A Giant Comes to Southwest City


Many things of importance were taking place during the summer of 1938.  Adolf Hitler ordered German troops into Austria, Howard Hughes piloted an airplane during a ninety-one hour flight that circumnavigated the Earth, Lou Gehrig hit his twenty-third, and last, grand slam and the Peterson Shoe Company was attempting to sell more shoes by sponsoring the Southwest City, Missouri appearance of Robert Wadlow, the “Alton Giant”. At eight feet eleven inches tall Robert Wadlow was the world’s tallest person.

That summer Polly, age 9 and her sister Nancy, age 7 were visiting their grandfather Robert Abraham Lincoln Davis.  Polly’s grandfather lived in a small cabin that sat on forty-one acres of land just east of Southwest City, Missouri.  The cabin was unusual in that the cabin was constructed of logs that were placed vertically, not horizontally.  The cabin had a loft, but that space could only be accessed from the outside.

Polly’s family lived in Creede, Colorado but, unknown to Polly, within two years her family would permanently move to the southwest Missouri area.  But for the time being she and Nancy were enjoying spending time with their grandfather and playing in the fields and woods of southwest Missouri.  It was certainly very different from the high mountains of Colorado.

Robert Davis’ sister, Mary Hagerman and her daughter, Rosalyn lived on a separate tract of land next to the Davis property.  They lived in a larger, log constructed, farm house.  To support the family the Hagermans had a few dairy cows and grew produce that was sold in town.  Rosalyn was in her late thirties and was responsible for most of the outside chores on the farm while great aunt Mary cooked and took care of the housework.

Rosalyn proved to be a source of fun and entertainment for Polly and Nancy.  She seemed to enjoy walking through the woods and talking about birds, flowers and clouds as much as the two girls.  Polly and Nancy looked forward to the mornings as they would run to the Hagerman house and spend the early hours of the day with Rosalyn and great aunt Mary.

Polly and Nancy spent one sleepless hot July Friday night in the cabin’s loft giggling and whispering about the next day.  On Saturday Rosalyn was going to take the two to Southwest City where there would be crowds of people, stores with food and candy, drawings for money and prizes and, oh yes, the world’s tallest person, Robert Wadlow the “Alton Giant”.

The girls spent the early portion of Saturday impatiently waiting for afternoon to arrive and routinely asking their grandfather for the time.  The Southwest City events were scheduled to begin at 2:00 P.M.  When 1:30 finally arrived the girls said goodbye to everyone at the cabin and ran to the Hagerman home.  When they reached the yard near the kitchen they saw Rosalyn feeding the chickens, but the girls were more interested in an aroma drifting out of the kitchen window and into the yard.  It was baking day and great aunt Mary was baking wheat bread.

The girls pushed their shoulders tightly together and wedged their heads through the open kitchen window.  They quietly watched Mary for a few seconds until she turned and noticed them.  Without expression she asked, “would you girls like a slice of bread”?  “Yes please” they replied in unison. Mary placed a loaf of the freshly baked wheat bread on the kitchen table and with a large wooden handled knife removed two slices.  “Would you like strawberry jam on your bread girls”, she asked.  “Yes please” they responded, again in unison.

Rosalyn called to the girls, “does anyone want to see the “Alton Giant”?  Polly shouted, “we do”, as the two ran to the old Ford Model T and jumped in while still carefully holding the jam covered bread.  Rosalyn started the old car and manipulated the vehicle’s controls as the girls enjoyed the final morsels of the tasty cuisine.

When the trio arrived in Southwest city the parking lots and streets surrounding the Queens and Nichols Brothers stores were crowded with people.  Winning numbers were being called out as people talked, laughed and scrutinized the numbers on their raffle tickets.  But most importantly, and conspicuous due to his height, was the “Alton Giant”.  He was larger than Polly and Nancy whispered about the night before.

That afternoon Polly and Nancy stood next to the massive man and tried to calculate how many kernels of corn were in a size 37AA Peterson shoe.  Rosalyn laughed out loud as the colossal giant dwarfed the two girls. The goliath wore a dark jacket and pants, and walked with the aid of a cane.

As the afternoon passed and the crowds of people began to dwindle, Rosalyn, Polly and Nancy climbed into the Model T and drove the dusty roads back to the farm.  Rosalyn asked if the girls enjoyed the afternoon and Polly replied; “he really is a giant”.  Nancy nodded her head as the girls bounced up and down on the car’s seat. Inexplicably, the ride home seemed shorter than the earlier drive to Southwest City.  As the car came to rest in front of the Hagerman house, the girls jumped out and waved good-bye as they ran towards the Davis cabin.  Polly and Nancy would spend another sleepless night in the cabin’s loft speaking in low whispers about the giant.

Some years later Polly learned that Robert Wadlow, the “Alton Giant”, died in 1940 at the age of twenty-two.

Thanks to Polly.                      

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