Harry lived inside two skeletons. The first was the one he was born with – the ordinary skeleton of a young boy. There was nothing wrong with this skeleton, except for a bony protrusion on one of the big toes. But his body believed that this skeleton was too fragile to exist on its own. So it started to grow another one to provide shelter for the first.
When Harry hurt himself – when he was running and stubbed a toe, or when he broke his leg falling out of a tree – his body grew new bone in the place where he’d been hurt. The only way his body knew how to heal was to make bone, as if it was afraid of leaving any part of him vulnerable. Soon the outer skeleton bound Harry in struts and girders. Bone covered his back like a broken cocoon. He was metamorphosing. A delicate column, like a stalactite, fused his head to his neck. Harry’s outer appearance was hard and angular, but his face looked okay, if waxen. You might think he was recovering from an accident or was going through an awkward growth spurt.
After age ten Harry’s legs and hips seized up so that he couldn’t walk without a cane. He moved about like an old man. I imagine him as a young man on the first day of a new job, trying to tie his tie. How was he going to do this every morning? His bones wouldn’t have it. They wanted to fuse him to a single spot and keep him there. He should never need to cry for help. By the end of his life his jaw locked and he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t brush his teeth, cough, stick out his tongue, lick an envelope, whistle, lick his lips, eat, or kiss. He got thinner and thinner. He got pneumonia, and then he died.
You can see Harry at Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. He is not far from the plaster death cast of Chang and Eng, the famous conjoined twins, who died long before he was born. A seven-inch long ligament joined the brothers at the chest; they stand side by side. Preserved in formalin, the liver they shared is displayed beside them.
Harry is by himself. In a glass case, he stands on one leg, as he eventually stood in life. He was easy to put together. Ordinary skeletons require fine wires and glue for articulation – the drawing-upwards of the bones, so that they stand tall – but Harry’s skeleton stood tall without help, because it was fused as one piece.
The skeleton is yellowish now, and it has a cracked appearance, like a dead cockroach. But the head seems alive, in the way that all skulls have. The rows of teeth are a broad, bony grin, as if to say I won!
You rarely see photographs of Harry the man himself. You wouldn’t know his face or his handwriting or the sound of his voice. It’s always his skeleton. His bones stand in for him. That’s what people recognise. That’s what we remember.