The “What Is It?”

Zip the "What Is It?"

Born William Henry Johnson in a small town in New Jersey in the 1840’s, he was hired by Barnum into the American Museum in 1860.

The introduction of Zip on stage came three months after the publishing of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Barnum quickly displayed the pinhead as the “missing link”, asking people, "What is it?", mentioning that "it" could be a lower form of man or a higher form of ape.

He became one of Barnum’s most popular attractions, remaining with the circus, until his death in 1926. He stood erect in a cage, wearing a fur suit and usually limited his performances to groans and bounds much like an ape. Sometimes he would use tools in an awkward way which stressed his sub-humanism. Other times he would dance, and thus the audience assumed he had been tamed and trained.

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