Superlatives – the biggest, the tallest, the most

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Bill Burton

Superlatives

the biggest, the tallest, the most

You can make the case that there are only two kinds of picture postcards — advertising cards and everything else. Since the 1893 Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair), picture postcards have served to promote the virtues of the places and things they portray. Whether they extol the beauty of college girls (promoting the colleges they represent as well as the allure of the models), display a main street in Anytown U.S.A. (we’re a wonderful place, come visit), or focus on a public monument (our patriotism is strong), these cards are promotional. The universe is, of course, a competitive place. You can claim that your town or your college girl is the most beautiful, but the rest of the world doesn’t have to accept that — and almost certainly won’t. Take for example, The World’s Largest Frying Pan. The statement on the back of this vertical postcard from Long Beach, Washington says that it is 9.6 feet across, is used for the local clam festival, and that it has “travelled extensively in the Northwest to advertise the Long Beach Peninsula vacation area.” But the horizontal card’s back reports that this pan is used for the DelMarVa Chicken Festival and is 11 feet across. The Longest Bar in the World. Who could resist crossing the California-Mexico border during Prohibition to Tijuana for the chance to have a beer? The “Mexicali” Beer Hall was one of many such establishments. The back says that it was published for “The Big Curio Store” in Lower California, Mexico, and the card’s Curt Teich number dates it from 1935.
The Largest Nugget in the World. There may be some exaggeration in this claim. The only place we could find with the name Reids Falls is in Skagway, Alaska. Alas, the back of this card carries text for “Alaska Street Car,” an error that should embarrass Curt Teich, who printed the card, and the Asheville Postcard Company, which published it. The postmark is 1935.
The World’s Biggest Cuckoo-Clock. This Wiesbaden, Germany clock measures 5.25 meters (almost 17¼ feet) to the tip of the antlers. All the figures are made out of wood, says the text on the back, and the cuckoo calls and the figures dance to music every half hour. There are several variations on this image, some even postally used, but the postmarks are always unreadable.
Largest Outdoor Organ in the World. San Diego, California’s Balboa Park is the home of this organ. The caption on this Curt Teich linen states that “The pavilion is the scene daily of musical concerts and recitals and faces a seating area that accommodates over 3,000 people.” The pavilion is still active, with daily concerts from 6:30 to 9 p.m. (Sundays at 2 p.m.).  
The World’s Largest Ball of Twine, Cawker City, Kansas.  Local farmer Frank Stoeber started this bale of sisal baler twine in 1953 and donated it to the city of Cawker, Kansas in 1961. When this postcard was made, the claim was that the ball was over 40 feet around, but local people have continued to add to it. Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song called “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” which neatly captures the allure.
Machnow, The Russian Giant. The Tallest Man on Earth. The card says he’s 9 feet, 2¼ inches tall, but that was likely embellished by the promoters of his tour across Europe, England, and the United States in 1905-1906. He died in 1912, age 34 of pneumonia and possibly the effects of acromegaly, the cause of unusual growth. Subsequent claims to being the tallest man in the world have been made for the American Robert Wadlow, who the Guinness Book of World Records claimed to be 8 feet 11 inches.
“Amalie” The Tallest and Most Beautiful Woman on Earth. For some reason there are more postcards of “tallest woman in the world” than there are of “tallest man in the world.” Today there are all sorts of claims for tallest woman, but in the early twentieth century “Amalie” (probably Amalie Schulte), a German woman who toured with Barnum & Bailey in at least 1914, stood out. The numerous real photo cards of her certainly affirm the “beautiful” part. World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well.  This water well was dug in 1887 with picks, shovels, and a rope attached to a bucket to haul the debris to the surface. The nearby railroad needed water for its steam engines as did the town of Greensburg. In 1916 a winding stairwell and electric lights were installed and by 1939 it had become a tourist attraction when the town dug another well. In 2007 a tornado destroyed the gift shop and the entire town. The town’s been rebuilt and now there’s an entire museum around the well.
World’s Largest Goose Statue. The “Wild Goose Capital of the World” boasts “Maxie,” who has a 65-foot wingspan and weighs 5,500 pounds. The town of Sumner, Missouri (pop. 78) is adjacent to the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts some 200,000 Canada geese annually. “Maxie” was erected in 1976 by the community to honor itself and the refuge.
The Largest Stove in the World. The abundance of iron ore on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula spurred Detroit’s manufacturing industry, a major component of which was the stove industry. One of the largest stove manufacturers was the Michigan Stove Works, which commissioned a 15-ton wooden replica of one of its products for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. After the fair it was displayed in front of their factory.
The Largest Card Case in the World, Santa Cruz Big Trees, California. A large stand of redwoods owned by the Welch family became a tourist attraction as early as 1868 with the construction of a toll road from Santa Cruz. The owners gave several of the trees names, one of which was the Fremont tree, and a tradition began of nailing postcards to the trees. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Big Trees in 1903 and his disparaging comment about the practice led to its demise.
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The world’s largest hand-dug well is in Kansas, as I learned when I Googled to find out just where Greensburg is.

I must confess I too have been enticed by these postcards. One of my favorites is the “world’s largest corn shock – 70 feet Shelbyville, Indiana Corn Festival. This was composed of more than 14,500 stalks of corn and was posted in 1957. I was not able to add it to this comment. Sorry.

I was curious about the world’s largest gold nugget because my brother and his daughter are visiting Skagway right now! According to the story, Martin Itjen, a German, was one of the thousands of Stampeders who arrived in Skagway, Alaska, during the Klondike gold rush in 1898. Failing at prospecting, as many did, he became an undertaker. When business grew slow in the 1910s, he began giving tours of Skagway, which soon became highly successful, turning Skagway into a tourist attraction for visitor’s to Alaska. Martin also took up efforts to restore Skagway’s old Gold Rush Cemetery, promoting it with… Read more »

Skadway.jpg

They didn’t send me a picture of his burial plot but there are about a million pictures online. I will attach one. Martin Itjen is the stone on the left with the cross. The smaller stone is for his wife, Lucy.

his and hers and nugget.jpg

Canada has it’s own ‘largest goose’ in Northern Ontario of which there are many chrome postcards. This story tells its story with a photo.

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A postcard tour of old lighthouses is travel without expense or effort. Postcard History premieres a new series today of arm-chair tours of North American lighthouses. It is an eight-part series of get-acquainted articles that will spur your interest to learn more if you too have been a victim of the “Lighthouse Bug” that has bitten hundreds of postcard collectors.

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