Georgely with one of his iconic barrel organs.
Georgely was an organ grinder, the self-proclaimed "world's smallest old man," and almost visionary in his approach to marketing himself. A portrait of a local legend.
The town of Grevenmacher is well-known in Luxembourg for its rich local folklore and variety of eccentric historical characters. We already covered the blind violinist De blannen Theis, Impressionist painter Frantz Seimetz, and took a deep dive into the town's myths and legends (twice!).
Another iconic local figure is Georg(e) Weyer, better known by his nickname Georgely although he was sometimes also referred to as Schorscheli or Schorschelchen.
But while his hometown proudly displays his image alongside the Blannen Theis and other local characters, Georgely is not as well-known in the rest of Luxembourg.
Who was the wandering entertainer from the Moselle? What was his life like? And do we know what caused the disability that would lead him to proclaim himself as "the world's smallest old man"?
Who was Georgely?
George Weyer was born on 13 October 1848 in Grevenmacher as the third of nine children. The history of the Weyer family in Grevenmacher can be traced back until the year 1700, meaning that they were well-established in the town.
Weyer's stunted growth became apparent very early on in his life. As an adult, he measured between 85 and 90 centimetres.
There are varying accounts of Georgely's height. According to this post card, he was 85 cm tall.
He is said to have suffered from various other afflictions as well, including gout and blindness.
As one might imagine, there was little to no support for the disabled in the 19th century, which is why Georgely was forced to find a way to provide for himself – by becoming a wandering musician.
Beloved entertainer and his own PR agent
Georgely's instrument of choice was the barrel organ. According to local historian Jean Welter, he owned at least three barrel organs, possibly more. They were either mounted on the frame of a pram or had built-in wheels.
At times, Georgely pushed the barrel organ himself, but we also know that he sometimes used dogs to pull the heavy instrument. On 4 December 1891, for instance, he published an ad in the Obermoselzeitung looking for "a strong hauling dog."
Georgely travelled throughout Luxembourg and played at various funfairs and local markets. Contemporary sources suggest that Georgely was a popular and well-liked entertainer, particularly among children.
He often travelled to Luxembourg City, where he notably performed during the Octav and the Schueberfouer. While performing at the latter he could be found "on the left side of the park" while during the Octav he had his place "in front of the stairs to Place Guillaume II," according to Franz Schwab.
Another one of Georgely's post cards. He stands next to his 'Ignaz Bruder Söhne' barrel organ and is claimed to be 90 cm tall.
One way in which Georgely was almost ahead of his time was in the way he marketed himself. He handed out adverts and published his own post cards with pictures of himself.
He also announced his upcoming performances by publishing regular adverts in the Obermoselzeitung and the Luxemburger Wort. For example, in August 1909 he announced his presence at the Schueberfouer in this way:
"This year, like every year, little 'Schorschelchen' will once again return to his usual spot during the Schueberfouer. He therefore asks all those attending the fair for a small contribution to alleviate the great poverty in which he currently finds himself by making a small gift as an act of charity. The Good Lord will repay them one day." [translated from German]
However, despite his shrewd self-promotion and his popularity, Georgely had barely any money or fortune aside from his barrel organs. In an ad published in the Obermoselzeitung, he once asked if someone could help him repair his barrel organ because he could not afford to pay for it.
Georgely was a regular at funfairs, markets, and all sorts of gatherings across the country.
He seems to have received this help because in a different advert, published on 6 November 1886 and addressed to "my friends and benefactors," he asks for occasional donations "to help me pay off my great debt," which resulted from someone lending him money to repair his barrel organ. In the ad, he notes that "erroneously, the rumour has been spread that I am wealthy and not in need of alms."
In fact, it seems that Georgely struggled to make a living through his music alone. In an undated advert in the Obermoselzeitung, he announces his intent to establish himself as a basket weaver in Rue des Bateliers in Grevenmacher.
In January 1924, Georgely was admitted to a hospice where he died three weeks later at the age of 75.
What caused Georgely's stunted growth?
Over the years, several conflicting statements have been made about Georgely's significantly below-average height.
A Tageblatt article from 1 September 1990 claims that Georgely was born "small and disabled." In his book Retrospektive zur Schobermesse from 1992, Jos Hess also describes him as "Schorschli from Grevenmacher, who was born wizened."
One person who rejected this version was Franz Schwab, who arguably wrote the most extensive Georgely biography. In a letter published in the Luxemburger Wort on 27 August 1977, Schwab responded to a segment on the Schueberfouer that was broadcast on RTL Radio, at the time known as Radio Lëtzebuerg, a few days earlier. Schwab states that "there is not an ounce of truth" to the claim that Georgely was born disabled, as was claimed in the radio segment. He goes on to say that "many things have been said and written about Georgely in the past that were inaccurate." According to Schwab, Georgely's stunted growth was the result of a rickets infection at the age of 1.
According to this post card, Georgely suffered from gout for seven years and was "struck with blindness during 18 years."
The journalist who wrote the original radio segment, Norbert Etringer, actually responded to Schwab's criticism in another letter published in the Wort on 3 September 1977. Etringer defends his piece and refers to a newspaper ad from 1906 submitted by Georgely in which he describes himself as "disabled from birth."
Schwab responded one final time on 17 September, quoting a letter he had received from one of Georgely's great-nephews, who clarifies that "Georgely was not born disabled." However, in this letter, we find yet another explanation for Georgely's stunted growth: Georgely is said to have fallen out of his pram as a child while under the supervision of his sister Margaretha, who was allegedly so guilt-ridden by the incident that she later became a nun.
Schwab dismisses the obvious contradiction to his own version of the story, but stresses instead that "statements made by those who knew Georgely personally are more credible than an ad by Georgely in which he appeals to the compassion of his fellow citizens." He provides more evidence in the form of several obituaries that were published in Luxembourgish newspapers following Georgely's death. None of them state that Georgely was born disabled, and the Wort even declared that he was born "a normal, healthy boy."
One source used in the writing of this article claims that a Grevenmacher GP once tried to find a diagnosis based on photographs of the folk legend. But even after consulting with various specialists, the doctor was allegedly unable to conclusively determine whether George suffered from dwarfism or whether his stunted growth was in fact due to a rickets infection in early childhood.