Henry Johnson has been described as a microcephalic, in other words, a
pinhead. However, he didn't seem to have the idiocy that many true
pinheads do, nor as small a head. Not being a true pinhead
certainly didn't hurt his career, though. As Zip, the "What is It?" he
exhibited for close to 70 years with such large shows as P.T. Barnum's
and the Ringling Brothers. A constant showman, he would do anything for
a crowd and money. In his early days, Barnum even paid him an extra
dollar a day not to speak, thus feeding the story that he was a missing
link. Barnum also had him shave his head except for a tiny tuft in the
to accentuate the point of his head.
Zip was born in 1842 in either New Jersey or Connecticut. He began his sideshow career in 1859. He showed at Coney Island, and later hooked up with Barnum. Originally, he was exhibited in a cage and a monkey suit as the "missing link" or the "man-monkey." He traveled the world with the sideshow. Always in love with the spotlight, he carried around a toy pop-gun that he would threaten to shoot other acts with if they were getting too much attention. Later, he took up the violin to draw attention, after noticing the crowd Clikko the "Wild African Bushman" got when he played the ukulele. He even allowed people (including the other denizens of the sideshow) to pay him NOT to play his violin!
In later years, Zip had a chicken farm in Nutley, New Jersey. His sister claimed he could converse reasonably well and was not the idiot others took him to be. To reinforce this story, on his deathbed in 1926, he is reported to have said to his sister, "Well, we fooled 'em a long time."
Good for you, Zip.