Greater Ancestors

World Museum



An American engineer, driven to shelter by a storm in the mountains of Western Chihuahua, found at hand a cavern and in its dimness made out great bales wrapped in leather. He opened one and in the flicker of a torch discovered the skeleton of man twelve feet tall. All around were others, skeletons of men so big that in a sitting posture they rose 6 feet, like columns, and in the clay of the cave floor was a footprint eighteen inches long.
So says a dispatch from Mexico City, which gives the engineer’s name as Nesbitt (without initials or address) and says the Government authorities plan to bring the skeleton to a museum in the capital.
Some thousands of miles away from the mountains and caverns of Chihuahua a skeptical public reads such an account and says with a knowing smile, “Ahh, perhaps.” Those with a smattering of the lore of giants recall that from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego and southern part of the Western Hemisphere has been prolific of tales of giants. The curious who think of all of the strange burial customs that have arisen wonder if perhaps the twelve foot men were two men of six feet done up together for some reason or other.
Nevertheless, all of the giants have not been legendary. The tallest, it is true, have been measured impressionisticly, or have faded into myth by the time someone got around with a tape measure. But the human mind has always been partial to giants; it clings to them even after it lets reason dissipate such monsters as the roc and griffin. Jack the Giant Killer is a  symptom. It has been surmised the trait is a relic of prehistoric days, when the first men had to war on that strange being, the missing link, very much as the whites warred on the American Indians, for territory.

The authenticated of giants within modern times include examples  which measure not so very far from 10 feet.

* Pliny talks of Gabera, the Arabian, who was 9 feet 9 inches

* but the reign of James I almost matched him with John Middleton, who lacked only 6 inches of that figure and had a hand 17 inches long.  He is mentioned in a natural history of the period and his birthplace is given as Hale, Lancashire.

* Chang, still remembered living generation as a marvel of the China of the nineteenth century, was just a slip of a fellow, 8 feet 2, beside Middleton. Chang, however was no isolated specimen; fifty more of less credible examples are listed in “The dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” by E. Cobham Brewer, who had a turn for such information.

