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Walter Potter's Botched Animals

Although the English taxidermist Walter Potter (1835 - 1918) has become famous for his anthropomorphic taxidermy - kittens drinking tea, fencing squirrels, his Museum of Curiosities also contained numerous monstrous births such as those displayed below. The animals were donated by local farmers.  Some died shortly after birth; some lived for several years, dying of causes unrelated to their deformities.

image: the chicken (on the right) was apparently full grown and was known to have laid several eggs. It was reared by Mr. S. Earl, a butcher who lived in Steyning in 1908, and unfortunately died after entangling itself in wire netting. It was presented to the museum in 1909. The duckling (on the left) had four legs, four wings, two tails and three eyes.

image: the lamb had four eyes, two noses, and two mouth but only two ears. It was born on Beeding Downs, and brought to Walter Potter by Mr. Bailey, the shepherd.


image: the kitten had four eyes and two mouths. It was born at Broadwater, Worthing and lived for several days.

Potter's museum also contained a duck with four legs that lived for thirteen years at Portslade-by-Sea. During its life it appeared to have three legs and four feet, but when it was preserved, it was discovered the duck had four distinct legs and feet. It laid one small egg during its life. Potter also preserved another duck with three legs which was reared at Thames Haven, Essex. As a duckling it had run of the owner's garden since it was slow moving and ostracised by the rest of the ducks. It was killed by a hailstone when it was about a year old, and as far as known, it laid no eggs during its life. Potter's museum also contained a stuffed young pig with three legs, two pigs joined like Siamese twins down the length of their bodies, and several other kittens with various extra parts.

The information on Potter's monstrous births was taken from the 8th ediction of the Guide Book and History of Potter's Museum and Exhibition from about 1958 while the museum was still housed in Bramber, Sussex. Read more on Potter. If you have any further information about these creatures or know about the whereabouts of either the original postcards or the creatures themselves - please contact me!


Botched Nature

kitten_2_bodies.jpgWalter Potter’s botched kitten with eight legs and two tails is certainly a wonder of the natural world and certainly among the most disquieting. We know that such deformities occasionally occur in nature, but the kitten seem to hover outside the natural order of things and beyond the realm of explicable phenomena, and while our twenty-first-century science tells us that the animal is just a random genetic misfire without any cosmological meaning or significance, nevertheless the kitten seems so much more than just a blunder of nature.

The kitten suggests some mysterious workings of nature’s engine, giving us with a sense of creative yet forever obscure potency the natural world. If nature gave birth to such creatures, what other deformed shapes could also be produced? The world suddenly seems more alive with possibilities, albeit more disturbing possibilities than we might like to consider.

It is perhaps only when confronted with such monstrous births that we can even begin to understand the enthralling experience of stepping into a Renaissance cabinet of wonders where the imaginative of nature seemed limitless. In a room filled with wonders, there is the sense that anything could potentially exist. Even on its own, isolated from other mesmerizing curiosities of the natural world, the kitten ruptures reality by its strangeness and offer a fantastic world of infinite combinations of legs, heads, shapes, and sizes. Like all wonders, the kitten casts a spell, momentary transporting us out of ourselves, and, like a bolt of lightening, scatters everything we believed to be true.

The kitten certainly jars our expectations, but it affects us more deeply than its mere visual provocation. The haunting image the kitten is forcefully upsetting. This kitten is not just a strange object, but was once - however briefly - a living being. Like us, it breathed air into its lung, it had yearnings, wants, and needs. At a deep level, we know this kitten because it is like us, and the fear or revulsion or disgust or fascination it arouses stem directly from this knowledge: both like and unlike us. It offers us a different version of how life could be.



Barnyard Freaks

BarnYa2.jpgNot always for the weak of heart, Sideshow World aims to promote the past and ensue the future of the sideshow in all its strange glory.  Roam through the sights and you'll discover a huge variety of performers, circuses, strange museums and curiosity shops, craftspeople, artists, and events - both past and present - which bring the virtual sideshow to life. 

You'll also find The Barnyard Freak Show.  Not all are taxidermied - some were in fact still alive when the photos were taken - but whether dead or alive you'll certainly find you're fill of freaks of nature.  Be careful though, some images are a little more challenging that of Frizt the seven-toed cat.  Frizt seems quite happy with his situation.  The same can't be said for the eight legged lamb with 2 bodies, 2 tails, 2 hind ends and no head.  

The site makes a point of bringing the past to life, so you'll also find old posters for the smallest cow, the largest dog, or the amazing two-headed bull.

Check it out:

 even a