The Biggest River Meets the World’s Tallest Man


I’ve been spending the past week in a series of river towns along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The first stop was Alton, Illinois, which is one of those “Where’d you say again…?” American towns that surprises you with a dozen things you didn’t know. First of all, it’s a big eagle-spotting destination. I just missed it, but that shot at the top is not an uncommon site if you visit at the right time of year.

Alton was founded in 1818, started a steam flour mill in 1831, and reached 4,000 people by 1837. Soon a thousand steamboats had docked there—a real metropolis in those days.

It’s got some odd claims to fame, including being the spot where the famed Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates wadlow altontook place and the place where the first state penitentiary was built. Lewis and Clark spent five months here before taking off on their expedition west. Much later a new pioneer was born here: Miles Davis.

Here’s the really trippy one though: Alton was home to the world’s tallest man: Robert Wadlow. He was already six feet tall at eight years old and he eventually topped out at 8 feet, 11.1 inches. That’s my 5′ 11″ frame next to a life-sized statue of him in a park. Naturally everything he wore and used had to be custom-made and he had what would now be called endorsement deals and was a spokesperson for a shoe company. His feet did him in though: the poor guy died at a young age (22) from an infection that set in from a chafing brace on his ankle.

See more at the All Around Alton, IL site.

[Eagle photo by Keith Wedoe for the Alton Regional CVB]

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