“On the platform to your left we have Artie Atherton, the living skeleton. Artie weighs as much as a good-sized New Jersey mosquito. He is so thin that when he takes a bath he is afraid to pull the plug out. Last night, one lady wanted to borrow him for a hat pin.”
Arthur Moll, who took the stage name Artie Atherton, was born in Saginaw, Michigan on January 30, 1890 - weighing just two pounds at birth. Until the age of six, he had to be carried around on a pillow, as he was too frail to walk; he graduated to a wheelchair between the ages of six and ten, and then walked on crutches till the age of 17. He joined the Barnum and Baily Circus in 1909 and held a job as a newspaper reporter in Chicago during the off-season. He worked as a talker for the circus as well as a freak, and styled himself as “The Skeleton Dude”, after the famously dapper fellow skeleton James Coffey.
Artie gave his (surely exaggerated) statistics as follows: he weighed 38 pounds and measured 3 ½ inches around the biceps, 16 inches around the waist, 6 ¼ inches around the thigh, and wore size 3 shoes and size 6 gloves. There was no pathological reason for his size, he claimed - he was merely “small boned”. Despite his size, he enjoyed good health - he never felt ill and he ate three square meals a day.
Artie married a circus snake charmer, Blanche Buckley, and the couple had two average-weight children: Mary Adelaide (“Addie”), born in 1913, and Harold, born in 1915. Harold weighed 12 pounds at birth; Adelaide weight nine.
At the age of three and a half, Adelaide was entered in – and won – a “Perfect Baby” contest in New York City. A woman onlooker remarked “that’s the result of having eugenic parents,” noting that Mama Atherton was a healthy good-looking woman. The lady continued, “I’d like to see (her husband). He’s as big as a house and strong as an ox, I’ll bet - a policeman probably.” Just then, Artie walked up, gave his wife a buss, took his children by the hand and calmly walked away leaving the onlooker and the eugenics movement with egg on their faces and something to think about! Little Addie’s ”perfection” ran counter to the pro-eugenics attitudes that were prevalent in the 1910s – her father was a show freak, hardly what eugenicists considered a “fit” specimen, yet he had managed to produce two “ideal” children.
Sadly, Artie came to an early end while visiting Pontiac, Michigan, in July of 1920. He was hit by a car while crossing the street and died of his injuries.