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Alton's Wadlow statue and children.
Children still love to stand in the shadow of the Gentle Giant. Alton, Illinois.

Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man

Field review by the editors.

Alton, Illinois

Bigness is its own reward. You want to be a success? Sell a bigger burger. Open a megastore or a multiplex. Merge your way into multinational conglomeratehood.

Since size is the prize, it's only right that several towns bank on the man who towered head-and-shoulders above all others. His name was Robert Wadlow, and he stood eight-foot-eleven -- the tallest man who ever lived.

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton on February 22, 1918, a normal-size baby, but soon his perky pituitary gland triggered abnormal growth. At the age of 13, already seven-foot-four, he was proclaimed the world's biggest Boy Scout. And he kept getting bigger.... he eventually topped out at 8 feet 11.1 inches.

On October 20, 1985, a life-size bronze statue of Wadlow, sculpted by local artist Edward Englehardt Giberson, was unveiled on the grounds of SIU School of Dental Medicine in Alton (Wadlow had attended classes there when it was Shurtleff College) offering mute inspiration to those who dare to dream tall dreams. Giberson had designed three different versions of the statue, and the one chosen was the one in which Wadlow stood straightest (which did not please Giberson).

In 2001 the house where he was born was moved to a spot behind the statue, and in 2002 an exact replica of the custom-built chair of this modern Goliath was placed next to the statue. Visitors can be forgiven if they sometimes sit in Robert's chair, musing over the fate that makes some of us big while others suffer shortsightedness and shortfalls.

All bigness, however, is fleeting. Wadlow's grave lies in nearby Upper Alton Cemetery. In 1940 he marched in a July 4 parade, got an infected foot blister, and died. He was only 22 -- but it took 12 men to carry him to his final rest.

The story of Robert Wadlow did not end with his death. He was, it should be remembered, trapped in a world of lesser, tinier men -- men who might be happy that they no longer had to measure themselves against him. This might explain why the world's tallest tombstone was denied the world's tallest man, and instead given to a dentist in Philadelphia.

Before passing on, Wadlow traveled the country as a spokesman for a shoe company. As part of the promotion, he'd leave behind his own shoes for display. You can see World's Tallest Man shoes in a surprising number of places; our favorites would include:

Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man

2810 College Ave., Alton, IL
East side of the city. Hwy 3 exit onto Hwy 140/College Ave. Drive west about a mile. Turn right at the stop sign onto Seminary St., then right again to the parking lot.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Relics of the World's Tallest ManRelics of the World's Tallest Man, Alton, IL - < 1 mi.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate StatuesLincoln-Douglas Debate Statues, Alton, IL - 2 mi.
Miles Davis StatueMiles Davis Statue, Alton, IL - 3 mi.
In the region:
Hollow Head, St. Louis, MO - 19 mi.

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