When you write a lot about weird diseases, you run into conditions that have a bit of a carnival sideshow feel – hypermobility of joints that allow people to bend themselves up like pretzels; hypertrichosis, which is also called the Wolfman Syndrome; and Microcephaly, the condition that “pinheads” have. While it is pretty awful that people have been exploited and mistreated because of their differences, it is also interesting to learn about things that have shocked and amazed for many years.
In this research, you can’t help but run across the famous Giants throughout history – those people who grew taller than normal and were therefore labeled Giants – first because of the mythological representations of extremely tall people, and later because of the condition (Gigantism) that explains why some people grow so much taller than others.
A (Short) History of the Mythology
To sum up, almost every recorded culture has some mythology surrounding giants. Christian texts have them (Goliath), Islamic texts have them (Adam was sixty cubits – that means 30 meters – which means over 98 feet – tall), the Greeks had the gigantes, the Norse had Ymir, Balt legends tell of the giant child Neringa, and the list goes on and on. In mythology, Giants are often not human, they are closely associated with the Gods.
A Few Words About the Medical Condition
Gigantism refers to the condition where a human grows to above average heights because of an overactive pituitary gland, resulting in a proliferation of growth hormone. By above average in height, they don’t mean a little bit above average – they mean significantly above average – in the upper 1% of the world population in height, and there are usually other health problems associated with the condition.
Some Notable Giants Throughout History
We don’t mean the term “Giant” in any derogatory way. The people that I’ve ended up researching were all remarkable people with rich histories. I mean the most respect when I tell you about these people, and I need to give a shout out specifically to the TheTallestMan.com for lots of information, as well as a huge shout out and several hugs to J. Tithonus Pednaud at The Human Marvels who reports on “peculiar people” in the most respectful, sensitive way. His research is what interested me in creating this post, and I hope he sees it and approves.
Jane “Jinny” Buford
Born 1895, died in 1922, Jane grew to a total of 7 feet, 11 inches, but because of an extreme spinal curvature that was the result of years of slouching to diminish her exceptional height she stood 7 feet 7 inches high. During her lifetime she was the tallest woman in the world, and twice she was actually the tallest recorded person in the world. She was tallest after Machnow died in 1914 until Bernard Coyne grew to surpass her height, and then again after Coyne died in 1921.
Jane didn’t start out as a giantess. She was tall for her age of 11 years at 5 feet tall, but not abnormally so. Then she had a terrible bicycle accident and cracked her head open. This accident injured her pituitary gland, which caused her body to release an abnormal amount of growth hormone, and her height soared.
I can’t find any pictures of Jane living. Apparently she was a kind woman who was willing to babysit neighborhood children. She was good friends with a lady dwarf who lived nearby, and she would stand on the street to clean the second floor of her house. It is likely that during her life she was also the person with the longest hair in Britain. She died a recluse at 27 years old, and her pallbearers remarked that her coffin was surprisingly heavy. As it turns out, her family likely donated her skeleton to science, and it received more attention in 1971, when the Guinness Book of Records published the photo seen above.
Born in 1918 and died in 1940, Robert Wadlow was, so far, the tallest man person in history (that we know of). He grew to an astounding 8 feet and 11 inches tall, a result of an overactive pituitary gland. He was still growing at the time of his death. At the end of his life, he needed leg braces to walk and had lost most of the feeling in his legs and feet (a sign of neuropathy).
He, unlike Jinny, was very open about meeting people and showing off his size. He was popular in school and participated in the yearbook committee as well as several other extracurricular activities. He didn’t find as much acceptance in college as he did in high school, and soon sought out the people who had been pursuing him since he started his rapid growth at the age of 4. He did a 1936 stint with Ringling Brothers, and a1938 tour with INTERCO. He was a Freemason, and made professional appearances all over the United States.
