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J. R. Bass, the Ossified Man

"J. R. Bass, the Ossified Man" is copyright  ©  2006 by James G. Mundie. All rights reserved.  Reproduction prohibited.

Ink drawing on paper, 14 x 3.75 inches, 2006
Collection of the The Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Jonathan Richardson Bass was a popular attraction in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Born in upstate New York in 1830, Bass was afflicted with ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammation of the connective tissues which over time causes joints to fuse together, ending in rigid paralysis. On the show circuit, people like Bass were often referred to as “the Living Statue” or “the Man of Stone”.

As a young man Bass was mobile enough to work around the family farm, but he had become completely paralyzed by his forties. He spent his days in a bed attended by his family, ingesting liquids through a gap in his teeth. Upon the death of his mother in the 1880's Bass began his career as a sideshow attraction. A rather handsome mustache and extremely long fingernails on one hand gave additional flair. Bass was often displayed strapped upright onto a special litter.

Despite the problems posed by his condition (including the loss of his eyesight), Bass claimed to feel no pain and was rather optimistic in his outlook. Bass is discussed in Gould & Pyle's Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, which says he was “quite intelligent and cheerful in spite of his complete ankylosis.” While on display in Huber's Museum in 1892 Bass contracted pneumonia. He died at home later that year.

My tribute to J. R. Bass draws upon Hans Holbein's The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521; Kunstmuseum, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basle), which realistically depicts a corpse in the state of rigor mortis.


[detail enlargement 1] (112k)

[detail enlargement 2] (91k)



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All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2006 - 2012