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
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
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
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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