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Ella Ewing

Ella Ewing – Tallest Woman Spent Much of Her Life Traveling

     Ella Ewing, a resident of Northeast Missouri, was the tallest woman in the United States during her lifetime. Miss Ewing was born March 9, 1872, in Lewis County, Missouri, the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Ewing. She came to the Gorin vicinity while young. It remained her home until her death.
     Ella was a small, frail child until about 9 years of age and appeared to be of normal size for her age. But she then suddenly started to grow so rapidly that by the time she was 10 she was 6 feet, nine inches tall. Her actions were still typical of other ten-year-olds, except that she towered above the tallest men in the area.
     Her parents were hardworking farm people with a small income. They tried to make things as comfortable as they could for their daughter, but it seemed impossible to keep up with her growth. Residents of Gorin remembered her as a warm, friendly person whose personality overshadowed her size. Her parents tried to shield her from the curious, but the task became harder as she grew taller and taller.
     Her parents at first refused offers of shows and circuses, but finally agreed to let her appear for $250.00 a week plus expenses if both parents accompanied her. Her first out of state exhibition came when she was 21, appearing for $250.00 a week at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. There she came to the attention of P.T. Barnum and Bailey Circus. This at first infuriated Mr. Ewing, but the parents finally consented and young Ella was launched on a career with the side show as the center attraction.
     This was the start of a seventeen-year circus career. She also appeared with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the Sells-Floto Circus, appearing in Quincy on June 16, 1897. Throughout her days with the Greatest Show on Earth, her mother, father or one of her friends was always with her.
     Traveling brought its difficulties because of her size, especially in railroad sleeping cars or in carriages. Even while becoming accustomed to the staring of the millions of people who paid to see her while she was with the circus, there was one thing Ella never overcame-the size of her feet. She had a special canvas built which could be moved as she walked from a platform or down steps to prevent viewers from seeing her feet. Her shoes were size 24 and were probably made by the Huiskamp Shoe Factory in Keokuk, Iowa.
     She found happiness with the circus people who didn’t find her so strange or different. She was not a burden to her parents, and her dream was to provide a home for them. She was able to do this when she bought one hundred twenty acres in the Harmony Grove community near Gorin. A comfortable home was built about the turn of the century. It had fifteen-foot ceilings, ten-foot doors and seven-foot windows, high enough so Ella would not have to stoop. It has been said she would have been a few inches taller, but she carried herself in a stooped position.
     The farm home was destroyed by fire on June 24, 1967, after being in a state of decay and ruin for several years.
     Miss Ewing became ill of pneumonia while on tour. She returned home, where she died January 10, 1913, at the age of forty years, ten months and a 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. Old records listed the funeral cost at $284.80. The average funeral of that time cost $50.00 to $100.00.
     The services were at the Harmony Grove Church in Knox County. The funeral drew so many people-estimated from eight to nine hundred persons by undertaker George Baskett of Wyaconda, Missouri. The church and churchyard were filled. Because it was a cold day, with snowdrifts piled along the country roads, two stoves were set up in the yard to warm those who could not get into the church.
     The family had refused permission for examinations of any kind to be made. Fearing the body might be stolen for medical purposes, Mr. Ewing kept a guard in the cemetery for some time after her burial.
     Ella’s parents are also buried there. Her mother died on March 23,1900, in Chicago, while on tour with Ella. Her father died in the Gorin home in April 1933. A marker was placed on the grave in 1967. It reads: “This memorial made possible by folks who knew Ella.” In 1969, the Missouri Department of Conservation named a fifteen-acre lake near Gorin the Ella Ewing Lake.
     For several years one of Miss Ewing’s shoes was on display in the Missouri Territory Restaurant in Hannibal, Missouri.

Transcribed by: Mindy
Source: The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. 
425 S. 12th Street
Quincy, IL. 62301.

Contributed to me by Crystal Crosby from her own family photos

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