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Scotch Giant's Shoe Last

Shoe last (form) used to make boots for Frederick Shadick of Cottage Inn, Wisconsin, 1849-1854.
(Museum object #1968.15.1)

Around 1849, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Shadick moved from New York City to the small village of Cottage Inn, Wisconsin to settle near Mrs. Shadick's brother and sister who already lived in the area. The move of European settlers to southwestern Wisconsin at this time normally would have caused little note except that both Mr. and Mrs. Shadick stood over seven feet tall and Mr. Shadick became legendary in the area for his feats of strength. Over 70 years later, the Wisconsin Historical Society received a donation of the only known physical remnant of the Shadick's time in Wisconsin, a square-tipped shoe last which had been used to form Mr. Shadick's massive boots.

The wooden last had originally been owned by George Priestly, an early shoemaker in nearby Mineral Point, Wisconsin, who apparently made boots for Mr. Shadick while he lived in the area. Carved from maple, the measurements of the last would have matched those taken from the ball, waist, and instep of Shadick's left foot (the top component of this last, which matched the shape of the top of Shadick's foot, no longer exists). As he would for his clients of smaller stature, Priestly formed the leather components of a new boot over this last to construct a piece of footwear large enough for Shadick's massive foot. The shoe last itself measures 13 inches long and nearly 4 inches wide and would make a boot with an approximate size of 18 by today's American size standards (for comparison, N.B.A. star Yao Ming, at 7 feet 6 inches tall, wears size 18 shoes).

Born in Cornwall, England on April 27, 1813, Frederick Shadick (English records and the 1850 United States census note his last name as "Chadwick") stood an awe-striking seven feet four inches tall and weighed between 370 and 450 pounds by the time he became an adult. Wherever he went Shadick's size and strength amazed those who encountered him. His popularity only increased when, on May 23, 1842, he married a Scottish woman named Jane Gray (or "Grey") who also stood over seven feet tall. Together, the couple garnered much attention and left behind a legacy often clouded with folklore and myth. As is often the case, word of mouth, especially when driven by bizarre or spectacular phenomena, often yields sensationalized, and unsubstantiated, tales.

One thing we do know, however, is that by 1845 the Shadicks found themselves living in New York City, where they were "discovered" and hired by showman P.T. Barnum. Barnum moved to capitalize on the public's interest in the couple's immense height and billed the Shadicks as "Mr. and Mrs. Randell, Giants." He featured the Shadick's in his "American Museum" where he exhibited them wearing puffy Scottish costumes to enhance their already large stature. Barnum further emphasized the couple's size by teaming them on stage with the famous "Tom Thumb," who stood only 28 inches tall.

Approximately four years after the Shadicks achieved fame in New York City, the couple moved west and settled down in a stone home in Cottage Inn, about a mile north of Belmont. While Fredrick listed himself on the 1850 census as a farmer, he appears to have been better known locally as a teamster, driving horses between Mineral Point and Galena, Illinois. It is from this occupation that he became a regional legend and subject of a wide collection of tales, immortalizing his size and strength.

Several accounts of Shadick's unusual abilities were recorded over the years which, whether true or exaggerations, emphasize his size and power. One story, for example, claims that Fredrick once took it upon himself to fetch a dozen eggs from a nearby farm. When asked how he would carry the eggs home — as he had no basket or other means to do so — Shadick replied "Guess I can get 'em all in here," cupping the palm of his hand. Still other accounts suggest that his hand, when splayed out flat, could span the top of a flour barrel (approx. 14 inches in diameter). Other stories document Shadick's unusual strength. Several accounts state that Frederick could lift a 200-pound anvil with ease, an 80 pound pig of lead with one hand, and a full barrel of whiskey with his fingertips alone (at that time a barrel of whiskey probably contained 40 gallons which would weigh approximately 330 pounds).

Still, during their time at Cottage Inn the Shadicks were often subjected to ridicule in public, and they filled their stone cottage with books where they spent much of their leisure hours alone during the fall, winter, and spring. In the summers they began to tour with newly popular "traveling shows," in which they were again exhibited as "human curiosities." Finally, in July 1854, Frederick Shadick's career came to an abrupt end in La Porte, Indiana where he and Jane were traveling with Franconi's Hippodrome show. Accounts vary as to whether Frederick died from cholera or apoplexy, but his body was sent back to Cottage Inn for burial. Just a few short months later Jane passed away as well, bringing an end to the legend of the "Scotch Giants."

[Sources: Wisconsin Historical Collections 13:362; Madison Democrat, Aug 14, 1920; Knebel, Melva and Linda Fine. In the Shadows of the Mines: the Village of Rewey, Wisconsin, 1880-1980... ([Dodgeville, Wis.]: Dodgeville Chronicle, 1980).]


Posted on February 15, 2007

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