Monthly Archives: April 2016

8 inspiring quotes from Malala’s new film prove she’s a total badass.

If you didn’t know any better, you might mistake Malala Yousafzai for a normal teenager.

She can’t keep the grin off her face when Googling photos of Roger Federer giggling when saying she likes his haircut and she has strong opinions about both pizza and Bella from “Twilight.” She patiently teaches her digitally-challenged dad how to use “the Twitter,” but gets under his skin when she’s late for breakfast, too.

“Come, Malala, come!” he yells from the kitchen. “What’s the problem?”

“I have the right to sing. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up. I will get my education if it is at home, in school, or any place. They cannot stop me.” Malala

If actual bullets couldn’t stop her, can you expect scare tactics to? Despite the Taliban’s threats to kill Malala one day (her family moved to the U.K. to help protect her in the shooting’s aftermath), one consistent theme throughout the film is Malala’s fearlessness in promoting children’s access to education. The Taliban can say and do whatever they want they won’t silence her.

“No. Not even as small as an atom. Or maybe a nucleus of an atom. Or maybe a proton. Or maybe a quark.” Malala

If you’re a member of the Taliban, your ego must be hurting by this point. Because Malala not only doesn’t fear you, she doesn’t care enough to be angry with you either.

When asked by an interviewer in the film if she’s ever been upset with the Taliban for their attempt to killer her, she responded “no” without hesitation and explained that her Muslim faith has taught her “humanity, equality, [and] forgivingness.”

“Some people think, ‘Malala is lucky she’s now with Hillary Clinton, she’s with Bono, she’s with rock stars.’ But on the other side, I get homework as well.” Malala

The fact Malala has remained committed to her own schoolwork (did you see her GCSE test scores?!) even while palling around with world leaders proves she clearly walks the walk when it comes to learning.

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The Winners Of The 2015 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

The results are in for this year’s National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, and the photos are truly exceptional. They were selected from more than 17,000 global entries in the categories Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments.

Anuar Patjane Floriuk won first prize for his underwater shot of divers swimming close to a humpback whale near Roca Partida, an island off of the western coast of Mexico. The grand prize is an eight-day National Geographic Photo Expedition to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal for two.

“The photo wasn’t planned,” said Floriuk, from Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico. “I was taking photos near the head of the whale, and all of a sudden she began to swim toward the rest of the diving team. The divers gave the whale and her calf space, and I just clicked at the moment when the flow and composition seemed right.”

The competition is in its 27th year, and both amateur and professional photographers are eligible to submit photos.

First Place Winner: Whale Whisperers

Diving with a humpback whale and her newborn calf while they cruise around Roca Partida in the Revillagigedo, Mexico. (Image credits: This gravel-crush working place remains full of dust and sand. Three gravel workmen are looking through the window glass at their working place. Chittagong, Bangladesh. (Image credits: Camel Ardah, as it is called in Oman, is one of the traditional styles of camel racing between two camels controlled by expert men. The faster camel is the loser so they must be running at the same speed level in the same track. The main purpose of Ardah is to show the beauty and strength of the Arabian camels and the riders’ skills. (Image credits: The night before returning to Windhoek, we spent several hours at Deadvlei. The moon was bright enough to illuminate the sand dunes in the distance, but the skies were still dark enough to clearly see the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds. (Image credits: Two boys are trying to catch a duck at the stream of the waterfall. Nong Khai Province, Thailand. (Image credits: White frost over Pestera village. (Image credits: Traditional haymaking in Poland. Many people continue to use the scythe and pitchfork to sort the hay. (Image credits: The night before this photo, we tried all day to get a good photo of the endangered white rhino. Skulking through the grass carefully, trying to stay 30 feet away to be safe, didn’t provide me the photo I was hoping for. In the morning, however, I woke up to all three rhinos grazing in front of me. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda. (Image credits: Kushti is the traditional form of Indian wrestling. Wearing only a well-adjusted loincloth, wrestlers enter a pit made of clay, often mixed with salt, lemon, and ghee. At the end of a workout, wrestlers rest against the walls of the arena, covering their heads and bodies with earth to soak up any perspiration and avoid catching cold. (Image credits: 

A sauna at 2,800 meters high in the heart of Dolomites. Monte Lagazuoi, Cortina, eastern Italian Alps. (Image credits: Stefano Zardini)

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Meet Ladybeard, A Cross-Dressing Wrestler And Death Metal Singer From Australia

This hairy, smiling, cross-dressed man is the latest sensation in Japan, but his fame is growing beyond the borders of the Asian country! He’s Australian and his real name is Richard Magarey, but you can call him Ladybeard. Ladybeard is a man of multiple talents, and looking pretty nice in feminine dresses is only one of them: he’s an actor, a wrestler, a martial artist and metal singer.

