Koo Koo, the Bird Girl was born Minnie Woolsey in Georgia in 1880. Fate dealt Minnie a bad hand – she was born with a rare skeletal disorder, Virchow-Seckel syndrome. Virchow-Seckel syndrome is also known as bird-headed dwarfism, Harper’s syndrome or Seckel dwarfism. It is characterized by growth retardation and dwarfism, an extremely small head, a narrow bird-like face with a beak-like nose, large eyes with an unusual slant, a recessed jaw line, and mild mental retardation. It is very rare. Woolsey’s precise date of death is unknown but reports exist of a car nearly running over her in 1960 making her at least 80 years old. In addition to Virchow-Seckel syndrome, Woolsey was also bald, toothless, and almost totally blind.
Woolsey was taken from a Georgia insane asylum by a circus showman who kicked off her career as “Minnie Ha-Ha”. In her act, she was dressed in an Indian costume and danced around speaking gibberish to the crowd. She later spent some time performing at Coney Island as “The Blind Girl from Mars.” She also was presented as “Minnie Ha Ha”, a play on the name of her birth place, Minnehaha Falls, Georgia.
Woolsey rarely reacted to anything around her and often sat motionless in a chair for hours on end. However, she managed to get into a feathered bird costume and dance on the table during the wedding feast scene of the 1932 movie Freaks. Although she had no lines, she still made a great enough impression on audiences to be remembered as “Koo Koo the Bird Girl”. Strangely, another character in the movie, Elizabeth Green the Stork Woman, was already being billed as “Koo Koo the Bird Girl” in the circus sideshow circuit. Somehow the two titles were switched and Minnie was forever known as “Koo Koo the Bird Girl”.
Very little additional information is known about Minnie Woolsey.