Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meet Johnny Aason

Johnny Aason alongside a normal sized man.

In yesterday's entry I made reference to a man named Johnny Aason. He spent the winter living with my Grandpa Knudt in his 10x10 homestead shack. He was 7 feet tall and weighed in at 375 pounds. Can't you imagine how he had to duck to get through doorways.

Johnny was a resident of the area for many years, having arrived in North Dakota from Wisconsin with his widowed mother about 1899. They came to file on land, but by the time they got there, there was nothing left, so she purchased a lot in town and opened up a restaurant. She became ill and died, leaving three children; Johnny, then age 12, a brother, aged 9 and a sister that was 6. The kids were farmed out to various families, Johnny going to live with Grandpa Knudt's brother, Gilbert.

Gilbert raised Johnny like a son and saw to it that he went to school at least through the 8th grade. When Johnny was in grade school, he was the smallest in his class. He didn't start growing until he was in his teens, and then I guess he forgot to quit. Gilbert often said feeding him was like pouring water down the sink without plugging the drain hole. By the time Johnny reached adulthood he wore size 16 shoes, had an 18 inch dollar and a 29 inch inseam. He had to duck going through ordinary doorways and dodge electric lights hanging from ceilings.

Johnny worked on various farms around the area and helped Grandpa Knudt get his homestead started by doing the plowing, seeding, etc. One spring one horse of the team became ill during the critical planting time, so Johnny put on the horse collar and walked alongside the other horse to pull the plow and get the plowing done.

At one point he joined the circus and toured the country with Barnum and Bailey. After he grew tired of that and when his health started to fail he came back to North Dakota. My father was a young man at this time and was enthralled at how well Johnny could play the harmonica, which was made to order for him because his hands were so big. Dad learned to play the harmonica from Johnny and in his later years was quite an artist also.

My Dad said that Johnny was not well when he came back to North Dakota, probably issues due to his size and malfunctioning pituitary gland. He suffered all kinds of infections, was in and out of the hospital many times and finally died at age 48 from pneumonia.

Gee, I wonder if he had a girlfriend - and if he stood her on a chair to kiss her (snicker).


Meggie Lou said...

Gosh that was interesting. These days someone 7 feet tall is no big deal, but back in those days I imagine Johnny was quite the anomaly.

Shear said...

That Johnny Aason was a long, tall drink of water.

art said...

wow! being that tall in those days was something! interesting tale!! thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Is that your beautiful garden up on top of your page...gorgeous. Paula

Anonymous said...

I have voted. And it is 1 to 0. You need to update more! All votes are in. Get to it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lena!
I'v used more than 5 year to find Johan Aasens/Johnny Aasons lifestory. Since i stumbled across his name I have collected hundreds of images, newsclippings, letters, artifacts and of course most of his story, info on all the circuses, shows and carnivals he worked in, and why he rose to fame in Hollywood. The claims that he reached over 9' was an interesting claim to work with. You are more right about his height than any other I have seen. His childhood is the most tricky part, so I would love to know more- if you have more, about Gilbert- I guess that is Gilbert/Gudbrand Bymoen. I hope you will contact me ( Best regards Bent Lonrusten- Drammen - Norway