Shrinking Giantesses

The nine footers, rare though they are, include women, and this is strange for the female giant is a shy and shrinking person and, judging from the various rosters of giants, is hard to catch.
* Alice Gordon, who died in her native Essex, England, ins 1787, at the age of 19 was 7 feet tall.
* Nova Scotia produced Anne Hanen Swann, 7 feet 11 1/2,
* while the nineteenth century literature of the subject includes also a reference to a woman who hid her height under a bushel, measured a full nine feet.
Today a giant is apt to be regarded as exhibit A for some theory of the affect of glands on the body’s development. Too much of one gland makes a giant and too much of another makes a dwarf.
* It would have taken a hardy person to explain that to Charlemagne. He was not only one of the greatest figures of the Middle Ages, but something of a giant himself. His height was nearly eight feet. He not only welded an empire together; he could take three horseshoes and squeeze them into a pulp, and more than either of these two things, he knew how to manage nine wives.
He is not the only Kingly Giant.
* Among the Indian princes who fought Alexander the Great was one of 7 1/2 feet,
* and there is a record of King Kintolochus who was 15 feet tall and 10 feet across the shoulders. He is not as thoroughly accepted today as
* the Duke of Brunswick who came to 8 feet 6,
* which was the height of the Emperor Maximus.
* A thirteenth century writer says he saw Andronicus II, ruler of the Eastern Empire; he was defeated by the Turks despite his 10 feet.
The next best thing to being a gigantic ruler who engages giants, or impresses them into service. It must give a king a sense of power. The big fellows who serve notables come to public attention and get mentioned in books; possibly that is why there are a lot of them on record.
* Fredrick the Great’s guard of giants – if he spotted a notably tall man, the fellow had no choice – is only one instance.
* Charles I had for Porter William Evans, height 8 feet, who died in 1632, and another,
* Walter Parsons, mentioned in Fuller’s ‘Worthies.” A century and a half later the Prince of Wales had for footman Big Sam.
Ecclesiastics show the same liking, sometimes;
* Eugene II had a court giant, Funnum, whose measure is given as 11 1/2 feet,
* and, to turn to republicans, Cromwell’s porter, Daniel, is reputed to have been the equal of Louishkin, the drum major of the Russian Imperial Guards, who measured 8 feet 5 inches.
* India boosts the Seres, a race of 14 feet tall and living 200 years, and the Bible not only says “there were giants in those days,” but gives later-day examples,
* such as Eleazer, with 14 feet,
* and Goliath 11 feet 9,
* and Anak, beside whom the Jews’ spies were by their own admission mere grasshoppers. Then there was Og, King of Bashan, who lived 3,000 and when he died they made a bridge out of one of his bones. The Indian boast is only a boast, though, and the biblical giants have been assailed because of the cubit, according to the critics, was really less than it was at first thought, to have been the English translators.
All the East would be hard put to it to match the four that came from Ireland in one generation.
* Charles Byrne died young in 1783 in London and his skeleton, 8 feet 4 inches long, was given to the College of Surgeons.
* He had a little playmate named Murphy who was 6 inches taller. Murphy died at Marseilles,
* and at the same time there was living Patrick O’Brien, 8 feet 7, who lived to be 39 years old.
* The fourth overtopping O’Brien half an inch,
was Patrick Cotter, who also was honored at the College of Surgeons;
* it took a cast of his hand of William Bradley, a 7 foot 9 Yorkshireman of the same period.
* Yorkshire produced another of the same height John Busby, who had a brother no smaller than himself. If glands aren’t the cause, maybe heredity has something to do with it.
* At any rate, Reichart, a German of 8 feet 4 inches, was referred to as “the little one” by his fond and gigantic parents. it does not always go that way, however; one might expect great things from the marriage of Anne Swann to Captain Bates of Kentucky, who was on view in London half a century ago. Together they measured from end to end, 16 feet less exactly an inch, but it is not written that they added to the arguments of the eugenists.
* Bates had a rival as a London attraction in a Norweigian 8 footer. Norway had others in the last century, and France also, a Scotland and Mexico and Saxony and most other countries. The commonest nickname is the Swedish giant, or French or whatever the nationality may be. It is a boast in all quarters of the globe.
Some of the biggest, however, got away.
* The 9-foot Italian seen by Del Rio in 1572,
* and little Swedish girl of 9 years and 10 feet tall mentioned by a surgeon,
* and other 10 foot folk in Palestine and Africa and the Americas,
* and the 12-foot man that Turner, a naturalist, said he saw in Brazil.
* There were likewise the eleven-foot thigh bone
* and the five-pound tooth discovered in New England.
* Cotton Mather Wrote to the Royal Society that they showed giants had once lived in America. That was 1712. Later authorities have preferred to think of them as mastodon relics. A similar fossil discovery in Switzerland 150 years previous in perpetuated not only in legend but in statues Basie. When the discoveries were made the Western World was still inclined to believe Sir John Mandeville when he told of an island inhabited by people thirty feet tall and another near by whose inhabitants averaged fifty feet. They would walk into the ocean, pick up a passing ship in each hand and eat the crews alive. “I saw none of these,” wrote Sir John, “for I had no lust to go to those parts,” and his readers duly sympathized with him. The tale was not incredible at a time when the discovery of the tomb of Polypheme was still remembered: the tomb was in Sicily and the occupant’s height, as measured when it was opened in the thirteenth century, was 300 feet. That may have been just deduction.
* The tomb of King Teutobochus was discovered near the Rhone in 1613. The accounts say the tomb was thirty feet long, but the King’s own height is referred to less explicitly.
Mankind, in truth, has always kept a little corner in its heart for the giant. Most of them are made horrible in myth, trimmed with double heads and breathing fire, yet these attributes may be only a form of homage added to fascination. Living giants are always sure of a public composed largely of grown-ups who take their children along merely as an excuse to hide their own interest.The giant is a single survivor from the age of fable; he alone comes true, wearing trousers and a patient’s smile. That is why a deliberately skeptic world, reading of the engineers find in the Chihuahua caverns, hoped that anyhow the report would turn out to be true.
  • GIANTS SURVIVE THE AGE OF FABLE, The New York Times, [Jul 12, 1925]