CONGRESS OF THE ODD
AL AND JEANIE TOMAINI – The Strangest Couple
Al (Aurelio) Tomaini was born in 1912 in New Jersey as one of seven children. By the age of twelve he towered over his father – a stout man who stood over six feet in height. Al had an overactive pituitary gland and he eventually stood over seven feet in height. To earn a career in sideshow, Al claimed a height of 8’4” and billed himself as ‘The Tallest Man in the World’. No one seemed to mind Al’s embellishment, due mostly to the fact that Al was an incredibly genuine and nice guy. He was shy, gentle and sweet inside and out – from the top of his towering head to the bottom of his size 27 shoes. During the Great Lakes Exposition in 1936, one special young lady took a particular interest in the gentle giant with the coy smile.
Her name was Jeanie (Berniece Evelyn Smith) and she was born on August 23rd in 1916 in Blufton, Indiana with twisted arms and without legs. She ‘stood’ just over two feet in height but, in personality, Jeanie was a giant in her own right. Jeanie had been performing in exhibitions since the age of three and was known for her acrobatic dexterity and the nimble way she ran about on her mildly deformed hands. Originally exhibited by her biological mother, Jeanie had been under the abusive care of an adoptive mother since 1931. The pretty but resilient 19 year old endured the psychological abuse with little hope of escape but, when the sincere flames of romance sparked between her and Al Tomaini, she found a gargantuan protector who would forever lift her out of harm’s way.
The unusual couple eloped during a fair in Cleveland, Ohio on September 8th of 1936 and were wed by a justice of the peace that same day. The pair honeymooned in Niagara Falls and continued touring together for many decades as the ‘World’s Strangest Married Couple’. In the off season they settled in Gibsonton, Florida. It was there that the two remarkable people built a home and a life together.
Gibsonton was known for its population of unusual people. Many circus folk retired or wintered there and many still do. Al and Jeanie purchased a piece of property there along the banks of the river and established a lodge and fishing camp known as ‘The Giant’s Camp’, marked by one of Al’s enormous cowboy boots nailed to the nearest road sign. In Gibsonton Al and Jeanine raised two adopted daughters.With their savings and camp earnings, the pair bought and donated an ambulance to their town. Al served as the world’s tallest fire chef and president of the Chamber of Commerce. Al even lent a hand in building the community hall. All the while, the pair were inseparable and deeply in love. Al was often spotted with his pretty half-girl wife Jeanie propped on his shoulder or carried at his side.
Fortified by that love, Al lived longer than most pituitary giants. He likely endured much physical pain but refused to show it. Eventually, however, his time came and he left his beloved Jeanie in 1962 at the age of 50.
Jeanie continued on without her giant husband. She never remarried and continued to run the camp until her own passing on August 10, 1999. She was buried on the anniversary of Al’s passing.
The Tomaini family still reside in Gibsonton. Their great-grandson, Alex Zander Marrow, carries on their circus sideshow legacy by performing amazing feats of physical endurance professionally as the Junior Torture King. He was formerly the youngest sword swallower in the world and his grandmother, the Tomaini’s adopted daughter Judy, built him his first bed of nails.
© 2010 – 2012, J Tithonus Pednaud. All rights reserved.
J Tithonus Pednaud has dedicated this site to highlighting the remarkable lives of those born exceedingly different. These so-called freaks and human oddities stand as uplifting testaments to human spirit and serve as inspiring examples of human tenacity.