MANISTEE, Mich. — More than a century after his birth, and 81 years after his death, Robert Pershing Wadlow remains the tallest person in recorded history, standing at 8-feet 11.1-inches tall, evidenced in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Few likely know that this man, who was labeled the 'Gentle Giant of Illinois,' has an important Michigan connection that's linked to a legendary shoe store in Manistee.
Wadlow was an enigma, for sure. His great size and his unstoppable growth were due to hypertrophy of his pituitary gland, which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone (HGH).
Even by the time of Wadlow's death, there was no indication that his growth had ended.
In 1938, Snyder's Shoes opened for business in downtown Manistee, and two years later, Wadlow decided to accept an invite to the northwestern Michigan town to take part in the city's annual July 4th parade.
"He worked for International Shoe Company," said Ryan Biller, who is a current sales representative at Snyder's Shoes. "[in 1940, Snyder's Shoes] had an opportunity to bring Mr. Wadlow up to Michigan."
When Wadlow was in Manistee, he gave Snyder's Shoes one of his size 37 shoes, as a souvenir to remember his visit.
"Unfortunately, while he was in Manistee celebrating the holiday with our community, he got sick and died," said Biller.
When Wadlow came to Michigan, he weighed 439 pounds. He had to wear braces on both of his legs to be able to stand up and carry all that weight.
"The braces rubbed on his foot and broke through the skin," said Biller. "He was taken to a nearby hospital, but back then, there was nothing they could do to fight off the infection."
On July 15, 1940, Robert Wadlow died in his sleep in Manistee.
During the eight decades since Wadlow's unexpected passing, Snyder's Shoes has kept a shrine for him inside the store, allowing visitors to learn the story that's become a major part of Manistee's lore.
"When you walk into our store, Mr. Wadlow's display is immediately to the left," said Biller. "We have his size 37 shoe in a glass case, which nobody can touch, and there's a life-size statue of him, too."
Biller says everybody from Manistee knows the story, but many vacationers who stop by Snyder's Shoes are shocked by the shoe, and immediately want to learn the story.
"It's definitely a popular attraction," Biller said. "Most people have heard very little about it."
Visitors are welcome to visit Snyder's Shoes during regular business hours and get pictures taken with the statue and/or the shoe.
"Come get fitted for a new pair of shoes and spend time getting to know Robert Wadlow at the same time," Biller said.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.