Friday, 5 February 2016

The tragic tale of Maria Fassnauer, the Tyrolean Giantess.

Another dip into Dolph and Mabel's Post Card Treasure Trove and I come across one that disguises a very sad tale of exploitation in the name of entertainment (Today we've got Celebrity Big Brother, The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent which do exactly the same). The post card refers to the visit to the Plymouth Palace in 1907 of Maria Fassnauer, billed as Mariedl the Tyrolean Giantess.

She was born in 1879 in Austria and from the age of three she grew at an incredible rate and by 15 had reached a height of 7' 10". Soon she was “discovered" and found local notoriety as the “tallest female person of Tyrol". She left school early and worked on the family farm until she came to the attention of side-show operators who wanted her as an exhibit in the very popular 'freak shows' of the time. They pressured her parents constantly and offered to pay the family well for permission to put the young girl on display but although her parents urgently needed the money, they initially refused all offers. Almost inevitably, Maria eventually yielded to the constant stream of propositions and began a seven-year tour across Europe, accompanied by her 'normal' sized sister. She was the star attraction at fairs, festivals and music halls and was described in newspaper advertisements as the “tallest woman who ever lived”. By all accounts, she saved the money she earned to give to her parents, spending very little on herself. In all her appearances she wore a traditional peasant costume and Tyrolean hat, designed to make her appear even taller and more grotesque. Despite being in the limelight Maria led a very isolated life. The side-show operators did not allow her to show herself in public outside of her performances as that would lessen the mystery and reduced their profits. A deeply religious woman whose letters to her parents are full of her loneliness and homesickness, Maria would regularly visit churches, in order to pray. “Come one, come all! Come and see Mariedl, the giant woman of Tyrol, the Monster for Millions" was the cry. Her weight and height meant that it was hard for her to stand for any length of time and she suffered from ulcerated legs, but as no-one wanted to see a sitting giant, she was made to keep moving whilst on view.

By 1913 Maria had had enough of her life as the “Monster for Millions” and returned to the Tyrol. Emotionally and physically damaged, she spent her last years on her parents’ farm where she died, only 38 years old, on 4th December 1917. Nowadays she is remembered through a rather mundane carved statue in a folk museum in Berlin. Perhaps better to be remembered this way than not at all?


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