Celebrating Blind Tom in Black History Month

In 1865, the New York phrenologist Orson Fowler examined the sixteen-year-old piano prodigy known as "Blind Tom". This is what he reported:

We have seen Tom - who is only partially blind - several times in public and in private; have examined him carefully, and made extended caliper measurements. The result of our investigation leads us to the following conclusions:

Tom was said to be 16 years of age in May 1865. He stands 5 feet 7 inches high, weighs nearly 50 pounds and is one of the most compactly built, vigorous and healthy persons we have ever met.

In his musical performances he exercises his arms and shoulders vigorously and he has the admirable instinct, as soon as he is released from public exhibition to commence a system of bodily gyrations in his private room, solely devoted to the exercise of the lower part of his body and limbs.

One very singular exercise of his consists in standing on one foot, bending his body forward horizontally, and straightening the other leg out backward so that the foot is in line with his head. In this position he leaps around the room perhaps 20 times or more. His leaps are from half-a-yard to a yard-and-a-half in extent, and it almost makes one giddy to see him make these circuits, and at the same time apprehensive, lest his foot slip and he dash his head on the floor. In making these circuits he will go within six inches of the wall, but never hit it.

He has various other methods of exercising his legs and hips which must be seen to be appreciated. His motions in these gymnastics, though in some respects unique, are not ungraceful. By persistent exercise he has so developed his physique that it will be hard to find a person of his age with a finer frame. His legs are splendidly developed and as hard as those of any gymnast. He has broad square shoulders, a full chest, a well-knit frame throughout and is as sound and healthy as a human can be. We are, in fact, informed by those who attend him that such is the case.