A GIANT OF A MAN
|James McIndoo at age 16. He weighed
288 pounds, and was 6' 9 1/2" tall here.
|James pictured with his father, John
|James is about 17 in this picture. He is
holding a dinner plate in one hand to
show the size of his hand. With him is
normal-sized Will Abbott, a bellhop at
the Flanders Hotel in Madelia
|James flanked by his mother
Caroline and sister Anna, age 14 on
|The giant's unmarked grave in
Riverside Cemetery, Madelia,
Minnesota (He is buried underneath
this little girl)
|James at age 18 as he appeared
in the circus.
James McIndoo was born July 5, 1880 on his grandfather's farm in Crescent, Illinois. He
was the seventh child born to John Milton McIndoo and Caroline Cunningham McIndoo. His
sister Martha Jane, who is Lester Colebank's mother and June Colebank Blanshan's
grandmother, was 13 when James was born. The family moved to Madelia, Minnesota
when James was 14.
He was a normal child at birth, but when he was 7 he contracted whooping cough. Soon
afterwards he complained of a pain in his head and sleepiness, and this was the point in
time when he started abnormal growth. His eyes bothered him a great deal so he didn't
attend school. He had a genial temperament, however, and was kind and generous. He
was a genius when it came to making things. He made his own violin which he played well,
and he loved to take watches apart and repair them. "He was a sensitive boy. He liked
music and had a natural talent," according to Linda Colebank. "People would give him an
instrument and he'd fiddle around with it for a while and pretty soon he'd sit down and play it."
His growth continued at an astonishing rate throughout his youth. His obituary noted that he
had to have an extra large meal every 20 hours; slept from 15 to 20 hours, then remained
awake the same length of time. He could eat as much as three or four working men. He
would eat a peck of apples or a basket of grapes and think nothing of it. He was 7'3" in
height and weighed 325 pounds when he died, and he would undoubtedly have kept on
growing had he lived. His feet were 24" long and he could span 13 1/2" with one hand.
Curiously, he never shed his baby teeth. When he was 17 he traveled with the
Sells-Forepaugh Circus as an oddity exhibit, but he didn't care to have people staring at him.
While with the circus he cleaned and repaired watches for many of the circus people and did
a great deal of intricate work with almost no tools. On one occasion he got a watch with a
broken mainspring, and his associates joshed him considerably about it, telling him he
couldn't repair it. He drew temper out of the ends of the spring by heating them with lighted
matches, drilled holes and riveted it together and then the watch was running again.
He returned home from the circus on November 24 1898, but became ill shortly after. He
realized he was near death's door, and the night before he died he told his mother that the
angels were waiting to take him to heaven. He had suffered a great deal here and said he
would have a good time when he got in heaven. He died in mid-December at the age of 18
years, five months and eleven days. John and Caroline allowed several medical doctors
from the area to examine his body, and they found that he had one large tumor in his brain
that was bearing down on the eye and cheek bone, which had in fact partially absorbed the
bone. Another smaller tumor was found in his temporal region directly on the speech center.
He had enlarged kidneys, which may have contributed to his death as well. His casket had
to be specially ordered. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Madelia in the same grave
as his niece Susie McIndoo, because his parents feared that his body would be stolen for
medical study. His grave is still unmarked.
The disorder from which James suffered is called "gigantism" today. Only about 100 cases
have ever been diagnosed. Today pediatric endocrinology has made many advances, and
children with similar pituitary tumors can be successfully treated. In 1990 I (Rebecca) saw
an article in the paper about a 9-year-old boy from Russia who was coming to the Mayo
Clinic with gigantism. I wrote to Dr. Donald Zimmerman, a pediatric endocrinologist with
Mayo who was treating young Igor (Laden) Vovkovinskiy, about James McIndoo and sent him
pictures of James. He responded, "Many thanks indeed for sending along the very
interesting information about James McIndoo. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that
James was a very bright young man despite the fact that he had no formal education. Igor is
also particularly clever." Igor, who is 7'8", remained at the Clinic and is now employed there.
NOTE: I am of the firm belief that James deserves a marker now that there is no danger of
grave robbers. I would like to start a fund. Anyone else interested?--Becca
Below are some pictures from Dale from the Forepaugh Sells Circus in 1898 (courtesy of
the Circus World Museum at Baraboo, Wisconsin), the season that Jimmy McIndoo was
in it. The giant is Henry Cooper, and the longhaired strong man is Sascha. Dale has a
copy of the whole route book, which is a record of all of the performers that finished the
season, together with all of the cities they visited and significant events of the summer.