Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A circus dwarf died when he bounced off a trampoline into the mouth of a hippopotamus.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1994]
Origins: Some faux news stories (usually ones invented by tabloids such as the
As far as we've been able to ascertain, the "Hippo Eats Dwarf" story made its Internet debut in 1994, when it was posted to a USENET newsgroup as part of a collection of odd news accounts taken from
Where the hippo-dwarf incident ostensibly took place isn't even clear, as the three-sentence summary quoted above is ambiguous: Was the deceased an
The "Hippo Eats Dwarf" tale experienced a renaissance when it was published by Thailand's
A circus dwarf, nicknamed Od, died recently in the North when he bounced sideways from a trampoline and was swallowed by a yawning hippopotamus which was waiting to appear in the next act. Vets on the scene said Hilda the Hippo had a gag reflex which automatically caused her to swallow. They added in mitigation that the hefty creature was a vegetarian who had not previously digested a circus performer. Unfortunately, the 1000 plus spectators continued to applaud wildly until common sense dictated there had been a tragic mistake. Police said the trampoline has been sent for forensic analysis.The Pattaya Mail's account was quickly picked up and
The vets said it was the first time the hefty vegetarian had ever eaten a circus performer. Her keeper commented that although Hilda had a slight weight problem, she was on a strict diet which did not include dwarves.Scanned copies of various newspaper re-printings of the
Police said the trampoline had been sent for forensic analysis on pretense that it might be faulty. The Police commented that there is no evidence to support a suicide by the circus performer despite his past history of alcoholism.
The vets have administered a laxative to the Hippopotamus in order to speed the recovery of the circus performer's remains.
The Express' "Beachcomber" columnist penned a tongue-in-cheek column about the phenomenon of the mutating "Hippo Eats Dwarf" tale a few years ago, in which he noted:
A friend recently alerted me to a curious news item about a dwarf being eaten by a hippopotamus.Based on the lack of any reputable source to document the expiration of a trampoline-bouncing Austrian circus dwarf at the hands (er, mouth) of a Hippopotamus amphibius, we have to opt for the former alternative (i.e., practical joke masquerading as fact). Its truthfulness notwithstanding, the famous headline has since been memorialized as the name of an Auckland band.
The story concerned something described as a "freak accident" at a circus in Thailand where a trampolining dwarf named Od bounced into the mouth of a yawning hippo and was swallowed.
The story left several questions unanswered. What happened to the hippo? Was it a dwarf hippopotamus? And above all, is the whole tale a piece of fiction? On researching the matter, I discovered much to arouse my suspicions. For example, people say the whole thing is an urban myth dating back at least to 1999, while even five years before that, the Manchester Evening News is said to have run a story about Austrian dwarf Franz Dasch who bounced off a trampoline into the mouth of a hippo named Hilda.
There are only two possibilities: either the story is one of those practical jokes masquerading as fact that does the rounds every few years to ensnare a new pack of gullible readers, or Hilda is a serial killer among circus hippos with a consuming passion for dwarfs. The change in name and nationality of the dwarf strongly suggests the urban myth hypothesis, but we cannot dismiss the other possibility.
Last updated: 19 July 2006
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