Of the giants who have roamed the earth, the tallest was Robert Wadlow, standing 8 feet, 11 ½ inches. And while he undoubtedly towered above all other men on the planet, he wasn’t history’s most all-around massive person.
That title would go to Miles Darden (sometimes called Mills). Born in 1799 in North Carolina, Darden reportedly grew to stand 7 feet, 6 inches and weigh just over 1,000 pounds. That’s more than a foot shorter than Wadlow, but more than double his weight.
Or, to better help your imagination, picture André the Giant, but slightly taller and twice as heavy. One Miles Darden equals two giant Andrés.
Like Wadlow, André, and other giants, a malfunctioning pituitary gland likely caused Darden’s abnormal growth.
A man of this stature would seemingly have left numerous legends of size and strength. Yet, few exist.
Darden lived a quiet and uneventful life. He was a farmer and later in life opened a tavern and inn in Lexington, Tenn.
Many articles from the late 19th century stated that Darden wasn’t exactly proud of his size and refused to step on a scale. His weight, in 1845, was ascertained by a clever and curious group of fellows who waited for Darden to board his specially made two-horse wagon — built with very strong tension springs — in order to measure the distance of the cart’s body to the ground. When Darden was away from the vehicle, they loaded it with stones, or possibly 100-pound sacks of sugar, until the cart lowered to the same distance from the ground. Their crude measurement: 871 lbs.
Of course, he continued to get bigger. Combine his glandular condition and a very hearty appetite, and that’s no surprise. In Every Day in Tennessee History, James Jones claims Darden’s typical breakfast included one dozen eggs, 30 buttered biscuits, a gallon of water and two quarts of coffee.
That’s enough food to feed a family — which he also had to do. It is believed that Darden was married at least twice, with one wife bearing at least three children before passing in 1837. Remarkably, she only stood 4 feet, 11 inches and weighed 98 pounds. His children were also large, but nowhere near the unusual proportions of their father.
Outfitting a man of Darden’s size was no easy task. His coat took 13 ½ yards of fabric to create. It once fit around three 200-pound men with ease — who demonstrated its magnitude by walking through the town square together.
It was said that Darden could single-handedly pull a loaded wagon from a mud hole, whereas normal-sized men couldn’t budge it.
According to Lexington historian, Paul Williams, Darden could overpower a bull and pull him backwards. Williams also recounted a story of Darden saving a man who’d ridden up to his saloon on a horse, nearly frozen to death. Darden lifted him off the horse and carried him inside to warm up and recover.
Pulling wagons from mud and besting bulls in strength are impressive displays of power, but Darden’s greatest feat may have been the one he exhibited every day — simply supporting his enormous frame. Darden lived a long life for someone of his size and remained mobile until his final years.
His colossal size eventually led to his death on Jan. 23, 1857. Doctors stated the cause of death was due to strangulation — rolls of fat around his windpipe prevented him from breathing.
His casket was eight feet long and took 17 men to place him in it.
© Marc Hartzman