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The Sentinel, Edina, Mo.
Thursday, March 1, 1973

Bits of Historic Information From Many Sources On Life Of Miss Ella Ewing,
Who Was Buried In Knox County.

Many articles have been written about Miss Ella Ewing, the tallest woman in the world in her day, and a native and resident of this part of the country. Many persons of Knox County and surrounding counties knew her personally and many others had seen her at various fairs and shows and they have told their children and grandchildren about the 8-foot, 4 1/2 inch woman who weighed 256 pounds at 22 years of age.

The Sentinel, at various times, has printed articles and pictures of Miss Ewing and requests of those issues continue to come in to the office, none of which are now available. To accommodate readers, The Sentinel is re-printing this article which has been compiled from previous issues of this and other newspapers. Some of the pictures for this article have been furnished through the courtesy of the Quincy Herald-Whig and portions of the articles are from readers and subscribers. All stories are very similar and have been printed in small and large newspapers over many areas of the country.

The 60th anniversary of her death was Jan. 10 of this year and it is doubtful if there is an individual but who has heard of the "Missouri Giantess" (There is a difference of opinion in the date of her death. Our own late Knox Countian, E. H. Dauma, who personally knew Miss Ewing and her parents, as did his late wife, was instrumental in providing a memorial marker a few years ago for her grave on which the date of death is Jan. 10, 1912. However, most newspapers, along with The Sentinel had the article of her death as Jan. 10, 1913.)

Miss Ewing was born March 9, 1872, in Lewis County, and when about a year old was brought by her family to the Gorin vicinity in Scotland County, which was her home until her death. She was the only child of Benjamin F. and Annie Eliza Herring Ewing, both of whom were of average size, the father 6 feet, 2 inches and the mother, 5 feet, 6 inches. In her early years, Ella was a small, frail child and until about nine years of age appeared to be of normal size in comparison to other children of that age. However, about that age she began to grow so rapidly that by the time she was ten years old she was 6 feet, 9 inches tall. She was still a "little" girl, typical of other ten-year-olds, but towered above the tallest men in the neighborhood.

Problems began to arise and her parents, hard-working farm people with a very small income, spent most of their time and money in trying to make things as comfortable as possible for their daughter, but it seemed impossible to keep up with her phenomenal growth. Most of her growth was from her waist down and in her arms and hands. A ring that would fit the thumb of a man would barely slip on her little finger. She was known to wear many rings to camouflage her large hands.

Ella grew up near Gorin and local people remembered her as a warm, friendly person whose personality overshadowed her size. Her parents tried to shield her from "gawkers" but the task became harder all the time and Ella continued to grow taller and taller.

One of her neighbor friends said that she never thought of her as being different from other people and that her earliest memories were reaching up to her knees and how she had to stop to get through their doors, and that Ella "always made the best of everything." She said that she was kind and sweet and everyone who knew her loved her. She told that when she came to their home to play croquet or some other game, she rode a horse with side saddle as it tired her to walk and she had a long black riding shirt to cover her feet, like everyone had in those days.

The first public appearance that Ella made was reported to have been of age 14 at a Fourth of July Celebration at Rutledge where she was to read the Declaration of Independence, but she became so embarrassed, was too nervous to read the document and another person had to do it and she left in tears. Other reports state that the celebration was at Wyaconda on the same day, later in the afternoon, she read the Declaration before a group at Gorin.

Her first "exhibition" was a trying one as the stares from the crowd broke her composure as she was led from the platform. She realized that day that she was destined to live as a "freak" in the eyes of normal people. Ella became increasingly sensitive of her size and for a time remained at home and away from all public places.

After her first public appearance, news spread rapidly, far and wide of the "tall and getting taller" person. Her parents, who had tried to shield her and had for several years firmly refused the offers of shows, carnivals and circuses, finally agreed to let her appear for $250 a week plus expenses for both parents to accompany her. It was also said by some that a close friend convinced her to capitalize on her appearance. If people were going to stare - make them pay.

