The Great Omi
postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, circa 1940
The man who would earn his fame as "The Great Omi" was born Horace Ridler in 1892. His origins
are a tangle of rumors, which likely helped the man to reinvent himself. According to
one version of his story, Ridler was born into an upper class British family, attended Oxford University, and
served with the Desert Mountain Corps through the First World War, achieving the rank of major.
In the early 1920's, Ridler managed to piddle away his inheritance. Without any other means of support he
decided to become a show attraction.
Being rather unremarkable physically, Ridler decided his enfreakment might best be acheived through tattooing.
In 1922, he began to cover his skin with traditional 'flash', but realized that style of tattooing was
no longer enough to make him marketable.
Around 1930, Ridler contacted George "King of Tattooists" Burchett (1872-1953). Ridler's idea was to have himself covered with broad stripes
and patterns similar to a zebra's markings. Allegedly, Burchett worked on Ridler during five hundred sittings between
June and December. The work cost Omi around 3,000 pounds, but he would later claim it had cost closer to 10,000 — but
whichever was more accurate, Burchett said he never received all of the money he was owed.
In addition to the tattoos, Omi also had his teeth filed to points and stretched peircings through his septum and earlobes.
This latter addition to his persona he would claim was the result of torture he suffered in New Guinea.
The Great Omi was a star attraction in Robert Ripley's New York Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium. Appearing
nine or ten times a day over 1,600 days, Omi claims the record for the most performances on Broadway. Omi was usually
introduced to his audience by his wife, who billed herself as Omette.
During the Second World War, Omi used his star power to sell war bonds. In 1950, Omi and Omette decided they had had enough of
show business and returned to England to enjoy their retirement. Horace "Great Omi" Ridler died in Sussex in 1969.