All these ingredients have been useful to turn him into an idol. “I’ve been wearing dresses to parties and rock shows for years. It’s good fun, and everyone has more fun when a man in a dress is at the party,” said to Tokyodesu. “I’ve also been attacked several times, but I don’t think that reaction could be called strange, at least not in Australia.”

When he was 23, he moved from Australia to Hong Kong to pursue a career in kung fu movies, and because he was a martial artist, he got stunt training

“I’ve always had an interest in pro-wrestling because it combines all the things that I love — acting, martial arts, character performance, and everything”

“When I began wrestling I decided to wear a dress in the ring and make Ladybeard my ring name too. Everyone loved it.”

“After I started wrestling, I still wanted to sing heavy metal, so I kept the same character because I already had a fanbase for it. I was doing metal covers of Cantonese pop songs while wearing a dress.”

“After every show people would come up to me and say, ‘That was crazy, you should go to Japan, because the Japanese would love this’.”

Later on Ladybeard started appearing in Japanese magazines and was offered to form Ladybaby, a kawaii metal band, along with 2 teenagers

Ladybeard, Rie and Rei released their first single as Ladybaby last July, and they haven’t stopped touring since then!

What plans does Ladybeard have for the future? “Ladybeard plans to ride around on a robot triceratops when those get invented.”

Hopefully, someday we will see him around the rest of the world too!

Ladybaby’s first videoclip

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The Sad, Strange, True Story Of Sandy Allen, The Tallest Woman In The World

A mundane coincidence turns into a mild obsession with the uniquely tragic life of a 7’7” Indiana woman who died a folk hero.

In 1976, in Shelbyville, Ind., a city of about 20,000 southeast of Indianapolis, a film premiere was held. The picture was Fellini’s Casanova. A highly conceptual Italian art house flick about sexual deviance was not what this audience was used to; the house, nonetheless, was packed. A local was in it, a 21-year-old everyone knew about but whom few knew well. She now sat nervously waiting for it to start, concerned about what her neighbors were going to think of it, of her.

“For his giant work, he even imported a giantess from America,” one news article about the picture had read, a find that had ended director Federico Fellini’s, “worldwide search for an amazon.”

She was credited: “Sandra E. Allen – Giantess.”

In the film, Casanova, played by Donald Sutherland, first meets the Giantess in a chaotic pub, where she is humiliating men one by one at arm wrestling. A loud thud, and cheers, a loud thud. She is made even more enormous-seeming by the camera’s low angle and the large veil she wears.

He finally approaches, and asks, “Who are you, mythological creature?” Sandy’s replies are not her own voice; Fellini dubbed his film in Italian. The woman who voiced Sandy sounded particularly effeminate; Sandy’s real voice was deeper, mannish.

Intrigued, Casanova follows Sandy to her room, where she is bathed in a large wooden tub by two dwarfs. One catches our voyeur and with a wink, continues to let him watch. The audience never sees anything but Sandy’s milky back.

Sandy was a modest girl, a churchgoer. In the darkened theater she grew more and more nervous and eventually rose, and left, though probably not without being noticed. At a little over 7’5”, Sandy held the Guinness World Record for being the tallest woman alive, a title she’d received about two years prior. (She was still growing; her eventual record-holding height would be 7’7¼”.) On one hand, the title meant she would live a life much more glamorous than those of the other residents of Shelbyville — this premiere was evidence of that. On the other, it meant the divide that existed between her and all other people would only continue to grow.

I was a college freshman when a guy remarked that I had the same name as the title of a pop song by the New Zealand band Split Enz called “Hello Sandy Allen.” For a strange second I thought someone had written a song about me, but then I googled the title, and caught my first glimpse of its subject. It’s a weird moment when you realize you have the exact same name — first, last, middle initial — as the tallest woman alive. I gawked at her.

Likewise, Split Enz frontman Neil Finn gawked when he met Sandy backstage at a talk show in 1976. “Hello Sandy Allen / the world’s tallest woman” Finn’s lyric begins. He goes on to say he felt “uneasy” when he first laid eyes on her and the enormity of the handshake. That sense quickly abated when he saw how optimistic she seemed. “Appearance never held you back,” he goes on in the chorus, “Must be when you’re number one / You don’t have to try so hard.”

Though on occasion I’d mention in passing that I shared a name with the tallest woman alive, I didn’t actually think of Sandy often — until 2008. I saw in the New York Times that she had died and I read about the years she spent in a nursing home even though she was only 53. I read how rare gigantism is, and how it ensured poor health and physical pain on top of the constant ridicule and anguish. The deeper I dug, the more I realized how much more there was to consider than a coincidence of names — and the more I realized how wrong Neil Finn turned out to be.

