Thanks, Susan DeCarava, for alerting me to the existence of this amazing person.
October, 1865 was the birth month of Ella Grigsby (later Williams), later billed as Mme. Abomah, the Tallest Woman in the World.
Abomah’s height was generally given out to be between seven and a half to eight feet, although the reality was probably closer to just under seven. She was working as a cook in her native South Carolina when she was hired by Frank C. Bostock for a tour of the British Isles in 1896. Bostock was known as “The Animal King”; he specialized in presenting menageries of African wildlife. He renamed Ella, making her into Mme. Abomah (Abomey being the then-capital of Dahomey, now known as Benin), giving her out to be an African warrior princess. She was billed as a Dahomey Amazon, a real life caste of female bodyguards who protected the tribal chieftain. Over the course of her 30 year career she was to tour not only Britain but most of continental Europe, Australia and New Zealand, South America, Cuba and of course the United States, where she worked in Coney Island and with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The lovely Marie Roberts, the resident banner painter at Coney Island USA (and a terrific artist independent of that) has immortalized Mme. Abomah in her banner art. See! (Mme. Abomah is the tall African American lady):
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 my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
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Thanks for posting this. I never heard of Ella Williams.