"A Startling Human Monstrosity with the Features of an Animal”

In January 1887 an Ohio newspaper ran a story about a baby born to an unmarried woman who closely resembled a dog, suggesting that the “monstrosity” was a result of a scare at a fairground sideshow. While the headline probably sold a few papers, they had to retract some of the sensational claims made later on when they heard that their article was largely based on hearsay and rumors.

A Startling Human Monstrosity with the 
Features of an Animal, Born in the East End.
Mary Dillon’s Sad Case-Her Fright at the Fair Grounds and Its Result-
The Child Likely to Live.
The Springfield Daily Republic [OH]  18 Jan. 1887

 Last evening a REPUBLIC reporter quietly received the startling information that a baby had been born in the east end of the city, that was a human monstrosity of a surprising type-that, in other words, the lower part of its face looked like that OF A WILD ANIMAL, and especially a dog. The case was investigated this morning, and while it does not fully come up to the startling mark set by the first statement, it is one of extreme interest to medical science, and will be learned with much interest by the gentlemen of that profession in this city.

     This (Tuesday) morning, two young medical students visited the residence of Mr. and Mrs. James Dillon, No. 227 east North street, where they saw the child. It was born a week ago tomorrow to Mary Ellen Dillon, the elder daughter of the family, and is in many particulars a handsome child. It is a boy, and its physical development is simply remarkable. Its body is as large and as full as many a child’s at a month old. Its little limbs are fat and plump, its head large and of good shape, and it is an eminently good-natured and well-behaved child. The young girl’s parents are plunged in grief at their daughter’s shame, but are treating her with the utmost kindness and forebearance. They are honest, intelligent and kind hearted Irish people of the better class. Four months ago, Mary Ellen brought suit against a young man named Will Butler.
     He skipped out and is now in Detroit, it is said. The constables have been hunting for him ever since and an unsuccessful search of theirs was recently published in the REPUBLIC. His mother was a former fish-monger in market, but is now living off the proceeds of a pension, which, it is said, is so arranged that the marriage of her son, Will, will nullify it. Be that as it may, Butler, to

whom Miss Dillon was, and is yet, devotedly attached, has not been seen since the commencement of this suit, and the girl is now left to bear the shame of wronged womanhood and the parentage of a monstrosity.

     The baby is pitifully deformed and it is easy to see how the report of the RESEMBLANCE TO AN ANIMAL could have originated. The superior maxillary-the upper jaw bone-is missing on the left side and there is no trace of at all of the formation commonly known as the “roof of the mouth,” the nose itself doing pitiful service for that structure. There is nothing below the nasal bones until the interior maxillary of lower jaw-bone is reached. The mouth itself is almost square in shape and comes clean to the nose on the upper side.On the right side of the mouth there is a large, dark-red excrescence, resembling a small sponge, which adds greatly to the grotesque appearance of the face. The discharges from the only partially formed nasal duct come directly to the mouth, and drying there, protrudes from the misshapen lips in something greatly representing a dog’s tusk. The hands are also bent downward, paw-like, at the wrist, adding to the resemblance mentioned in the first rumor.
     The unhappy young mother states that last summer, while attending a side-show performance at the Fair grounds, in company with Butler, she received a severe shock from fright from something that she saw. It is a well known fact IN OBSTETRICAL SCIENCE that in cases of pregnancy a severe fright will often impart to the babe a resemblance to the object which caused the shock. The present instance is a case in point.
     The child takes nourishment from a spoon in great quantities, and is likely to live.”

On Jan. 21, 1887, the same paper ran a follow-up addressing Mary Ellen Dillon’s baby in which they addressed some “exaggerated rumors.” Their position at that time was that the child didn’t look at all like a dog and that the baby suffered from a cleft palate and a “hare-lip.” The family was distraught at the reports being printed in the papers, not only about the child but also about the child being born out of wedlock. This must have been before “fact-checking” was a thing. On Feb. 27, the Springfield Daily Republic reported that the bastardy suit had been settled when Mary Ellen and Will Butler were married. The blurb was not without a mention of the sensationalism surrounding the baby: “The young woman will be remembered as the mother of the queerly deformed child…”

Springfield Daily Republic 22 Feb. 1887