View from the Top

August 8, 1938 was one of those hot Elko days that encourages a bit of dozing on the job. Desk Clerk William Duncan at the Commercial Hotel sleepily looked up to greet an arriving guest. His eyes bulged awake when he saw the young 20-year-old man standing at the desk to check to check in for the night.

Robert Wadlow signed the register as a crowd gathered to take a look at the stranger. All were amazed. Duncan asked if he could have his picture snapped with Wadlow and the amiable youngster agreed.
The tallest man in the world, Robert Wadlow, visited Elko.
When the tallest man in the world, Robert  Wadlow, visited Elko on August 8, 1938 he  consented to have his picture taken with  William Duncan at the south entrance of the Commercial Hotel in Elko. Photo scanned from the newspaper files at the Northeastern  Nevada Museum, Elko.
They stepped out of the lobby onto the sidewalk where the two stood side by side. Duncan's head was even with Robert's belt. The visitor from Alton, Illinois was the world's tallest man. At 8 feet 8 inches he weighed 480 pounds and wore a size 36 shoe. He had the appropriate job of advertising for a shoe company.

He entered the hotel again, ducking to go through the door. The tall boy was like other visitors to Nevada and tried his luck on the handle of a one-armed bandit and, like many other tourists, lost his four nickels.

Meanwhile, during the excitement downstairs,  maids were scratching their collective heads wondering 

what to do with the almost nine feet of body. Breaking out of their huddle they headed for the linen closet. The maids pushed two beds together, end to end, with a headboard and footboard removed. Next, two sheets were sewn together for a really king-sized bottom sheet. Two more were stitched together for the top. Over these were put two blankets pinned together with safety pins.

Robert Wadlow stayed in Elko for only one night but he left with memories of a hotel with a friendly staff that didn't bat an eye when confronted for accommodations for the world's tallest man.

A few notes about Robert Pershing Wadlow: He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest man in medical history. He was measured three weeks before he died and was almost nine feet tall. He was born February 22, 1918 in Alton, Illinois weighing a near normal 8.7 pounds. His greatest weight was 491 pounds. His hands were about thirteen inches from the wrist to top of the middle finger and his shoes were size 37AA, that's more than eighteen inches long. Before International Shoe Company provided free shoes, they cost $100.00 a pair (in today's money that's six to seven hundred dollars). Some of these measurements differ from those stated in the  story but Wadlow lived two more years and was still growing when he died.

During the trip when he stopped in Elko, he and his father were visiting 800 towns in 41 states for the shoe company. His dad removed the front passenger seat so Robert could sit in the back seat and stretch out his long legs.

In kindergarten he was 5'6'' tall, wearing clothing that would fit a 17-year-old boy. In 1929 he had his first medical checkup where the family was told that the boy had an over active pituitary gland. Too late for Robert, medical science today can compensate for the problem. In 1931 he was the largest Boy Scout in the world at 7'4" weighing 270 pounds. The "Gentle Giant" died July 15, 1940.

Sources: Elko Free Press, Elko, Nevada, August 10, 1938 and two web sites: Guinness Book of World Records and Alton Museum of History and Art.

27 March 1999

 ©1998 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper       credit must be given to the authors.

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