There is no logical way to begin the Oofty Goofty story.
You already have questions. What does that mean? Who would call themselves that? What the fuck is an oofty? The short answer is:
Oofty Goofty was one of the first and most famous celebrities in San Francisco. He covered himself with glue and hair and yelled at people from a cage. He wandered around town, getting paid by people to beat him. And sometimes it would be sent through the mail in large boxes.
Now you undoubtedly have more questions. Perhaps it is best to start at the beginning.
Leonard Borchardt was born in the early 1860s to German-Jewish parents. Little is known about his childhood in Berlin, but as a teenager he immigrated to the United States and somehow made his way to Detroit. It was snowing heavily and Leonard had no money. So the 21-year-old joined the military.
The army wasn’t for Leonard. The records indicate that he signed up on January 27, 1883. When his unit was deployed in early April, he was already on the west coast, a full-fledged deserter. Consistently the least inconspicuous person in any room, Leonard babbled about his “French leave of absence from the army”. The Roseville sheriff caught the wind and arrested Leonard at his hotel. The sheriff was hungry for dinner and left Leonard handcuffed to a chair while he went to the hotel restaurant. Leonard took the chair and went out. He found an ax in the courtyard of a nearby farmhouse and hacked away. It went on.
The next stop was San Francisco. Leonard wanted a job, but he wasn’t good at much. He had no skills other than drinking, being loud, and not feeling shame. One day, during one of his many court appearances, he lonely told a judge trudging down Market Street. A cheap sideshow operation owner stopped him.
“If you let me stick a few hairs on you, I’ll display you in a museum as the only hairy wild man there is,” the man said to Leonard. People talk to you and pretend you aren’t understand and drink the beer they will treat you with. “
The man said he would pay Leonard with alcohol and half the receipts every night. That sounded very good to Leonard, who liked alcohol and screamed.
The manager glued Leonard in glue and stuck him out of an old mattress with hair. He lay on the roof for the next six hours to dry. The next day was showtime; Leonard jumped into a cage and greeted the first frightened guests with a roar. They often bought him a beer. Sometimes he had to eat raw meat that was pushed through the bars.
The work was good, thought Leonard, except that he didn’t see any of the receipts he had been promised. After two weeks of silly stupidity, he confronted the manager and asked where his stake had gone. “You drank everything in the beer,” laughed the man.
Leonard stomped out of his cage and stomped back onto Market Street. Covered with glue and hair, he went to a bathhouse. For three days he tried to scrape the mess off his skin. It wouldn’t budge. The problem was more than cosmetic – most of his body was unable to sweat for over two weeks. Finally, nine days after his ordeal, the brew peeled off.
“I almost died,” he recalled the Houston Post in 1900. “From that time until today I was known as Oofty Goofty.”
Now Oofty Goofty had a new problem. He was unemployed. He went door to door begging for work. Sometimes he was physically kicked out. “A new scheme came to mind,” he told reporters in 1885, “and I decided to take advantage of the blows people liked to shower on me.”
Oofty obviously didn’t mind pain. So he tucked a leather pad in the seat of his pants and advertised his new business: Pay a fee, kick Oofty Goofty pointless. There was a sliding scale based on how badly the patron wanted to attack the 5-foot-4 former wild man. You could kick his butt for 10 cents. For more, you could wall it in with a stick. For $ 2, you could use a baseball bat to launch it into the stratosphere like a home run.
An aerial view from Telegraph Hill showing the waterfront in the background and apartment buildings in the foreground, taken in the 1880s.
Popperfoto / Popperfoto / Getty Images
He made up to $ 10 on busy Saturday nights, a little less than $ 300 today. During this time he also received his second, positively pornographic nickname: Professor Hardness. “He combined Spartan strength with unusual docility,” commented the Chronicle.
But fame had a downside. In June 1885 the army called for San Francisco’s most famous deserter. A judge ruled that his head needed to be checked first – for reasons that barely need to be explained – but the San Francisco Commission of Insanity ruled that he was perfectly healthy. So Oofty returned to the custody of the army and was sentenced to three years of forced labor.
