Throughout history, sideshows have given curiosity seekers opportunities to gaze in wonder at people born with something extra — a superfluous something or other.
Francesco Lentini, for example, traveled for decades in the early 20th century as the Three-Legged Wonder. He also had a fourth foot and a second set of genitals.
Laloo, billed as “The Handsome Healthy Hindoo” was born in 1874 with a parasitic twin protruding from his torso. It had two arms, two legs, and a functioning penis. Fortunately, it could not defecate.
And there have been numerous people born with extra people attached to them — Chang and Eng Bunker being the most famous. The brothers, born in Siam 200 years ago, were joined at the chest by a ligament and the reason we have the term “Siamese twins.” Together, they made a fortune and eventually married two sisters and fathered 22 children (none were twins).
But in November of 1887, New York’s Bowery area featured a most unusual attraction with an extremely rare extra: a second mouth.
He was Otto Tolpefer, the Man with Two Mouths.
Tolpefer was born with a bonus mouth located just below the chin. The blonde, smooth-faced Tolpefer sat on a platform drinking water with one mouth and simultaneously smoking a cigarette with the other. When speaking, he used the top mouth and closed the second one with his fingers.
A New York Times reporter covering the act described his speech as poor, because “the tracheal bellows gives his voice a strange and unreal whispering sound like that of a sexton at a funeral.” The second mouth was unable to speak or eat and was fitted with brass lips. He would shut it with his finger when talking with the upper mouth.
The reporter further remarked that “Otto is not a pleasant object to gaze at excessively, and as a wall decoration he would not succeed.”
An additional comment stated, “The two-headed cow, who felt quite badly when he came, has become reconciled after watching his performances.”
Little else is known about Tolpefer. There are no further reports of his appearances, his adventures later in life, or even what he had to say in response to the New York Times reporter’s vivid descriptions.
© Marc Hartzman