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100 years later, intrigue with 'Missouri Giantess'

MEMPHIS, Mo. (AP) — A century after her death, the Missourian once touted as the world's tallest woman is still generating interest.

Ella Ewing lived in tiny Gorin, in northeast Missouri. She was normal-sized as a young child but developed a pituitary condition that led to rapid growth. She topped 6 feet before her teenage years and her family struggled to accommodate the growth.

How tall she grew isn't clear. The Quincy Herald-Whig (http://bit.ly/VrXu4u) reports that a tombstone says she was 8-foot-4 1/2 inches tall, though some experts believe she was closer to 7-foot-4. Known as the "Missouri Giantess," she initially felt awkward about her height but eventually spent part of her life touring with Barnum and Bailey Circus as the "World's Tallest Woman."

Ewing died of tuberculosis and pneumonia on Jan. 10, 1913, at age 40. Visitors still come to the Scotland County Historical Museum in Memphis, Mo., to see her oversized bed, size 24 boot and other artifacts ranging from photos to newspaper clippings to her possessions.

The museum, housed in what was once known as the Park Hotel, has dedicated a room to Ewing. The Ewing family sometimes took lodge in the hotel, in part because Ella could pass through its tall doorways with ease. Museum volunteer Marcine Evans said Ewing often set her purse on the blue ledge above the parlor's doorway.

A life-size model of Ewing leans near that same edge.

"When you tell them that she was 8-foot-4, they can't imagine her, but when they see that, they never forget that," curator Wilma June Kapfer said.

Kapfer said Ewing tried to live as normal as possible.

"She was very polite. Very quiet. Very quiet for a person," Kapfer said. "She was such a kind and gentle person. She tried to appear normal."

But Ewing was particularly sensitive about the size of her feet. Kapfer said children at the circuses would try to look under her floor-length dress for a glimpse of her immense boots.

In addition to her stint with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, Ewing appeared with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and another circus. She had a 17-year career as a circus performer.

After her death, the funeral home had to special-order a casket and vault. The vault was sealed in cement to keep vandals away.

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