Ella Harper, aka The Camel Girl, was born with a very rare condition that caused her knees to bend backwards. Due to this condition, had to walked on all four of her legs, which resulted in her nickname as “Camel Girl.” Though it was hard at first, but soon she made a fortune out of it.
The rear of Ella Harper’s pitch card that would be given to spectators later read:
I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet, as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886, and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation.
Born on January 5, 1870, Ella Harper had an extremely rare orthopedic condition called congenital genu recuvatum, which translates to “curved knee.”
Why is Ella Harper called the “Camel Girl”?
Ella’s father, William Harper, was a farmer and her mother Minerva Ann Childress cared for the children. Ella had four siblings, but none of her siblings shared her disability. It has also been revealed that Ella had a twin brother, who died within a month after birth, while Ella lived despite her deformity and made a living out of it.
At the age of 12 Ella found work in the small-time “freak show” circuit, and soon she graced circus stages from St. Louis to New Orleans.
Showman W.H. Harris was very eager to include the most diverse roaster of freaks available, and after learning of Ella Harper. He offered her a sizable salary to come and work under contract with him. Harris’ circus had already included lion tamers and acrobats who performed atop galloping horses.
By 1886, Ella was the star of W.H. Harris’s Nickel Plate Circus where she was often accompanied by a camel when presented to audiences, and she was a feature in the newspapers of every town of the circus she visited.
Ella became a popular name in Harris’s Nickel Plate circus, and at the time she received a weekly salary of $200 that opened many doors for her. It allowed her to find a new home while following her lucrative career.
Her career, on the other hand, regularly humiliated her; aside from the moniker “Camel Girl,” she was also thrust onstage with an actual camel, and paying viewers were invited to marvel at the similarities.
Newspapers termed Ella as ‘the most wonderful freak of nature since the creation of the world.’ the newspaper continued, adding that Harper was nothing more than a pleasant faced young woman whose knees turned backward instead of forward.
Ella Harper’s life after circus
While Ella enjoyed her time in the circus, she was adamant when she stated, “I intend to quit the show business to go to school and fit myself for another occupation.”
Ella Harper’s life after the circus is unknown, but it is assumed that she pursued education and returned to her childhood home shortly after leaving the freak show circus. Tragedy seemed to follow her. Harper’s father died in a house fire around 1890, and her brother Willie died five years later.
Meanwhile, Ella married Robert L. Savely on June 28th, 1905, Robert was a school teacher and later a bookkeeper for photo supplies company. According to the 1910 Census, Ella and her husband lived in Nashville, Tennessee with Ella’s mother.
35-year-old Ella Harper gave birth to a girl named Mabel Evans Savely on April 27 the following year. But, unfortunately, the joy was short-lived, as Mabel died at only 6 months old on October 1, 1906. After the death of their child, Ella and Robert adopted a 3-month-old child, but unfortunately the child passed away only 18 days later.
On 19th December 1921, Ella Harper followed her young children into the grave and died of colon cancer in Nashville, Tennessee.
Now that you’ve read about Ella Harper, the camel girl, read about Grady Stiles Jr.The Freak Show performer who turned into killer Lobster Boy. You might also like reading about Frank Lentini, the man with three legs, 16 fingers and two penises.