James Simeon McIndoo was born July 5, 1880 on his grandfather’s farm in Crescent City, Iroquois, Illinois. He was the seventh child born to John Milton McIndoo Sr. and Caroline Elizabeth Cunningham McIndoo. His sister Martha Jane McIndoo Colebank was 13 when James was born. The family moved to Madelia, Watonwan, Minnesota when James was 14.
He was a normal child at birth, but when he was 7 he contracted whooping cough. Soon afterwards he complained of a pain in his head and sleepiness, and this was the point in time when he started abnormal growth. His eyes bothered him a great deal so he didn’t attend school. He had a genial temperament, however, and was kind and generous. He was a genius when it came to making things. He made his own violin which he played well and he loved to take watches apart and repair them. “He was a sensitive boy. He liked music and had a natural talent,” according to Linda Colebank, his nephew’s wife. “People would give him an instrument and he’d fiddle around with it for a while and pretty soon he’d sit down and play it.”
His growth continued at an astonishing rate throughout his youth. His obituary noted that he had to have an extra-large meal every 20 hours; slept from 15 to 20 hours, then remained awake the same length of time. He could eat as much as three or four working men. He would eat a peck of apples or a basket of grapes and think nothing of it. He was 7’3” in height and weighed 325 pounds when he died, and he would undoubtedly have kept on growing had he lived. His feet were 24” long and he could span 13 ½” with one hand. Curiously, he never shed his baby teeth. When he was 17 he traveled with the Sells-Forepaugh Circus as an oddity exhibit, but he didn’t care to have people staring at him. While with the circus he cleaned and repaired watches for many of the circus people and did a great deal of intricate work with almost no tools. On one occasion he got a watch with a broken mainspring, and his associates joshed him considerably about it, telling him he couldn’t repair it. He drew temper out of the ends of the spring by heating them with lighted matches, drilled holes and riveted it together and then the watch was running again.
He returned home from the circus on November 24, 1898, but became ill shortly after. He realized he was near death’s door, and the night before he died he told his mother that the angels were waiting to take him to heaven. He had suffered a great deal here and said he would have a good time when he got in heaven. He died in mid-December (December 16, 1898) at the age of 18 years, five months and eleven days. John and Caroline allowed several medical doctors from the area to examine his body, and they found that he had one large tumor in his brain that was bearing down on the eye and cheek bone, which had in fact partially absorbed the bone. Another smaller tumor was found in his temporal region directly on the speech center. He had enlarged kidneys, which may have contributed to his death as well. His casket had to be specially ordered. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Madelia, Watonwan, Minnesota, in the same grave as his niece Susie McIndoo, because his parents feared that his body would be stolen for medical study. His grave is still unmarked.
The disorder from which James suffered is called “gigantism” today. Only about 100 cases have ever been diagnosed. Today pediatric endocrinology has made many advances, and children with similar pituitary tumors can be successfully treated.
This article was created by: Susan Zmrzel
Record added: Oct 13, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial #43034803
First Photo is Left to Right: Caroline McIndoo with her son James Simeon and daughter Anna. Anna is age 14 and James is age 18. Photo taken 1898.
Second Photo: John Milton McIndoo Sr. with his son James Simeon McIndoo in 1898.
Third Photo: James Simeon McIndoo age 17 with unknown man. James traveled with the Sells-Forepaugh Circus. He could span 13 1/2" with one hand.
To see more photos for James and his family visit our website www.lyonshistory.org.