Emma Shaler

"Ossified Girl" & "Living Skeleton"

Charles EISENMANN Cabinet Card featuring Emma Shaler, circa 1890's, appearing as a "Living Skeleton" in this pose.

From a rare April 1894 dime museum handbill, Globe Museum, Bowery, New York City where Miss Emma Shaler appeared on the same bill as Harry Houdini.


Emma Shaler (also Schaller) was billed variously as a "Human Skeleton", or as an "Ossified Girl".

The 19th Century audience perhaps viewed the helpless girl "turning to bone" as a Romantic figure past our ability to save her— the notion of their collective desire and pity, uplifting. Or, depicted as the fading body reduced to skin and bones— the fascinating paradox of the starving performer living in a glamorous world with plenty to eat.

To our modern age these depictions of skeletonized people are visions and reminders of famine, untreated disease, Holocaust, war, and disregarded disability.

In that more innocent age these things were morbid diversion, lively entertainment, and wondrous curiosity.


This page last updated June 4, 2005.

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