. However, there are traits in the animal kingdom that are also only exclusive to animals. Therefore, even for human beings, it has become a spectacle that some humans are gifted with extraordinary traits that are only commonly known to be achieved by the animals.
One of the most famous people in the 1900s to grace carnival shows is Human Owl. He is a human person imitating an owl’s capability to twist its head 180 degrees that even though he was standing on his back, he can turn his head back and stare in his rear.
Martin Emmerling was born in around 1886 in Nuremberg, Germany. He was widely known as Martin Joe Laurello or the Human Owl. There was not much information regarding his childhood, only that he was said to be born with a slightly bent spine. This biological rarity he had allegedly enabled him to twist his head back, an act he is now known for.
The Carnival Culture
The success of Human Owl and other human beings with oddities can be hugely attributed to the emergence of carnivals and circuses. These emerged in the pre-modern period in 1500-1800, evolving through the early modern and modern period from 1844-1960, and the late modern period from 1970 up to the present. The creation of carnivals and amusement parks paved the way for these oddities among human beings to showcase these traits.
The carnival culture was a significant factor in the rise to the Human Owl’s fame as the wide presence of these carnivals and circus compelled Martin to travel from Europe to America.
In 1921, he moved to the United States of America and other individuals from Europe with extraordinary and odd traits.
When he arrived in America, he became a sideshow performer with different groups.
A sideshow refers to a secondary production attributed to a circus, carnival, fair, or other attraction. He first showcased his acts with Coney Island Dreamland Circus Sideshow, where he first debuted his head-twisting spectacle. He also performed with the Ringling Bros., in the Barnum & Bailey show, and in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in the 1930s where he got his famous moniker as the “Human Owl.” Sometimes, he was also referred to as Bobby, the Boy with the Revolving Head.
He was advertised as ‘the only one in the world who can walk straight ahead and look straight behind.’ From these shows, he was able to earn $50 a week.
Aside from being born with a slightly bent spine, Laurello was also said to have practiced his act for three years before he eventually achieved its mastery. This was said to have helped him get flexible. There are even speculations that he had to “dislocate various vertebrae,” although these accounts were never really confirmed.
Reports on the life of Martin Joe Laurello recorded two different marriages. His first one was with Laura Prechtl. Prechtl was born in 1885. They had one son named Alexander Emmerling (1905-1960). The couple eventually got divorced. After the divorce, he then met Emilie WittlEmmerling (1895-1977), and the two then proceeded to get marries. In his second marriage, Martin Joe and Emilie had had two sons together. They were Albert (1922-1945) and Walter Emmerling (1926-1983).
On April 30, 1931, Laurello was arrested by the Baltimore police. It was said to be during a crowded performance. He allegedly abandoned his spouse and two sons, and the woman sent the complaint. He was allegedly found standing on a platform in a comical account, with his back and face looking towards the crowd. When the two officers arrived and confronted him, he turned his head around, as what he was known for, and gave the two police officers a wink. Then, he was placed under arrest.
Martin was also said to be a Nazi sympathizer. This caused some concern with his audience and with his colleagues. After he was arrested, no one knew where he went or what he became. People last heard of him when he was said to have passed away in the 1950s.
People may say that other people can do such a thing; no one has yet surpassed Human Owl’s fame. Although he met an unfortunate fate, he remains to be well-known for his act of spectacle.