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The Great Omi, The Zebra Man

The Great Omi, (alleged) World's Most Heavily Tattooed Man

The Great Omi
postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, circa 1940
photographer: unknown

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.

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2004 - 2010