Sandy Allen visits with local children at a library in Shelbyville, Ind., in 1995. AP Photo/Phil Meyers

Sandy Allen was born an average-sized baby. This is how all biographies of her begin. Her mother lived up in Chicago and had problems, drank, and brought Sandy home to Shelbyville soon after she was born, where she was raised by her grandmother, Emma Warfield. Her father was rumored to be a truck driver. “Allen” was the name her mother wrote on Sandy’s birth certificate, Sandy’s longtime friend Rita Rose explains to me, adding she doesn’t know if her mother didn’t just make it up.

Their house was small and its paint peeling. Indoor plumbing had come only years before and didn’t always work. Warfield, whom Sandy called “Ma,” worked as a housekeeper and was, in Rose’s words, “a total sweetheart.” Sandy’s mother was not. She moved in when Sandy was in junior high, bringing along one of Sandy’s several half-siblings, a boy named Michael. As Rose describes it, Sandy’s mother was emotionally abusive, especially toward the boy, and an embarrassment to Sandy; especially given that it was a small town, people talked. “She just caused this turmoil in the household,” Rose says.

Sandy Allen’s fifth-grade class photo. Courtesy of Rita Rose

Meanwhile, Sandy grew. By fifth grade she was 6’3”. By her freshman year she was 7’1”. Her grandmother struggled to keep her clothed and shod. Her 8-foot bed was set up in the dining room. Sandy was very protective of her brother, something of a surrogate parent. She used to call home from school at lunchtime to make sure he was alright.

Her peers teased or ignored her. She had few friends. She was tall enough that they saw her only as tall, and then as someone not worth seeing. Coaches at her high school momentarily thought she might be useful on the basketball team but she wasn’t really athletic. Her leg bones had grown so quickly, in fact, she needed surgeries, two of them, just to walk, which she then did with a limp.

After graduation she worked as a secretary at an oil company, then at the Indianapolis Bureau of Motor Vehicles, in the abandoned vehicles division. Her third job was as a secretary again, this time in the state veterinary office. It was there, in 1974, that some co-workers, prodding to know how tall she really was, kicked off their pumps and climbed on desks and chairs and dangled a tape measure down. They sent the figure to Guinness, in London, which replied that she was taller than any woman they had on record but the measurement needed to be verified by a medical professional. Sandy got in her car — which was hard-earned, and into which she barely fit — and drove to her family physician, where the figure was confirmed. Her name and picture were printed in the 1976 edition of the book.

In an interview with local news soon after its publication, Sandy seems genuinely excited. She wears a teal dress and hangs her white shawl as she enters her office. Her dark hair is boy-short. Though she is extremely tall, she seems almost childish.

“Are you sensitive about your height or do you enjoy it?” the reporter asks up at her.

“When I was a freshman in high school I used to get a lot of comments about my height, especially from the boys, and that really upset me,” Sandy replies, her square glasses shining. “But now that I’ve gotten to be the World’s Tallest Woman I’m going to take advantage of all the publicity I can get. I’m really enjoying it now. That’s why I feel like if I grow a few more inches, what the heck.”

Sandy was asked up to Minneapolis to do a Marriott opening and flew on an airplane for the first time out to Los Angeles, to be interviewed on The David Frost Show. Soon after an agent contacted her about the Fellini film. She’d never heard of the director before, but Sutherland she had. The state veterinary office wasn’t about to let her leave for the several weeks of shooting until the governor intervened and off Sandy went to Italy.

Imagine her: a 19-year-old Christian girl of little means in home-sewn enormous clothes, who’d barely left Indiana, let alone America, as she stepped off that plane in Rome. Heads swiveled; bulbs flashed. Sandy, who’d been told by her boss that Italian men liked to pinch “rear ends,” walked through the terminal with her purse behind her. Filming took time; Fellini asked Sandy to stay six weeks rather than the original three. She toured the countryside with the director and his wife, had her first glass of wine, saw Bianca Jagger on set, stayed in Roman Polanski’s mansion, which Sutherland had rented. Fellini and his wife were kind enough to get a limousine for her so she could tour the Vatican, and there, on the cobblestones, soldiers and tourists swarmed her. She was, in some sense, more holy a sight.

Everett Collection

After she returned from Europe she finally went to an endocrinologist. She was in her early twenties and hadn’t ceased growing. It was now that she finally heard the word “acromegaly.”

Acromegaly is a rare condition caused by an excess of growth hormone, often because of a tumor on the pituitary gland. Gigantism is an ever more rare prepuberty onset of the condition. Because patients with acromegaly are adults, meaning they’ve finished growing, they do not grow taller, but they do get thicker. Their teeth space apart, their hands balloon. Dr. Laurence Katznelson, professor of neurosurgery and of medicine at Stanford University, explains to me what acromegaly “looks like” by mentioning Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. His disease, in other words, made him a villain. (“You really have the same name as the person we will discuss?” Katznelson had asked at the beginning of our call.)

