CONGRESS OF THE ODD
BILL DURKS – The Man with Three Eyes
Bill Durks understandably had a tough childhood. He was born in Jasper, Alabama on April 13, 1913 with a condition known today as frontonasal dysplasia. During gestation, the two halves of Bill’s face failed to come together completely and uniformly and as a result he was born with deep cleft lip, open palate and a split nose. According to some accounts, Bill was also born with both of his eyes sealed shut with hoods of skin and he had to have them opened surgically as a small child.
Due to his appearance, Bill was denied an education. The schools children would not accept him and his family was simply too poor to afford private schooling. Furthermore, by all accounts, the Durks family was ashamed of their son and didn’t want him attending school anyway. As a result, Bill was a socially awkward and introverted man. To make things even more difficult for poor Bill, his clef lip made him difficult to understand.
One day, in his early teens, Bill attended a local fair as a spectator. The showmen running the sideshow instantly invited him to go on tour and Bill left behind his bleak life for a chance at fortune and soon became the ‘Man with Three Eyes’.
In an added bit of showmanship, during exhibits Bill would paint a third eye into the divot between his noses. Likely the fakery was not noticed for the duration of his career because few could stare Bill directly in his face. In a bit of irony, Bill, the man billed as having three eyes, was in reality the man with one eye as he was blind in his right eye.
Bill was quite a successful Marvel and worked with numerous show including Kelly-Sutton Shows, Gooding’s Million Dollar Midway, Hall & Christ Shows, James E. Strates Shows and Hubert’s Museum making a good living. He was often taken advantage of and exploited due to his meek nature. Bill was also illiterate, which meant he could not read the contracts he signed.
Over time, Bill eventually became quite well liked by his fellow Marvels. Many of them began to look out for his interests. Most notable is the close friendship Bill developed with Melvin ‘The
Anatomical Wonder’ Burkhart. Burkhart took Bill under his wing and taught him how to interact with crowds, how to interact with people, gave him confidence and even taught Bill how to read. Bill began to love the sideshow and the crowds. He cherished the idea that while once he was shunned by society, now people were pay for the right to see him. Bill quickly soon became the star of the show and spent the remainer of his career with the Slim Kelly and Whitney Sutton shows. Bill was always grateful for the friendship he found in his fellow performers and his mentor Burkhart.
Burkhart eventually introduced Bill to Mildred the alligator-skinned woman. Mildred was born in 1901 and was a bit older than Bill but friendship quickly turned to love and, despite appearances, the two married. They spent several happy years together as the World’s Strangest Married Couple until Mildred passed in June of 1968. Bill was completely heartbroken and soon retired to Gibsonton, Florida where he joined his beloved wife on May 7, 1975.
Bill Durks was a man who began his life hidden from the world by parents who were ashamed of him. He turned to the sideshow and found the love and friendship he lacked his entire life. It was love and friendship he deserved as a Human Marvel and a testament to the perseverance of man.
© 2006 – 2008, J Tithonus Pednaud. All rights reserved.
J Tithonus Pednaud has dedicated this site to highlighting the remarkable lives of those born exceedingly different. These so-called freaks and human oddities stand as uplifting testaments to human spirit and serve as inspiring examples of human tenacity.