Every creature’s senses are attuned to identifying the
biggest creature in the area, and whether it is dangerous to them. Any other
evolutionary path would have been suicide. Species who ignored predators larger
than themselves are by and large extinct. It’s an important part of our DNA.
There’s something about being a giant. The biggest person
in the room feels this, knows they have been noticed and assessed for potential
danger by every other person. For a big person, this hits home the first time
they notice they are in the room with someone bigger than they, and they make
that same friend or foe evaluation.
Now put yourself in the mind of a circus giant, marketed
as a freak, a sideshow to humanity. You need to make a living, this is your
best option, but the dollars don’t make the humiliation stop hurting.
I learned about jack Earle when researching long golf
clubs. Jack’s clubs are in the USGA Golf Museum. It turned out one of the
original long golf clubs had been made by the Chicago Golf Company for Jack
Earle in 1924.
[Jack Earle] only met one
person taller than him in his whole life – Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illionis who
stood 8 feet 9 and one-half inches. “Wadlow was then almost nine feet tall, and
Jack was so flabbergasted to find himself looking up instead of down that his
mind went blank and the hateful question popped out automatically. "Hey,
Bob," he blurted, "how's the weather up there?" Wadlow took it
gracefully, and Jack says it taught him a lesson. "People still ask me
about the weather up here," he says, "but I don't really mind it any
more. I can even shoot back an answer: hot air at the summit, somewhat cooler
in the foothills."” Jack Earle (8 feet 6 inches), a polymath of great
range, was the biggest man in the world after Robert Wadlow (8 feet 11 inches)
I was bigger than all of them until I was 8 years old. And
through my life was the biggest person in every room I was in until my mid-40’s
and saw someone my size in a Texas airport. We glanced at each other with a
certain shock and walked away as fast as we could.
I have a sense of what these guys went through. A place
where there are no chairs, cars, and the other daily needs of our lives, that
were built for us. We figured it out, of course, but it’s weird looking at, for
example cars, where there has never been a production car we fit in easily or
comfortably. Industrial designers had to make a practical choice, set a limit
for their designs, and we were defined as clearly unwelcome. Comedians, talk
show hosts, and other entertainers joke about you publicly (and daily) in the
cruelest terms, getting uproarious laughter and applause. And too often you catch even your
friends making the same jokes in private.
It’s a rejection, a silent humiliation suffered every single day. You
are not normal, never will be, and must learn to live with discrimination and
And yet it is the passionate desire for being normal that
shines intensely in our real lives that binds us much more than the unique
experiences of great size. After retiring from the Circus they became a wine
salesman who inexhaustibly did charity work for children, and whose parents
sold jewelry (Jack Earle); or, a shoe salesman (Gil Reichert and Robert
They were by all accounts extremely nice, gentleman. Very
loving, very accepting.
It has its advantages. You are safe in more places than
other people- at least until you get older. Thieves tend to avoid you – there
are easier victims – although the schoolyard temptation to ridicule stays in
many people their whole lives. The accumulated insults insidiously hammering
away are the downside.
Jack said, "There are thoughts I had as a boy that I
still haven't escaped. I remember the grown people laughing at me. But I don't
expect the world to be made over just for me. If I had a chance now to become a
man of average size, I don't think I'd take it. And when I feel low I can go to
my room and lock the door, and I can read or paint or write."”
Jacob Erlich was quietly spoken, mild mannered, warm,
supportive kind and gentle. Sensitive and artistic, a gentle giant, “his large
eyes peered shyly at you through a huge pair of spectacles.” An exceptional
athlete, remarkably intelligent, a loving family person, an extraordinary human
A poem by Jack Earle from The Pursuing Shadows:
Swirl and steal
Dawn the cornices
Of my mind,
Quietly at first
Then faster and faster,
Into the deep hiding places
Of my terror
My steps quicken . . .
And I flee in fear