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David Navarro

P.T. Barnum's Illinois Giant Boy

David Navarro was born in 1861 to a well-off farming family in Rochelle, Illinois.  By the time he was 8 years old, David weighed 165 pounds.  At the age of 12 he weighed 325 pounds and, by the time he was 13, Navarro had a manager who engaged him with circuses and side shows, including those of P.T. Barnum.  Before he had reached the age of 20, Navarro measured 6 ft. 6 inches tall, weighed

720 pounds and was known as “P.T. Barnum’s Illinois Giant Boy.”

Engagement with circuses was lucrative for Navarro, who was said to earn $50 a week with an extra $25 coming in from sales of souvenirs such as cabinet photos.  The circus life seemed to agree with Navarro. He was known as a warm and likable young man, able to make friends wherever his unusual career placed him.

Navarro was part of an extended exhibition of “living curiosities” at Harris’s Mammoth Sixth Street Museum in Pittsburgh in 1882 that included a bearded lady, midgets and Capt. And Mrs. M.V. Bates, “The Tallest Man and Woman on Earth.”  It was during this engagement that he met 16 year old Carrie Glendenning of Allegheny.  Over the course of his stay, Navarro and Glendenning fell in love and had plans to marry.  Both his parents and hers disapproved, citing the youth of the couple.  When local papers ran articles about the “Fat Boy” being engaged to marry, Navarro took to his dressing room, refusing to work the exhibit to protest what he felt was an attack on his privacy.  It was during his brief walk-out that Navarro became ill. He was moved to the Municipal Hospital when it became apparent that he had contracted smallpox.  He died there about a week later with his father at his side.  Navarro was three months shy of his 21st birthday.

An obituary in the Chicago Tribune described the demands Navarro’s “unusual proportions” placed on those overseeing his funeral.  Navarro’s obituary in, The Pittsburgh Post gave the dimensions of the casket as being “six and one half feet long, three feet high and two feet and nine inches wide.” Burial took place the same day as his death, perhaps owing to the dangers posed by exposure to smallpox.

Accounts of Navarro’s death and immediate burial appeared in many Pittsburgh papers. The majority of these articles focused on Navarro’s enormous size—how the bed he was placed in at the hospital broke, how his body was too big for a hearse—the final sentence of Navarro’s obituary The Pittsburgh Post, however, rehumanizes him: “The girl who had hoped to be his wife takes his death very much to heart.”


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