Oofty Goofty

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Leonard "Leon" Borchardt (April 26, 1862 – death date unknown),[1][2] better known as Oofty Goofty, was a German sideshow performer who lived in San Francisco, California in the late 19th century and Houston, Texas in the early 20th century.

Early life[edit]

Goofty was born Leonard Borchardt (sometimes Burkhardt) in Berlin on April 26, 1862. He was Jewish. In 1900, Goofty told a Houston Daily Post reporter that he came to the U.S. on the SS Fresia as a stowaway in 1876, was found by the captain and made to work for three crossings to earn his passage, and was finally able to immigrate by 1878. According to Goofty, he drifted from city to city before finding himself penniless in Detroit, Michigan during a snowstorm on January 27, 1883, and enlisted in the United States Army for five years. Goofty was placed in Company K of the First Cavalry and stationed at the Jefferson Barracks Military Post.

He was described as being 5 ft 4 in tall, with brown eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. Goofty said that his fellow soldiers teased him because he was Jewish; he would be the first man the Native Americans would scalp in a fight. When orders came deploying him to Washington Territory, he deserted shortly afterwards on April 9, 1883. He was apprehended the same day, and then escaped from military custody a few days later.[3][4]

Career[edit]

In his 1933 book, The Barbary Coast, Herbert Asbury wrote that Borchardt got the name "Oofty Goofty" from a February 1884 appearance at a Market Street sideshow, where he was billed as the "Wild Man of Borneo".

Borchardt was covered from head to toe with road tar, into which horsehair was stuck. This gave him a savage and ferocious appearance. He was then locked in a cage, and people paid a dime to look at the “wild man” supposedly captured in the jungles of Borneo and brought to San Francisco at enormous expense. To add to the realism, large chunks of raw meat were poked between the bars by an attendant, and the "wild man" gobbled ravenously, occasionally growling, shaking the bars, and yelping, “Oofty goofty! Oofty goofty!”

Oofty's career as a “wild man” came to an end after about a week, when he took ill, believed to be because he was unable to perspire because of the tar on his skin. Doctors at the city's Receiving Hospital tried for days to remove the tar, but could not do so, presumably because of the horsehair. The tar finally came off after he was doused with tar solvent and left to lie on the hospital's roof.

Afterwards, according to an interview he gave in 1900, Oofty worked as baseball team mascot. After losing several games, members of the team kicked him and made him walk nearly a hundred miles back home.[5]

In June 1885, Oofty was charged with libel after claiming a man named C. Linear had offered him $200 to burn his house down.[6] Days later he was put into the Home of the Inebriates and was to be examined by the insanity commissioners.[7] His status as a deserter was made known and he was sentenced to three years in military prison. He attempted to fake epileptic fits, but his ruse was uncovered. He later injured himself by jumping off a cliff and was released from service September 18, 1885. He then made his way back to San Francisco.

Early in the 1885 libel case, Oofty gave an interview to the San Francisco Examiner, in which he described the "feat" for which he would become best known:

My stock in trade was a leather pad I wore in the seat of my trousers and my customers were young men, who would pay from 10 cents to $2, according to the thickness of the cane with which I would allow them to strike me with one blow as I bent forward over the back of a chair. [8]

Nearly fifty years later, Asbury offered a very different version of this that appears to conflate fact and fiction. Asbury claimed that the genesis of Oofty's "whack me" business was his sudden discovery, upon being thrown out of a Barbary Coast saloon onto a hard cobblestone street, that he felt no physical pain. Asbury said that Oofty would tour San Francisco, baseball bat in hand, and invite anyone who would listen to kick him as hard as they could for 5 cents, smack him with a walking stick for 15 cents, or beat him with a baseball bat for 25 cents. Asbury went on to claim that, in 1891, John L. Sullivan struck Oofty across the back with a billiard cue, fracturing three vertebrae, and that Oofty walked with a limp the rest of his life because of it.[9]

On July 14, 1886, Oofty began a trek across the United States with a wheelbarrow, hoping to break a record.[10] On the morning of July 15, 1886 he was knocked into a creek at Pinole, California by farm hands who were frightened by him, and called off his journey.[11] He made his way to Sacramento and was told by the governor to leave town. In 1889, Oofty Goofty took part in a go-as-you-please walking match in California and walked 223 miles in six days.[12] He appeared in many other California area walking matches during the next few years.

