Johnny Eckhardt was born in 1911 with a horrifying birth defect leaving him with no body below his chest. Despite this handicap, his need for speed could not be contained. This is his amazing story.
Twenty minutes after his twin brother was born, Johnny Eckhardt Jr. entered the world. It was August 27, 1911, born with only half a body, the wet nurse performing the delivery declared him "a broken doll." Though his brother Robert was perfectly normal, Johnny was born with a truncated torso and appendicular legs as the result of a rare condition called Sacral agenesis; He weighed two pounds and measured less than eight inches at birth. A lesser person would have allowed this kind of start to color their entire life, but not Johnny. At the same age as other children begin to walk upright, he learned to walk on his hands. He excelled in school right alongside his brother. He aspired to be a preacher, but his deformity led to other opportunities.
At the age of thirteen, Johnny shortened his last name to "Eck" and joined the circus along with his brother and performed in the freak show. He worked as "The King Of Freaks" and "Johnny Eck The Half Boy," as incredible as that may seem, looking back on it from our politically correct present day. His love of showmanship, incredibly light weight and powerful arms led to seemingly incredibly feats of strength, they also led to disposable income. Despite the lack of legs, Eck loved all things mechanical, especially automobiles. With his circus earnings along with pay from odd jobs, Eck purchased a midget racecar and converted all the foot controls to hand operation. He even went so far as to have the car licensed for operation on the streets of Baltimore. Not only did he buzz around Baltimore in this crazy contraption, he raced it all over the eastern seaboard. The car was one of Johnny's greatest joys and although he went on to own others, his first was still somehow the best, much as it is for the rest of us.
As the years went on, the brothers retired, living a quiet life in Baltimore where they assembled a miniature train system which was the delight of neighborhood kids, and Johnny returned to one of his childhood loves of painting. They were considered a pillar of the community. In 1987, a gang of thugs broke into the brother's house and held both elderly men down, beating them severely as they ransacked the home. The two withdrew from public life, shunning friend and relative alike. Following the incident, the formerly vibrant and optimistic Johnny lost faith in his fellow man and society in general, he was quoted as saying "If I want to see freaks, I can just look out the window." After four years in seclusion he died on January 5, 1991 at the age of 79.
It is unfortunate such a remarkable man ended his years in such a way, perhaps it says something about society at large when someone born with half a body considers everyone else a freak. Whatever the case may be, Johnny Eck was without a doubt an incredibly interesting fellow, and if any of you ever rely on some lame excuse as to why your project car is sitting untouched in the garage, consider it well and truly nullified.
[Johnny Eck Museum, Phreeque]