Monday, July 15, 2013

Remembering Robert Wadlow February 22, 1918 - July 15, 1940

Robert Pershing Wadlow is considered the tallest person in human history.  He has been called "The Alton Giant" and the "Giant of Illinois" having been born and raised in Alton, Illinois.

He reached the height of 8 ft. 11.1 inches and weighed 439 pounds and was still growing at the end of his life at the age of 22.

Wadlow was the oldest of five children and was born to Addie Johnson and Harold Wadlow.  During his elementary school years, he required a special desk. At the age of 9, Wadlow was able to carry his father to the second floor of their home.

Following his graduation from Alton High School where he stood 8 ft. 4 inches, Wadlow enrolled in Shurtleff College and planned to study law but had to discontinue because of his difficulty of moving from building to building. Shortly after high school, Wadlow's health began to fail.  Although he never used a wheelchair, he required leg braces to walk and had little feeling in both his feet and his legs.

He became an American celebrity.  He took a job with the Ringling Brothers Circus and was constantly making public appearances.  His shoes were provided to him free of charge by a shoe company that he worked for doing promotional work and public appearances. Examples of his shoes (size 25) can still be seen in several locations throughout the US including Snyder's Shoe Store in Michigan and the Alton Museum of History and Art.

On the 4th of July in 1940, Robert Wadlow made a professional appearance at the Manistee National Forest Festival in Michigan. He had a severe irritation in his ankle that caused an infection.  His doctors treated him with a blood transfusion and surgery but his condition continued to worsen.  He died in his sleep on July 15, 1940.

Robert Wadlow was a huge loss to his community of Alton.  The Streeper Funeral Home in Alton handled his funeral. It is said that nearly 40000 people attended his visitation followed by his funeral on July 19, 1940 that nearly 5000 people were present (funeral folder pictured). His casket, made by the Traverse Casket Company was 10 feet six inches long by three feet two inches and weighed nearly 1000 pounds(photo shows his casket in a standard hearse. Twelve pallbearers were required to carry his casket to his resting place in Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton, Illinois.  Out of respect to this Gentle Giant, all city businesses were closed.

A life size statue of Robert Wadlow stands opposite the Alton Museum of History and Art.  Another statue stands in the The Guinness Museum in Niagara Falls and several in various Ripley Believe It Or Not Museums.

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