Oofty said he faked seizures to avoid punishment, but when that didn’t convince his prison guards, he fell and actually injured himself. He was useless to everyone and was released. In July 1886 he was back in the city he loved, ready for his next stupidest idea. On July 12th, he set out to break a world record for pushing a wheelbarrow from San Francisco to New York. Bettors weren’t optimistic. Three to one chances made him give up when he reached Oakland.
Even so, he was dropped off by an enthusiastic crowd and a marching band. “The last time Oofty was seen he was on Union Street fighting with a crowd of little boys to save his cart from destruction,” sighed the Chronicle. Oofty gave up in Pinole, though later in life he could boast of having made the entire trip.
Gripped by this longing to travel in the strangest possible way, Oofty staged his next stunt. In October 1887, a friend bet he wouldn’t send himself to Sacramento in a box. The joke was aimed at this guy when Oofty immediately locked himself in a large dry goods package that was marked “This Page With Care”. When an angry shopkeeper opened the box in Sacramento, he was disheveled and out of oxygen.
After Oofty returned to San Francisco the traditional way, he walked into a downtown police station with a box labeled “Dominoes” in his hand. When the police sergeant opened it, an obscene photo popped up like a jack-in-the-box. “Sergeant Arnold ordered Oofty to be locked up,” the examiner reported. He was imprisoned for 24 hours for this particular indiscretion.
Are you already exhausted? Oofty wasn’t. He started running marathons. One in 1889 lasted six days and at some point attracted almost every Franciscan to marvel at the spectacle. On the third day, Oofty was given gifts of food and beer to keep his run going, suggesting that he drank during this physical feat. In another race, he wore so many fake diamonds and medals that he fell twice under their weight.
A view of Market Street in 1880.
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive
His crowning finale in the theater was a short series of “Romeo and Juliet” opposite another celebrity in San Francisco: Big Bertha, the Queen of Trust. If their nickname made you feel uncomfortable, you’re right; it related to their size. Papers boasted that it weighed nearly 400 pounds, and San Franciscans would pay a small fee just to look at them.
Big Bertha and Little Oofty staged the balcony scene every night to the delight of their fans, but the show didn’t last long. Bertha withdrew after declaring that Oofty was “too passionate a stage lover for Bertha’s liking and she refused to trade with him anymore”. She may have got happier when they faced each other in a celebrity boxing match. Bertha laid it out flat.
The knockout signaled the end of Oofty’s reign in San Francisco. He’d been a wild man, an actor, an athlete and, in short, a baseball team mascot, which was less fun than it sounded because the team would publicly throw the snot out of him after losing. He packed up his gag domino boxes and fake jewels and headed east.
He became another local celebrity in Texas, but his stunts were more … culinary. His greatest achievement in 1912 was eating a whole quail every day for 30 days. The Houstonians arrived at the restaurant every day to see how he stepped up the series. “Trying the same kind of entertainment day in and day out is not good for digestion,” the El Paso Herald commented soberly.
Nobody knows when or where Oofty Goofty died. The 1920 census is the last to record him, living in a huge boarding house in Houston. The 56-year-old’s job is listed as a “salesman”.
His name also disappeared from the newspapers until 1936 when the nation marveled at another man by his wonderful name: Oofty Goofty Bowman.
The Wisconsin man made headlines when the Associated Press penned a story confirming that it was his real, legal name: “The name is real, he says, and it is pronounced exactly as it is spelled is. “
“You didn’t want to bless [me] with an unusual name, ”Bowman said of his parents. “They just wanted to express their administration for the actor.”
When Bowman died in 1951, the Racine Journal published a front page obituary. “Bowman never tried to change the name and it ran completely in all of his official records as well as the phone book,” it said. “For years the Bowman family’s phone rang frequently with nosy callers wanting to know.” if that’s your real name ‘
“Bowman assured everyone it was and he rather enjoyed it.”
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