A tribute to oofty goofty
Leonard "Leon" Borchardt (April 26, 1862 – death date unknown), 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.
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. According to Goofty, his fellow soldiers teased him because he was Jewish; he would be the first man the Native Americans would scalp in a fight. Goofty says that 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.
Author Herbert Asbury wrote that he 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". He was adored by his fans and was often taken out by his fans who provided him with steak, hence his stage name.
Goofty's career as a wild man came to an end after about a week, when he took ill, 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 he worked as baseball team mascot. After losing several games, the baseball team kicked him and made him walk several hundred miles back home.
In June 1885 he was charged with libel after claiming a man named C. Linear had offered him $200 to burn his house down. By that time he had already become known as Oofty Goofty, and had previously been a "What-is-it?" in a dime museum. Days later he was put into the Home of the Inebriates and was to be examined by the insanity commissioners. 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 was back to San Francisco.
On July 14, 1886, he began a trek across the United States with a wheelbarrow, hoping to break a record. 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. 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. 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. Asbury said that Goofty discovered that he felt no pain as the result of being thrown out of a Barbary Coast saloon onto a hard cobblestone street. Goofty reportedly 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. In 1891 John L. Sullivan struck him across the back with a billiard cue, fracturing three vertebrae, and reportedly Goofty walked with a limp the rest of his life because of it.
In November 1892 he was living in Montana and entertaining people with stories of his life. 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.
In the late 1890s, he was living in Texas where he sold imitation diamonds and performing odd feats for money. In June 1900, he was living in a hotel in Houston, Texas. He appears again in the 1920 census, living in a hotel in Houston. He last appeared in the 1923 city directory for Houston, by which point he would have been 61 years old.