Q: While reading your paper’s recent article about Robert Wadlow, the tallest man who ever lived, I seem to recall my parents taking me to the Grant store in Belleville to see him when he made an appearance there in the shoe department. Am I remembering correctly?
J.W., of Belleville
A: Well, bless my sole, do I have an eerie coincidence for you.
As soon as I read your question, I immediately thought of the source I would have most liked to consult for an answer — my mom. She was still working at W.T. Grant’s in those days, so she likely would have been caught up in all the hoopla surrounding a visit by the 8-foot-11 gentle giant from Alton.
But here’s what’s really strange: It was Wednesday, March 15, 1939 — my mom’s 23rd birthday — when the Belleville Daily Advocate announced that Robert Wadlow would visit the store at 100-102 E. Main St., which today houses Jimmy John’s and an escape room that is expected to open soon. Two days later, store manager Richard E. Cramer welcomed the 21-year-old Wadlow to his shoe department that was crammed with staff, customers and the simply curious.
It wasn’t Wadlow’s only stop that day. While he was in town, he also greeted local schoolchildren during two performances of a marionette show sponsored by the Belleville Parent-Teacher Association at the American Legion, and he and his father enjoyed lunch with Albert Fowler at the Hotel Belleville (now the empty Meredith Home). If you send me your address, I’ll send you a picture from the microfilm record of your childhood memory for your family scrapbook.