The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man (1845)


The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell the Tattooed Man, by James F. O’Connell; 1845; W. Applegate, New-York.

One of the main attractions at P.T. Barnum’s 1842 ‘freakshow’ American Museum was a man named James F. O’Connell, notable for his head to toe covering in tattoos, the U.S.’s first tattooed showman. To accompany his unusual appearance, the show featured O’Connell telling of how he received his tattoo during his years of captivity in the South Pacific. According to his account he became shipwrecked on the Caroline Islands and saved himself from death at the hands of the Ponapeans natives by performing a series of Irish jigs for their amusement. Though his life was spared he tells of how he was subject to a compulsory tattooing at the hands of a series of “voluptuous virgins” and how he was forced to marry the last of his tattooers. When a ship landed on the island in 1833 (some 5 years or so since his shipwreck there in the late 1820s) O’Connell left, making his way to the U.S. where he eventually ended up working in P.T.Barnum’s ‘freakshow’, telling tales of the eight day long process of tattooing he underwent and performing the Irish jigs which saved him and endeared him to the Ponapean people.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: Library of Congress
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
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