Just a few words about Mortado the Human Fountain, who was inducted into Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame in 2010.
Only a few words, because only little is known about Mortado, and only covering a few short years. His real name is not known, nor are the dates of his death or birth. He was German in origin. He served in the German army in World War one. He first appears in the press in 1928 in a Hamburg newspaper, publicizing his act. Mortado was billed a “Hindu fakir”. He had holes drilled into his hands and feet. His early act consisted of merely passing things, like knitting needles, through the holes. He made his biggest splash (haha!) when he hit on the idea of pumping water through the holes, thus becoming the “Human Fountain.” With this act he became a sensation in Berlin. He would also sometimes do a crucifixion act, allowing himself to be nailed to a cross.
In 1930 he turned up in Coney Island, where he performed at Dreamland Circus Sideshow for a couple of summer seasons. On the off seasons, he toured to other parts of the country, In fall 1932 it was announced that he was returning to Berlin to prepare a new act for the 1933 World’s Fair. And then he disappeared! There is much speculation about what might have happened. The timing, just prior to the advent of the Nazis is certainly suspicious. Did he suffer at their hands? Was he drafted? Then we also recall that he was preparing a new act — was it perhaps a dangerous one? Was there an accident? And we know nothing of the nature of those celebrated holes. Were they the result of surgery? Injury? Could they get infected?
More questions than answers — off for a man who was probably by tens of thousands of people. The most complete source I could find about Mortado is here.