There were 7 Shields Brothers from White Rock, Texas, but only four of them were tall enough to tour with P.T. Barnum’s circus as “giants”. Even so, though they were billed to all be nearly eight feet tall, the reality is that they were all between 6’8″ and 7 feet — puny things, really. the effect of height was augmented with platform shoes and military style hats. The brothers were Shadwell (Shade), Augustus (Gus), John Franklin (Frank), and Jack Robinson (Jack), all born in the mid 19th century. They were with Barnum starting around 1877, and later worked for the Adam Forepaugh and John Robinson circuses, exhibiting themselves for about a decade in total. Ironically, when the act broke up, it was the shortest one (Shade) who continued to tour as a giant for the rest of his life.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.