Friday, July 15, 2011

Three-Legged Man Picks Hops, Dies

There's a full moon tonight. So here's a sad, odd story.

Circus freak George Lippert died in Salem in July 1906. He had gone to Aurora to pick hops, caught a cold, and died.

He is said to have been buried in the "Catholic Cemetery," but modern inventories of St. Barbara's Cemetery haven't turned up a headstone or plot for Lippert, and it's possible he was disinterred and reburied elsewhere, perhaps with family in Bavaria.

From the July 23, 1906 Capital Journal.

George Lippert Had Two Hearts, Three Legs and Sixteen Toes
George Lippert, the three-legged, two-hearted and sixteen-toed man, who had spent most of the 62 years of his life in dime museums and side shows, was buried Saturday in the Catholic Cemetery in this city.

Lippert was a native of Bavaria, and was born with three fully developed legs, one of them being smaller than the other two. He also had two separate hearts, one on the right and the other on the left side of his body. It is said that the heart on the left side stopped beating two weeks before Lippert died.

The freak walked on all three of his legs until he was injured in a train wreck in France, near Paris, at the time Barnum's show was wrecked. At that time Mr. Lippert was dangerously injured, and was not dug out of the debris for 12 hours.

After he partially recovered, he went with various shows, and at one time or another in his life was on exhibition in nearly all the traveling aggregations in the country.
Six years ago he was with a small show that was stranded in Medford. He went to work in a green house owned by a man named Riggs, and continued in his employ until Mr. Riggs died. About a year ago Mrs. Mary A. Riggs came to Salem, and brought the three-legged man with her. He went out to Aurora to pick hops, caught a cold, which finally resulted in his death last Saturday at the home of Mrs. Riggs, at 1121 Fir Street in South Salem.

Lippert is said to have been survived by wealthy relatives in Bavaria, but had no relatives in America.

The expenses of his funeral were met by his benefactor, Mrs. Riggs, who has, as curios, Lippert's three-legged trousers, the shoe for his third foot and his books and documents.
For more on Lippert's card (detail shown above), see here, here, and here. The Riggs house at 1121 Fir doesn't appear to remain, and something was built there in the late 1930s. Lippert's extra limb and heart was likely a vestigial or parasitic twin.

Historic Newspapers Database

Microfilm's a pain! But research is getting easier and a chunk of local newspapers have been digitized and made available online. (We turned up Lippert's story while researching other stories.)

Next Tuesday a talk at the library will show off the site.
7 p.m., July 19, Anderson Room B

Jason Stone of the University of Oregon will visit Salem as part of the launch of the University of Oregon Historic Oregon Newspapers website. With the power of this new Internet resource, the public now has unprecedented access to “first draft” historical materials originally published by Oregon journalists between 1846 and 1922. The website includes more than 180,000 pages of digital content drawn from historic newspapers that include the Salem Capital Journal and the Portland Oregonian.

In this presentation, Stone will provide information on how the project was done, and how to best use the website.

This event is free and open to the public. More information is available from the Information/Reference desk at 503-588-6052.
All kinds of community and do-it-yourself history will get easier. There are vast swaths of Salem history that's been forgot - so find your own slice and get after it!


  1. OMG! The Historic Oregon Newspapers web site is great! Just think of all the poetry in Oregon's past that is now available to readers! Any idea when The New Northwest - Portland's suffragist/temperance/reformist newspaper edited for years by Abigail Scott Duniway - will make it to digital form?

  2. Isn't it great! Just as you say, in addition to the newspaper articles, there's lot of poetry, interesting advertisements, even facebooky (or stalkerish) personal updates on who's visiting in town and where they are staying.

    Doing The New Northwest would be very useful and interesting! Here's the project's advisory board. They're certainly the ones to lobby. You could also ask Jason when he's in town.

  3. The New Northwest was just added! See here for more.