|Joseph Carey Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890)|
The Merrick family explained his symptoms as the result of Mary's being knocked over and frightened by a fairground elephant while she was pregnant with Joseph. The concept of maternal impression—that the emotional experiences of pregnant women could have lasting physical effect on their unborn children—was still common in 19th century Britain. Merrick held this belief about the cause of his affliction for his entire life.
He died on 11 April 1890, at the age of 27. At around three o'clock in the afternoon, Treves' house surgeon visited Merrick and found him lying dead across his bed. Merrick's death was ruled accidental and the certified cause of death was asphyxia, caused by the weight of his head as he lay down. Treves, who performed an autopsy on the body, said that Merrick had died of a dislocated neck. Knowing that Merrick had always slept sitting upright, out of necessity, Treves came to the conclusion that he must have "made the experiment", attempting to sleep lying down, trying to sleep like other people.
In 1971, Ashley Montagu suggested in his book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity that Joseph Merrick suffered Neurofibromatosis type 1, and this has continued to be reported. However, careful research has shown that Merrick may have actually suffered from Proteus syndrome.
Proteus syndrome, also known as Wiedemann syndrome (named after the German paediatrician Hans-Rudolf Wiedemann), is a congenital disorder that causes skin overgrowth and atypical bone development, often accompanied by tumors over half the body.