Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Giant in Nitro, WV

Happy April, everyone!  It's been a few days since I did a blog in homage to the many unique sideshow performers and human oddities out there, but I wanted to do one last one, this one featuring an individual with direct ties to right here in West Virginia!

Robert Pershing Wadlow wasn't born here in the tri-state.  He was born February 22, 1918 in Alton Illinois.  Weighing in at 8 lbs, 6 oz and normal length at birth, Robert seemed like a normal, healthy baby...the first son born to Addie and Harold Wadlow.  However, by the time Robert was 6 months old, he already weighed in at 30lbs.

By the time Robert was an adult, he reached a weight of 490lbs...and a staggering height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall.  His condition was blamed on an overactive pituitary gland, a condition that today can be easily remedied by doctors.  But, at the time, it was incurable and would thrust young Robert into the public eye.  As of this writing, Robert still holds the Guinness World record for not only being the World's Tallest Man, but also for being the world's tallest Boy Scout!

Being that size put a lot of physical strain on Robert's body, however, most notably in the fact that he had to wear braces to help him walk.  It would be these braces that would kill him.

In early July of 1940, Robert was in Michigan for an Independence Day appearance at the National Forest Festival.  Not only did Robert have to wear braces, but he had very little feeling in his lower extremities, and didn't realize until it was too late that one of his ill-fitting braces had rubbed a blister on his foot.  The infection spread to his bloodstream, and Robert died in a Michigan hotel on July 15th.  He was only 22 years old.

His body was brought home to Illinois and he was laid to rest at Oakwood Cemetery.  His parents had most of his clothes and personal effects destroyed because they didn't want collectors selling their son's items as "freak memorabilia."  However, Robert Wadlow has still remained an air of intrigue.  The "Gentle Giant" is still loved and respected, and what memorabilia, such as photos, that survived are displayed at a local museum with taste and respect.  There is also a statue of Robert, located in front of a local dental school.

So what does all of this have to do with Robert and West Virginia?

It's not well known, but Robert Pershing Wadlow actually LIVED right here in West Virginia, in the town of Nitro!  Robert's father, Harold, worked for an Illinois company that fabricated steel tanks.  During the construction of Nitro, the government signed a contract with Harold's company to have a number of tanks constructed in the new community.  Harold was appointed to come to West Virginia to oversee and manage the project.

Shortly after Harold had settled, Addie and baby Robert (whose middle name comes from the WWI general, General Pershing) joined him here in the Kanawha Valley.  The work was completed by November and by then, the war had come to a close anyway, so the Wadlows packed up and moved back to Alton, well before Robert's first birthday.

More info on Robert
Robert Wadlow bio from Alton Web
The Tallest Man

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