It was one of his leg braces that killed him – he got a blister that became infected, and the infection raged all over his enormous body, killing him in his sleep on July 15, 1940 at a young 22 years of age. Upon his death, his family had him interred in a secure vault because they feared that curious graverobbers would disturb his remains. A statue of Wadlow stands in his hometown of Alton, Illinois.
Anna Bates, nee Swan, was one of our shorter Giants. Born in 1846 and died in 1888, this Canadian lady grew to be 7 feet 5 1/2 inches and grew very quickly from birth. She was 5 foot 2 inches on her 6th birthday. She was an extremely bright girl who was also a talented actress, singer, and piano player.
At seventeen years old she began working at the New York Museum owned by P.T. Barnum. While employed there the museum caught on fire twice and after the second she went back to Nova Scotia for a time, only be lured back to the United States for a tour with Barnum and his circus. It was during this tour that she met Martin Van Buren Bates. Not only was he charming and sweet – he was also five inches taller than Anna.
They married in 1871 and were lauded as the “World’s Tallest Couple.” Queen Victoria gave the sizable wedding gown and diamond engagement ring as a gift to the couple. Unfortunately, the Bates’ befell tragedy in their attempt to have a family. Their first child died soon after she was born, and their second died 11 days after he was born. He was 24 pounds and each of his feet were 6 inches long.
Anna and Martin lived a quiet life after that. Anna became active in the local church and took care of their farmhouse – scaled to accommodate both of their larger-than-average bodies. Anna died in her sleep at 42 years of age and Martin commissioned a 15-foot statue of aa Greek Goddess to stand over her grave.
Johann Petursson, born in 1913, was a normal kid, until he reached the age of 15. Then he started growing very fast, and by the time he was finished he weighed 359.35 pounds and stood at 7 feet, 8 inches. He was the tallest man to come out of his native Iceland, and he eventually lived in Florida in a trailer custom made to accommodate his size.
Petursson moved to Denmark and decided to make a living just being himself- a very tall guy. He performed with dwarfs to offset his height, and they would all play the accordion. Petursson’s accordion was specially made for him. He had to take a break from show business to work in a German shipyard in Copenhagen during WWII (he was stranded there), but he started back to touring Europe with his act, and then was discovered by Ringling Brothers.
He worked with Ringling Brothers for a short time dressed in Edwardian clothes with a gigantic top hat. He left Ringling Brothers to join Glen Porter’s sideshow and Porter’s wife created the costume that would secure Petursson’s fame. He became the Viking Giant, and did several movies. He died in his hometown at the age of 69 – much older than most people with gigantism live, and a museum devoted to him sits very near the place where he is buried.
Chang Woo Gow was born in 1845 in China. At nineteen years of age he was 7 feet 9 inches and was a part of the Chinese emperor’s royal court. He visited England, and the reception was huge. He decided to stay in Europe and make the money that was rolling his way – people were paying lots just to see him in his traditional Chinese dress and hear him speak.
During his European travels Chang learned to speak English, French, and German and became a voracious reader. When he was 36 (in 1881), P.T. Barnum offered Chang $600 per week to travel with the Greatest Show on Earth. This made Chang one of the best paid attractions, but Barnum soon found it he was worth it. Not only did people flock to see him, but women practically threw themselves at him.
Chang met the love of his life in Australia – an English girl named Catherine Santley – and they married and had two sons together. They lived in China for a spell, and then moved to Bournemouth in England to live the quite country life. Tragically, Catherine passed away in 1893 and Chang simply couldn’t live without her. He passed away four short months after Catherine, aged 52 years old.
A close friend of Chang and renowned photographer said that Chang had “the kindest nature and a heart as true and tender as ever beat.”
- Human Growth Hormone – An Anti-Aging Miracle? (infographicsshowcase.com)
- Gigantic Yellow Rabbit Chillin’ In Sweden (thisblogrules.com)
- Mermaids Tails and Mermaid Camps (digitalbusstop.com)