Friday, February 01, 2008

The fattest and the tallest

When I was a kid, I used to buy the new Guinness Book of World Records every year. This isn't the glossy hardcover with loads of color pictures they sell nowadays, but the mass market paperback crammed with black and white photos and all kinds of records. My favorite chapter was always the first, on human achievement - the woman who lived to the age of 114 ("She never wore glasses"), the guy who held his breath underwater for over 13 minutes ("He hyperventilated with oxygen for 30 minutes before his descent"), and the fat twins on their motorcycles.

For years the record for the fattest human was held by Robert Earl Hughes ("He was buried in a coffin the size of a piano case"). Nowadays he's been passed by about half a dozen others, but he was still a not-insignificant 1,069 pounds at his peak. Here he is a svelte 720. Watching this, I get the sense that he's really sweet.

And then there's Robert Wadlow, who reached 8 feet, 11.1 inches (and 491 pounds, if you're curious). My grandfather actually grew up in the same Illinois town and remembered him at the movie theater, draping his legs over two rows of chairs. It was remarkable for me to see this footage of him walking and hear him talking, in a voice that sounds slowed down to 16. (Note to kids: That's a reference to a "phonograph.")

The picture at 1:05 was in the Guiness book, accompanied by a caption that closed with the unforgettable bone-dry aside, "Robert is the one wearing glasses."

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