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Gibsonton, FL: Getting the Boot

Gibsonton, Florida may soon be home to one massive marble boot, which is being created to honor the memory of a beloved character in the town’s history: 8-foot 4-inch giant Al Tomaini, who, with his petite and legless wife Jeanie, founded the famous freak-and-fishing-friendly resort Giant’s Camp.

boot.Beginning in the early 1920’s, Gibsonton evolved into a welcoming winter stomping ground for carnival and circus folk. (Local regulations allowing people to keep elephants and store rides on their property didn’t hurt.) Interesting residents included The Lobster Family and Percilla The Monkey Girl. The Tomainis (“The World’s Strangest Couple”) showed up in the 50’s and built Giant’s Camp, featuring a cluster of charming white cabins, a fleet of rental boats, a bar/restaurant and handy ample parking for trailers in the off-season. For many years Al’s size 22 boot was on display in front of the restaurant, serving as a quirky local landmark.

But over the years the circus old timers moved away or passed away. (Al died in 1962; Jeanie in 1999.) Giant’s Camp eventually closed and the property was sold to phosphate “giant” The Mosaic Company in 2008.

One lone tourist cabin has been preserved on the now-fenced-in site and Tennessee artist Lew Stamm has crafted a stone replica of Al’s boot. (The original was destroyed by exposure to the elements—not to mention a final blow of having its concrete base bashed by a runaway generator which escaped while being towed along Highway 41.)

All that currently stands in the way of the boot is the need for a zoning variance. It seems that the statue has been deemed “an accessory structure” (like a garbage can) and needs to be located at least 50 feet away from the road. But boot boosters hope to convince county officials to make an exception so that it may be placed a mere ten feet away. After all, this boot was meant for gawking!

By the way, another supersized individual left a trail of giant shoes across the country. 8-foot 11-inch Robert Wadlow (“The World’s Tallest Man”) was employed as a travelling spokesperson for The International Shoe Company. Wadlow often gave one of his own shoes away on various promotional jaunts. Seattle’s Giant Shoe Museum has an awe-inspiring oxford (you must insert a coin to part curtains and reveal its wing-tipped wonder.) There are at least five other Wadlow shoes viewable at shoe stores and museum, including a size 37 beauty in the basement of the Plymouth Historical Museum in Michigan.

We wonder what happened to all his giant socks!

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RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Boot Monument For Civic Circus Giant

Address:
US Hwy 41 S., Gibsonton, FL
Directions:
On the southbound (west) side of US 41 just south of the bridge over the Alafia River. I-75 exit 250, drive west on Gibsonton Drive for 2.5 miles, then turn right onto US 41 and drive north for one-half-mile.
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