Afterwards, Goofty attempted to gain success through the stage and theater. He played Romeo opposite actress "Big Bertha's" Juliet, but the play proved disastrous.

In November 1892, Oofty was living in Montana and entertaining people with stories of his life.[13] At that time he was claiming that he had sat down in water for several years and had become partially petrified, thus immune to pain. He was betting people $50 that they could not make him cry out in pain by hitting him with a drill.[14]

Later years[edit]

In the late 1890s, Oofty was living in Texas where he sold imitation diamonds and performed odd feats for money. In June 1900, he was living in a hotel in Houston, Texas.[15] He appears again in the 1920 census, living in a hotel in Houston.[16] He last appeared in the 1923 city directory for Houston, by which point he would have been 61 years old.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Oofty Goofty was parodied in the 1941 Frank Morgan film The Wild Man of Borneo, and in a 1937 Our Gang short film called The Kid From Borneo.
  • He was referred to in a story by Bill Pronzini, "The Bughouse Caper". [Kurland, Michael (editor) "Sherlock Holmes – The Hidden Years" New York, St. Martin's Minotaur 2004].
  • He was discussed in one of the "Freak Show" episodes of Wild West Tech.
  • As part of a television series showcasing re-enactments of Victorian side show acts, vaudeville stunts and escapology, Jonathan Goodwin staged a tribute to Oofty Goofty by attempting to bring his feats of human endurance to a twenty-first-century television audience. Goodwin asked three separate professional cage fighters to kick, punch, and hit him with a baseball bat, while Goodwin attempted not to react to any of the ensuing pain.
  • The story of Oofty Goofty is featured in episode 27 of American historical comedy podcast The Dollop, hosted by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oofty-Goofty" Archived October 25, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, January 10, 1897, Houston Daily Post, p. 2
  2. ^ "Odd Characters in Houston (No. 4)" Archived October 25, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, August 10, 1900, Houston Daily Post, p. 8.
  3. ^ U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1878-1884, A-G, page 151.
  4. ^ "Odd Characters in Houston (No. 4)" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, August 10, 1900, Houston Daily Post, p. 8.
  5. ^ "Odd Characters in Houston (No. 4)", August 10, 1900, Houston Daily Post, p. 8.
  6. ^ "San Francisco Items". Sacramento Daily Record. Sacramento, California. June 10, 1885.
  7. ^ "San Francisco Items". Sacramento Daily Record. Sacramento, California. June 15, 1885.
  8. ^ John Lumea, "Oofty Goofty Wore a Leather Pad in His Pants: A Selective Timeline of San Francisco Street Characters Associated with Emperor Norton," The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, 30 August 2019.
  9. ^ Herbert Asbury (1933). The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 133–. ISBN 978-1-56025-408-9. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  10. ^ "San Francisco Items". Sacramento Daily Record-Union. Sacramento, California. July 14, 1886.
  11. ^ "Brief Notes". Sacramento Daily Record-Union. Sacramento, California. July 16, 1886.
  12. ^ "The Walking Match Ends". The Los Angeles Daily Herald. February 28, 1889.
  13. ^ The Anaconda Standard. Helena, Montana. November 24, 1892. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ The Anaconda Standard. Helena, Montana. November 27, 1892. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ 1900 United States Census, United States Census, 1900; 3rd Ward, Houston, Harris County, Texas; page 21, line 24, enumeration district 75.
  16. ^ 1920 United States Census, United States Census, 1920; 4th Ward, Houston, Harris County, Texas; page 4B, line 92, enumeration district 64.

External links[edit]