Last year, I became obsessed with genealogy. Like, “Spend five hours not moving from the couch because I was going down a rabbit hole that would lead to exactly nothing” obsessed. I attacked my job with the zeal of a professional genealogist. Actually, probably more zeal, because if I’d been getting paid by the hour doing research for someone else, I would have bailed a lot earlier just out of respect for their budget.
I was able to trace the Kraus branch of my family tree back to Franklin County, Kansas, at the turn of the last century. Scouring the newspapers, I found that my great-grandmother Kraus had paid her sister a visit in a neighboring county. (It didn’t take much to make the papers back then.)
Emboldened, I kept searching and I ran across a 1910 article about Oscar Kraus, also known as The Kansas Giant. The subhead?
Born in Franklin County, a Circus Sideshow Freak
A sideshow freak who was possibly related to me? They’d gotten my attention. Before I could find out how or even if Oscar was related to me, I spent an entire afternoon trying to piece together his story — which was fascinating as much for the breathless reporting as for the tabloid-style details.
Apparently, poor Oscar, whose height ranged from 6’8” to 7’6” depending on the article, was looking for a bride. “Find me a woman of my size in this county, and I’ll marry her on the spot — providing she will say the word,” Oscar said.
The article went on to say, “For the past 28 years, [Kraus] has been employed by various show companies as a walking advertisement, perambulating around in an Uncle Sam costume, and distributing their advertising literature.”
It also said that “Oscar would make an ideal match for some buxom Franklin County damsel… And besides having to sleep in the bed corner-wise, he is perfectly normal.”
But Oscar had not had an easy time of it, romantically speaking. Although he was a “study specimen of an American” as well as a “splendid example of the healthfulness of the Kansas climate,” he had suffered a string of heartaches.
His first marriage was reported thusly:
The future Mrs. Kraus is 6 feet 5 inches tall. She weighs 470 pounds. They will go to Milwaukee and enter the circus business with the Sells Brothers.
That Mrs. Kraus passed away while married to Oscar. So did the next. But that didn’t stop him from trying. There would be a third wife:
“His next venture on the sea of matrimony was with a bride who was just 4 feet high, but there was as much disparity in their taste as in their heights, and he afterwards divorced her.”
Another news item about the brief marriage was less kind to the Kansas Giant:
Bride Deserts Kansas Giant
Six months of marriage with Oscar Kraus was enough
A bridegroom of less than six months, Oscar Kraus, known as the Kansas giant, who was wedded on the stage of the Opera House in Pottstown to Miss Ann Bradford of Spring City, finds that he is a deserted husband. His bride has disappeared and it just believe she has gone home to mother. Kraus is disconcerted and declares that his bride has been coerced into deserting him.
Even worse was this brief mention in The Daily News of Lebanon, PA:
Oscar Kraus, the Kansas giant, latterly Reading’s tallest citizen, 6 feet 11 inches, who married a Royersford girl on the stage, is now selling potatoes in Reading.
Potatoes?! Now that’s some hard luck.
Undaunted, Oscar wed a fourth time, but very little was said of that marriage. Here is the entirety of what I could find about her: “Later he married a woman of normal size in Texas but their married life was not happy and they separated.”
That fourth failure didn’t stop Oscar. He was still looking for love, and the reporter in the original article was doing his best to help:
“Now if some leap-year girl is looking for a husband and has not found the man of her dreams, she might drop a line to Mr. Kraus. He is the tallest man in Kansas and his seven feet of stalwart anatomy make a fine target for Cupid.”
I never did find out if Oscar found wife number five. To be honest, I never even found out if he was related to me. But I found his story fascinating, not just for the facts but for the way the papers described his extraordinary height and bad marital choices.
One last tidbit: before I cancelled my free trial of newspapers.com, I found this 1915 story about an Ottawa baseball game in which Oscar was to play first baseman:
Fats to Play the Leans
Gather around closely, children, and listen to the story of the great baseball game to be played tomorrow evening between the greatest of the world’s wonders: the Fats and the Leans of the city of Ottawa. They’re going to perform at the regular hour on the Washington School baseball grounds. The umpires will be afforded police protection and the audience will be removed in case there is any bloodshed. The fats say they will make bacon out of the lean, and the skinny men feel sure they know what will happen to their corpulent friends.
Despite all the newspaper coverage, I haven’t been able to find a single picture of Oscar Kraus, nor have I been able to find out if he’s related to me. Next step? Follow up with the Franklin County historical society. Then, some more research on my Kansas Krauses. But that’s another rabbit hole for another day…
Readers: normally I would ask you a related question, like “Have you ever been doing genealogy research and discovered circus folk in your family tree?” But since that’s a long shot, I’ll take whatever comments you’ve got!
Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty finalist for Best First Mystery Novel and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and is now available from Minotaur Press. Neither book contains exceptionally tall men.