She became a feature attraction in 1890 with Barnum and Bailey Circus at age 18 and later with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and in her own tent from time to time at fairs and expositions. Her parents or a friend and traveling companion always accompanied her. Ella never overcame her "homesickness" and if her parents were unable to be with her, it was a proviso that at least once a month their expenses would be paid to visit their daughter while on tour.

Some of her traveling companions were named in articles to be a Miss Blackwood, Miss Maude Wilson of Kahoka, Miss Alta Moore of Edina and manager, D.J. Buford.

Ella found happiness with the circus, among others who were "different" from the ordinary people. They didn't find her great size so strange, they, too, had uncommon features. Happiness also was found in that she was not a burden to her parents and her dream was to become a reality in providing for them. She wanted to make them comfortable and during her circus and show years, she made enough money to buy a 120 acre farm near Gorin, in the Harmony Grove community.

A comfortable home was built with 15-foot ceilings, 10-foot doors and 7-foot windows, high enough so that she need not stoop. It is said that she would have been a few inches taller had she not carried herself in a somewhat stooped position, partly because of embarrassment of her tallness and also because of entering ordinary-size door and entrances.

It was told that Ella stated that her father could never keep up with the race of her growth. She was too tall for her bed, too tall to see out the windows and was in the way at a dinner party. Her knees came a foot or so above the table and once when she stretched them out underneath, she upset the table. It took 25 yards of cloth to make her a dress and she outgrew it soon after being made. Persons who approached from the rear as she sat in a chair were not aware of her height until she stood up and then they were speechless. Her home was built to her specifications as was her furniture. Her bed was 10 1/2 feet long, her dresser, 6 feet high was without bottom drawers so that she did not have to stoop to get its contents, a hammock was 15 feet long and her table was 4 1/2 feet tall.

Traveling brought its difficulties because of her size, much different to that of her home and furnishings. Sleeping cars and carriages of her day were uncomfortable, but a hansom carriage afforded her traveling pleasure. One letter stated a Sentinel reader said that many times he had seen her return home by Santa Fe and that always a large crowd was on hand to welcome her, as well those who came sightseeing.

There are different stories pertaining to Ella's tour of Europe. Some say that she would not consent to leaving the United States but other articles refer to her own story in which she made the statement that she went all over the country with the circus and also in Europe. She described the trip across the ocean and of no accommodations on the steamship for her size, being obliged to lie diagonally across the floor and "curl up" a little. It required two ordinary beds placed side by side for her to sleep away from home.

Even though she became accustomed to millions of people staring at her during her circus days, she never overcame her shyness concerning the size of her feet. She had a special canvas built which could be moved to prevent viewers from seeing her feet as she walked from a platform or down steps. One article stated that a man at the fair, probably on one of her appearances at the Knox County Fairgrounds at the east edge of Edina, said, "Let me see your feet," and she replied "You want too much for your money." Reports as to the size of her shoes varied from sizes 20 to 24, but a pattern of her shoe in this office measured 16 inches long and 9 inches across at the widest part. One report stated that in the making of the high-top shoe, 2 2/3 feet of patent stock were required in the vamp and 5 feet of mat kid for the soles supposedly weighed 3 1/4 pounds. Several persons, it is said, are in possession of one shoe and at various times large amounts have been offered for a matching shoe to complete the pair. There is a theory that the scarcity of the left shoe is because of that shoe hurting her foot and she would cut a portion of it out to ease the pain it caused. A shoe and numerous other articles are on display at the State Historical Museum in Jefferson City and other items are owned by friends among her home community.

When Ella was baptized in 1900 at age 27, on an extremely hot day, she sat on a chair placed in the water and two men helped the minister tip the chair backward into the water to immerse her. She was an active member of the Harmony Grove Baptist Church and was baptized in the nearby Fabius River.

Miss Ewing made use of her extensive travel and was able to converse fluently of what she had seen in various localities. She was acquainted with the affairs of the nation and her travels served a good purpose in completion of her education.

Her home was one of hospitality and Miss Ewing was a charming hostess delighted to entertain company. Following her tours, she returned to enjoy her home and friends. She wanted only enough money to live comfortably. Many stories, none confirmed to any extent, are told about the amount of money she made on her tours but apparently no large estate was left.

