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Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid

Text by Shirley Dolloff and Constance V. Bragdon
Photo contributed by Peru Historical Society

Leonard Trask was born on June 20, 1805, in Hartford, Maine, the son of Osborn Trask, a prosperous farmer who taught his children to work diligently. Leonard learned his lessons well.

As a teenager, Leonard worked on his father's farm, but as a young adult he began his industrious activities. He moved to Carthage to make bricks at $11.50 a month. He returned to Hartford to build a stone wall 100 rods long in eight weeks for $100. With his earnings he bought a pair of oxen for $50 and sold them for $55. He went to Byron, Maine to work as a logger for $12 a month for 2 1/2 months, then on to Massachusetts where he worked as a logger for $13 a month for one year and $18 a month for the next year, always increasing his wages.

Upon returning to Maine the next year, he bought a parcel of land on the west side of Worthley Pond in the town of Peru. He contracted someone to build him a barn one year and a house the following summer, where he and his bride, Eunice Knight, whom he married in 1830, settled down to raise a family.

They lived well, enjoying prosperity and their children until 1833. One day when he was riding horseback, he encountered a hog that became frightened and rushed directly under the horse's hoofs. The horse stumbled and plunged, throwing Mr. Trask directly over its head. Mr.Trask was thrown onto the ground, landing forcefully on his neck and shoulders. It was at least two months before he was able to do light work, and then only in great pain. He could work no more than an hour at a time before he needed to rest.

The next year he improved, but his cattle suffered from a disease known as murrain, and his stock dwindled considerably. He was now no longer a prosperous farmer and needed to return to the hard labor of logging.

The next winter he went with a crew of men to work at a location twelve miles into the woods from the nearest dwelling. They traveled through four feet of snow, but could not find the camp. They spent the next two nights out in the open around a campfire. They spent the third night on cots made from bows under a low shelter of trees before they found the camp.

Because of this adventure, his spinal problems increased. He could not get off his bunk without the use of a rope to pull himself up. He ate his meals walking around a stump.

Before his accident, Mr. Trask stood 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 199 pounds. By 1835, two years after his accident, his neck and shoulders began curving forward. In 1840, he fell from a load of hay, breaking his collar bone and four ribs, which brought on a fever and further curving of his spine.

One day a loud snapping noise came from his upper spine, caused by the separation of his neck and back, therefore causing further curving of his head forward and downward. In 1857, he measured 4 feet 10 1/2 inches tall at the highest point of his shoulders, and weighed 134 pounds.

By this time the curvature of his spine was so pronounced that he was looking directly at his chest and could see no more than two or three feet in front of him without leaning back.

Leonard Trask
Leonard Trask
Peru Historical Society

Over the years he saw 21 physicians who dealt with all kinds of specialties. He endured all types of horrendous treatments, including blood-letting with blood suckers, and trying to stretch his body. He tried selling some of his homemade products, but gave it up because his appearance was so startling that he frightened women and children. Showmen wanted to hire him as a curiosity at their shows, but he refused. Even then he refused to become a pauper of the town.

A historian, Sumner R. Newell, Esq., wrote a short book titled, A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid. Trask went with his biographer to New York where they sold the booklets for ten cents each. The sight of Mr. Trask caused much curiosity, and they sold many of the booklets, but not enough to pay their expenses or produce much of a profit.

According to Mr. Newell's short biography of Mr. Trask, in 1858, while traveling by a coach that cornered too sharply, Leonard and his traveling companions were thrown about very roughly. He hit his head on a broken iron projection on the coach door, opening a five inch gash, with a piece of iron penetrating his skull. This further deformed his spine, pushing his chin into his chest, causing breathing problems.

He was bedridden the last two weeks of his life and died in 1861.

In 2011 one of the members of the Peru Historical Society received a telephone call from David Caldwell-Evans of London, requesting information about Leonard Trask. This information was sent to him. In February of 2013 a letter was received from Mr. Caldwell-Evans explaining his interest. Please go to the sidebar to see his letter.

The History of the Town of Peru, Maine, by Hollis Turner, 1911.
A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid, by Sumner R.ewell, Esq., circa 1886. (Google)