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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Giant Boot as a tribute to Al Tomaini

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(Sept. 29) -- In most places, a giant boot might send a message of "get out!" But in Gibsonton, Fla., it couldn't be more welcoming.

This morning, the town will unveil a monument featuring the colossal boot of one of its most famous and well-liked residents, Al Tomaini. He reportedly stood 8 feet 4 inches tall.

The granite base of the memorial matches the giant's height, and with the replica of his boot on top, the structure will tower at 11 feet 1 inch tall.

Freaktown USA Unveils Giant Boot,
Courtesy of Robert Mudry
The Tomaini memorial was unveiled Wednesday morning in front of the only remaining fishing cabin from the Giant's Camp. Sitting at the base of the monument is the sole of the original Tomaini boot, which a Mosaic worker found on the property. The company had it framed and presented it to Tina Tomaini, granddaughter of Al and Jeanie.
Positioned along Highway 41, just south of Tampa, it will greet drivers at the same site where Tomaini and his wife, Jeanie the half girl (who measured 2 feet 6 inches) built a restaurant and fishing cabins alongside the Alafia River in the 1950s. They called it the Giant's Camp. Tomaini's friend, a three-legged man named Francisco Lentini, suggested the name.

Billed as "The World's Most Unusual Married Couple," the Tomainis moved to Gibsonton after a career in the circus and sideshow. In addition to building the camp, the giant also organized the town's first fire department and served as its chief.

Other show folks joined them in the winter and began retiring there. Land was cheap and zoning laws allowed for "residential show business," making it convenient for trailers and carnival equipment.

Soon, the little town was filled with curious characters, including bearded ladies, alligator-skinned men, giants, little people, fat men, fat ladies, and others.

Being different was the norm. And Gibsonton became known as Freaktown, USA.

Tomaini passed away at the age of 50 in 1962, but Jeanie persevered and continued to operate the Giant's Camp for decades until her own death in 1999, just weeks before her 83rd birthday.

In 2007 the surviving Tomaini family sold the property to a phosphate company, Mosaic, and all but one cabin was cleared away. The boot, which had deteriorated over the years, eventually disappeared, too.

Gibsonton residents 8-foot, 4-inch giant Al Tomaini and his 2-foot, 6-inch legless wife, Jeanie
Gibsonton residents 8-foot-4-inch-tall giant Al Tomaini and his 2-foot-6-inch legless wife, Jeanie, were billed as "The World's Most Unusual Married Couple." Seated behind them is Baby Ruth Pontico. Tomaini's oversized boot perched atop a concrete slab served as a landmark for decades.

Locals began voicing their concerns over the loss to Carol Philips, a former wolf trainer/circus performer and current chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton. She brought it up to the board and it decided to restore the boot, and with it, the town's unique identity.

"It's raised a lot of curiosity from some who have moved here more recently and did not know the background, and I think a lot of pride from the older residents that something which was so big in our lives is being recognized," Philips told AOL News.

She worked with Mosaic to secure a place on the site of the old Giant's Camp. But because the land was zoned as commercial, she had to file for a variance with Hillsborough County, requesting the monument be allowed to stand near the highway, rather then set back out of view. Last May, that variance was finally approved.

"We had letters and petitions of support from a lot of citizens in Gibsonton and Tampa," Philips said. "We have learned just how much the Tomainis and the Giant's Camp meant to so many people."

Various members of the community will speak at this morning's event, including representatives from Mosaic, the president of the Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton, Lee Stevens, and Philips. Tina Tomaini, granddaughter of Al and Jeanie, is also expected to speak.

Copyright: AOL News

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