Although she never married she received many proposals during her lifetime. She refused each one believing that her suitors sought only her money.

Miss Ewing became ill of pneumonia while on tour and came home where she died Jan. 10, 1913, at age 40 years, 10 months and 1 day. The Embalming Burial Case Company of Burlington, Iowa, was said to have put its entire force to work all one night and half the next day to make her casket, designed with a fancy octagon end and covered with white plush. The casket was so long that the seat in the horse-drawn hearse had to be removed to allow the rear doors to close. The undertaker was George Baskett of Wyaconda, who assisted with funeral arrangements and said that it was a big funeral, between 800 and 900 persons, who came to pay their final respects to their friend and neighbor, and there were no sightseers. Old records listed the funeral cost a $284.80, complete, an average funeral at that time being $56 to $100.

The services were at the Harmony Grove Church in Knox County and so many persons attended that the church and churchyard were filled. Because it was an extremely cold day, with snow drifts piled along the country roads, two stoves were set up in the yard to warm those who could not get in the church. The Rev. F.M. Baker officiated and Mrs. Dauma was pianist. One record gave the names of Pallbearers as Francis and Claude Frazee, Willis Davis, Elmer Snelling and James Parrish. The sixth one was not named. Burial was in the Harmony Grove Cemetery.

On her death bed she requested her father have her body cremated, and that he should stand beside the oven and see the reduction of her body to ashes, in order that her remains might be secure from the hands of possible vandals, whom she always feared would take her body from the grave. But her father declared he could not stand to see such a thing, and in order that her body should be doubly secured from those who might see to take it up, it was decided that the grave should be lined with a thick wall of Portland cement and a heavy lid covering the same material should be built over it, and that the body should be put in a steel casket, seven feet, eight inches in length, inside measurements, and deep enough to accommodate the high pillow which was necessary in order to accommodate the stooped condition of the body and enable the casket to contain her length. The steel casket was enclosed in an invulnerable, automatic steel vault, and the vault lowered into the sarcophagus of cement, the covering built permanently thereon leaving no possible opening.

The family had steadfastly refused permission for examinations of any sort to be made and feared that someone might steal Ella's body from the grave and sell it for medical examination, So Mr. Ewing kept a guard in the cemetery for some time after Ella's death to assure her body privacy that he had sought for her in life.

Her parents are also buried there. Her mother died March 23, 1900, in Chicago, of appendicitis, while on tour with Ella, and the father died at the Gorin home in April of 1933. After the death of the mother, the home was shared by the father and an aunt of Ella, Miss Susie Herring.

In 1966 Mr. Dauma started a project of securing enough money from friends, himself included, to provide a memorial for Ella and in 1967 it was completed. The long flat cement border surrounds the granite marker which reads: "In memory of Ella K. Ewing, born 3/9/1872. Lewis County, Missouri, died 1/10/1912, Scotland County, Missouri. Height 8 feet, 4.5 inches, weight 256 pounds. Member of the Harmony Baptist Church. Daughter of Benjamin F. and Anna Herring Ewing." The memorial below the engraving reads: "This memorial made possible by folks that new of Ella, 1967"

The two-story Ewing home fell into shambles and one letter written The Sentinel following a visit there told of names and addresses written on all the wall, upstairs and down, by the hundreds. They were from California to New York City, from Florida to Canada and some had been there 35 or 40 years. The closets had No. 10 nails for hanging clothes, no hooks of any kind. The house had suffered from curiosity seekers and visitors, later was used for grain storage and fell into ruins and was finally destroyed by fire from unknown origin in July of 1967.

During the early 1940's the Gorin Civic Club planned to restore the old home but efforts did not progress. The club had a room in Gorin where a large cardboard model of the home was displayed alone with some of the Ewing furniture.

The Missouri Department of Conservation honored Miss Ewing when a 15-acre lake near Gorin, built by the Soil Conservation Service, was opened Oct. 1, 1969, the Ella Ewing Lake. It is a fishing attraction for the northeast Missouri area. Many little quirks could be added to any story written of Ella Ewing. It is hoped that the above will be enjoyed by interested readers even though there may be some who "knew or had heard differently" or could have added first-hand information.