As a child in the
1880s, Edouard Beaupre dreamed of
becoming a cowboy. He was a
talented rider and roper by the
time he reached his teens, and his
large stature promised an early
start to an occupation that
rewarded strength and endurance
with the independent lifestyle he
coveted during occasional work
among the ranch hands of the
Willow Bunch district.
Beaupre quit catechism school at
15 and took a job working the
range. But his career as a cowboy
was over in two years. He'd grown
so tall that when he straddled a
horse, his feet dragged on the
ground. And at more than 300
pounds, he taxed the strength of
the sturdiest steed.
For the young man who would become
known in cities across North
America as 'The Giant', a dream
had ended. What followed was a
short life on the freak-show
circuit and 86 years of death
Riding a horse for a living was
out of the question.
The first of 20 children born
to Gaspard Beaupre and his Metis
wife Florestine, Edouard was a
large baby who nevertheless grew
at a normal rate for the first
three years of his life. His
parents were slightly taller than
average, his brothers and sisters
normal. By the time he reached the
age of nine, however, the
sensitive and intelligent lad was
six feet tall. At 21, he was a
towering 8'2" and weighed just
under 400 pounds.
Old photos reveal a dapper and
well-proportioned man whose
extraordinary height dwarfed the
people and objects around him. His
shoes were size 22 and his hat
size 15. It took 6 1/2 yards of
fabric to produce one of his
custom-made shirts, which sported
sleeves four feet long.
The Giant got his start in the
freak-show business when neighbor
Andre Gaudry suggested it might be
a good way to earn money for him
and his family. Gaudry and a
friend of the Beaupre family named
Albert Legare accompanied the
17-year-old Giant on a North
American tour that included
Winnipeg, Montreal, Buffalo,
Chicago and several cities in
California. In no time, Beaupre
had an agent and a regular job in
a touring circus.
From 1898 to 1904, the Giant
earned a living being ogled by the
curious, wrestling strongmen and
performing feats of strength for
audiences across North America -
crouching beneath an 800-lb horse
and lifting it to shoulder height
was one of his most popular
Touring big cities was tough on
the country boy. He had almost no
private life. The only sanctuary
from a gawking public was his
hotel room, where chamber maids
typically used a steamer trunk
covered with a mattress to
lengthen his bed. Fellow train
passengers tittered when he loaded
his baggage into the luggage rack
without leaving his seat.
Stress took its toll, but the
Giant continued to work in spite
of being diagnosed in 1902 with
tuberculosis. Two years later,
while performing with the Barnum
and Bailey Circus at the St. Louis
World's Fair, the Willow Bunch
Giant died. He was 23.
How much of the Giant's money
actually made it home to his
family during his six years on the
road is not clear. Likely very
little. Rumors swirled of a
dishonest manager who pocketed
more than his share of the profits
and stole the Giant's savings when
Gaspard Beaupre had made it to
Winnipeg before he phoned St.
Louis officials to say he was on
his way to pick up his son's body.
Some accounts of the ensuing
conversation suggest Gaspard was
told he'd require double the fare
to return the body to Willow
Bunch. And since he didn't have
enough money, he returned home.
But Ovila Lesperance, the Giant's
82-year-old nephew and Gaspard's
grandson, believes money wasn't
the only factor. Lesperance, a
retired farmer who still lives in
the Willow Bunch area, says he
understands Gaspard was told St.
Louis doctors wanted to keep the
corpse for research purposes. And
they said they were within their
rights to do so because it wasn't
claimed fast enough.
Beaupr?s nephew says the Giant
was a kind and gentle man.
"According to what they told
my grandpa when the Giant died, he
was to be buried in St. Louis,"
says Lesperance. "That's all we
Almost 70 years later, in the
early 1970s, Lesperance was
serving as a councillor for the
rural municipality when the
secretary of the organization
approached him and asked whether
he knew his late uncle was on
display at the University of
Montreal. The secretary's son was
a doctor who learned of the
Giant's whereabouts through an
article in a medical journal.
A macabre tale was beginning to
It seems that if St. Louis doctors
spent any time at all studying the
body back in 1904, it wasn't much.
The Giant's agent ended up with
the corpse. He had it embalmed and
asked the circus to pay
transportation costs to Willow
Bunch. The circus people refused.
To recoup embalming expenses, the
agent put the body on display and
charged admission. The Giant's
corpse eventually served as a
promotional prop in the storefront
windows of St. Louis' commercial
district before it was transported
to a Montreal museum around 1905.
The Eden Museum's new 'exhibit'
was more than popular. A large
number of Montrealers travelled to
the city's core specifically to
see the remains of the tallest man
in the world, and their numbers
were bolstered by a steady stream
of curious passers-by. Flustered
with the crowds, museum officials
closed the display.
Another circus freak show was the
next stop on the post-life tour.
But even the Giant's considerable
drawing power couldn't save the
flagging enterprise. The circus
went bankrupt and the corpse was
abandoned in a warehouse.
One can only imagine the reactions
- and dreams - of the children who
uncovered the huge and decaying
body while playing around the
warehouse in 1907. The Giant's
discarded body was claimed for
research purposes by the
University of Montreal.
Scientists at the university
determined the Giant's
extraordinary size was caused by a
malfunctioning pituitary gland
that effectively flooded his body
with growth hormones - he was
still growing when he died. They
treated the corpse with chemical
preservatives and for decades it
was the featured exhibit of
university tours, until Lesperance
heard of the display.
In 1975, Lesperance went to
"I had a niece living in Montreal,
and we went to the university to
see what we could do," he said.
"They had him in a glass case. He
was naked. My niece told them
'that's no way to leave a person'.
He might have been a Giant, but he
Their intention to retrieve the
Giant and return him to Willow
Bunch for a proper burial was
stymied, says Lesperance, by a
chief doctor who claimed the body
belonged to the university and was
still required for research.
Lesperance recalls the doctor
said: "What we can do is put him
away so people don't come and
laugh and make jokes anymore."
There was no such thing as
off-the-shelf clothes for the
Lesperance and his niece believed
they had no choice but to live
with the decision, and they
returned to their respective
homes. But then some reporters got
a hold of the story and began
putting tough questions to
university administrators, and
asking Lesperance what he intended
to do about the issue.
Lesperance says the doctor
continued to stand firm. And since
the Giant's surviving relatives
weren't anxious to get involved in
what they believed would be an
expensive legal battle with the
university, they let the matter
The university maintained its
position until 1989, when a
decision was made to release the
body if family ties could be
proven, and if relatives were
willing to accept the Giant's
"The way he was mummified, he
could last forever," says
Lesperance. "The doctor said that
if we get that body and bury it,
100 years from now somebody could
dig him out and he'd be the same
as he is today. If he's cremated,
he said, that'd be the end of it.
So on July 7, 1990, as part of a
family reunion that saw hundreds
of visitors to the small town of
Willow Bunch, the Giant was laid
to rest. His ashes were buried
near his statue in front of the
Willow Bunch Museum. Inside, a
display celebrates a life lived.
© Copyright Virtual
If you have a question you would like
to submit email us at the
Back to Great
Back to Main
All photos are the property
of their respective owners whether titled or marked anonymous.
"Sideshow WorldTM" is the sole property of John
Robinson © All rights reserved.
sideshowworld.com sideshowworld.org sideshowworld.net sideshowworld.biz sideshowworld.info
is the sole property of John Robinson © All rights reserved.
E-Mail Sideshow World