William Henry Johnson is the real name of Zip. People think he had microcephaly due to the abnormal shape of his head. Microcephaly is a neurological illness, in which the head of the person is smaller than the normal size. While the face grows and forms at a normal rate, the head does not seem to catch up with this phase; thus, the pinhead. This condition also impacts the body, as being stunted and underweight. This is the appearance of Zip, having a receding forehead, a tiny head, and a dwarfed body. As he grew older, the dimension of his skull became quite apparent.
Born technically as a pinhead in 1842 in New Jersey, Zip became a popular adult performer during the peak of sideshow. But there was something about William Henry Johnson that was indescribable. This is because individuals with microcephaly typically suffer from delayed speech and motor functions, besides the common physical deformity. Mental retardation is also common for people with this medical disorder. However, with William Henry, microcephaly characteristics were not as strong and prominent as most other pinheads, particularly sideshow performers.
William Henry Johnson had a long career in the circus, enjoying many years performing at various stages during the golden age. Throughout those years, he was called by a few names such as The Missing Link, The Man-Monkey, The Monkey Man, aside from Zip the Pinhead.
In 1860, P. T. Barnum discovered William Henry and changed his appearance by shaving his head and left only a small turf of his hair. Barnum also dressed William in an odd fursuit and presented the idea that William being a missing link. Barnum said that he found William in Western Africa while hunting for gorillas around the Gambia River. Barnum continued with the story that William was climbing on trees with a group of naked race.
When Zip became a sideshow performer, he enthusiastically jumped into his character. He only grunted when someone asked or talked to him, and never spoke for the rest of the performance. There were talks that Barnum would pay zip the pinhead one dollar every day to be in character. Over the years, Zip was making profits by being quiet and acting like a wild man on stage.
Audiences believed Zip was a complete madman and mentally deficient. A New Yorker article indicated that Zip had a mentality akin to a two-year-old. However, the sister of William Henry had a fair thinking process and reasoning ability. She said William could communicate like a normal individual. Despite the discussion and questions about the level of intelligence of William, he was able to keep a public character for 66 years.
Zip was called the Dean of Freaks and performed until he was over 80 years old. He was part of the senior member of the community until he died of bronchitis in April of 1926. Numerous people paid their last respects to one of the greatest sideshow performers at the time. Zip the Pinhead was buried in Bound Brook Cemetery with an inscription of his full name on his gravestone.