Downing House Museum Complex
Built in 1858 - National Register of Historic Places 1979
South Main Street Memphis, Missouri -  Phone: 660-465-2275
Complex: Downing House Museum, Boyer House, Memphis Train Depot & Pheasant Aircraft Co.
Ella Ewing

The Missouri Giantess


Ella Ewing was borElla Ewingn in La Grange, Missouri, the only child of Benjamin F. and Anna Eliza (Herring) Ewing. While a toddler, Ella's family moved to the small Scotland County community of Rainbow, southeast of Gorin, Missouri. She was of normal size while a baby and young child, with the first signs of any abnormality appearing shortly after her seventh birthday. At age fourteen she towered over not only other children but her parents and other adults, measuring 6 feet 10 inches. The people of the Rainbow and Gorin area were used to her fast growth and met it with compassion, however in 1885 Ella leaned that would not always be the case in the world at large. Asked to read the Declaration of Independence at a July 4th celebration in Wyaconda, Missouri, Ella was met with shocked gasps, snickers and laughter when she stood to read. Led away in tears, the incident would have a profound effect on her life.

Ewing's maximum height is a matter of dispute, but in several accounts she was claimed to be over eight feet tall. Her mothers journal indicated that Ella's growth finally stopped when she was age twenty-two, at 8 feet, 4 inches tall. However, this is not well documented, and as such she is not mentioned in Guinness World Records. The Guinness Book of Records has stated she measured 7 feet 4 and a half inches tall, and may have reached 7 feet 6 inches by the time she died. As typical of many people afflicted with pituitary gigantism Ella's arms were very long, with her hands and feet were exceptionally big. She wore a custom-made size 24 US shoe and often wore multiple rings on her fingers to mask their unusual length. The custom built home of Ella Ewing featuring extra tall doorways, ceilings, and windows to better accommodate her height.

Ewing initially disliked being gawked at, but decided that as it was unavoidable she might as well make some advantage to it so agreed to make appearances and tours. Her Baptist faith, however, meant she would not make appearances on Sundays. For a time Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus introduced her as the Earth's tallest woman. Her professional career began at age twenty when Lewis Epstein, a museum owner and impresario from Chicago offered $1,000 for twenty-seven day appearance at his establishment. As part of her contract Ella's parents were allowed to accompany her and the famiy considered it something of a paid vacation, touring the sights of the Windy City when she was not on display at Epstein's museum. Not long after returning home to Gorin Lewis Epstein made an even bigger offer, a five-month engagment for the then-astounding sum of $5,000. Convincing her hesitant father that was more money than he could earn in five years of hardscrabble farming, Ella accepted and thus embarked permanently on a career as a museum and circus sideshow attraction.

She died January 10, 1913 of tuberculosis and is buried at Harmony Grove Church near her hometown of Gorin in Scotland County, Missouri. Her father had her casket encased in concrete for fear of grave robbers desecrating her grave and putting her bones on display.