Courtesy of Rita Rose

Rita Rose says Sandy had been taken to a specialist as a pre-teen, who explained that she needed brain surgery, but as her family was uninsured, they simply didn’t return. Now doctors told her that the tumor, which was near her optic nerve, would eventually cause her to go blind. The surgery capped the then-20-year-old’s height at the record 7’7¼”.

“She had to wear a wig for a year,” Rose recalls. Her long friendship with Sandy began around that time; they’d first met when Rose interviewed her for a story she was writing for the Indianapolis Star. Rose laments the fact that Sandy’s grandmother and mother didn’t just agree to the surgery initially. “If she had the surgery at that time, then she would have been a tall person but a normal tall person.”

Gigantism does not affect height only. “It affects all organs,” Katznelson explains. “It affects the heart. It can affect pancreatic function. Patients often have diabetes. Thyroid can be enlarged so they have goiters.” He lists other what he terms “co-morbidity” factors, including joint problems, sleep apnea, other hormonal deficiencies, depression. Men have low testosterone; women don’t menstruate (according to Rose, Sandy never did). He summarizes, “All acromegaly, including gigantism, begets premature mortality.”

Sandy’s doctors told her she shouldn’t expect to see her 30th birthday.

Sandy Allen’s senior class portrait. Courtesy of Rita Rose

Sandy would always have two options: a life lived publicly — one that embraced her title, perhaps attempted to do good with it, but invited judgment — or a private one. Soon after she became aware of how short her life might be, she elected the former. A Scottish promoter named Norman Adie first took Sandy to Australia, where she appeared at several department stores. That summer she did appearances at Adie’s Fantastic Facts and Feats in Wildwood, N.J. Sandy brought along Michael and adopted a dog she called Adie. After two summers there, she decided to take a job at the Guinness Museum in Niagara Falls, Canada.

“At that point her family needed money, and she wasn’t making it too well on a secretary salary,” Rose says. “She could be out on her own and make it for herself. That appealed to her.”

The 1981 Canadian documentary Being Different shows how Sandy spent her eight years at the museum. She is announced and comes out from behind a curtain. She wears blue eye shadow and pink slacks. Seated, she is still tall. She holds a Superscope microphone into which she begins her very rehearsed-sounding spiel: “Good afternoon, all you short people. How you doing today? My name is Sandy Allen and I’m the tallest living woman in the world.” It’s peppered with tame jokes, many of which she’d repeat throughout her life, in interview after interview. She asks short guys to “eat their hearts out.” She recites her 450-pound weight, “give or take an ounce.” She then opens it up for questions. “Don’t hesitate,” she commands after a pause. “I’ve been asked everything from ‘How is your sex life?’ to ‘How big is your toothbrush?’” The room chortles. One woman asks if she has kids. She replies she doesn’t; Michael is the boy who’s entered alongside her. A man asks whether she eats more than average. “Well, for breakfast this morning I only had three short people, so that’s not too much,” she answers, a little too breezily.

“Her shoe size is 22,” the male narrator says as footage rolls of Sandy’s petite grandmother helping her into a jacket. “All her clothes must be custom-made.” The narrator adds that she’s made a choice to be “on exhibition.”

“Well, my height is there, why not take advantage of it?” Sandy asks. “I’m proud of my size. I’m not running away from it. I’m doing this in order to show people that I can handle the problems that were presented to me by my size; now, why can’t you handle yours?” And in some respects, it seems this was a proud time for her. She made a decent living, had her own apartment, met a lot of people, doing something relatively easy. The curtain. The spiel. Repetitive questions. Invasive questions. Insulting questions. Stooping for photos. Children with sticky hands. Indifference. Laughter. A dozen or shows a day, eight hours a day, five days a week, for eight years. But the tourists who came — did they really come to have their hearts and minds changed? (Are my motives for investigating Sandy any more pure?)

“Basically it was a freak show,” Rose says.

During her years with Guinness, Sandy traveled to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Japan twice, and Thailand, where she visited an alligator farm and was kissed by an orangutan. During her second Japan trip, the media found it funny to sew her an extra-large bridal gown and stage a fake wedding between her and her choice of the world’s two largest living men. Though it was just for show — both men were married — they spared no expense. They kept the dress but would send it if she ever requested. She never did. By many accounts she never had a serious relationship. By many accounts she would have been an incredible mom.

Sandy eventually could take it no more, and returned to Indiana. She became a secretary in the office of Indianapolis’ Mayor William Hudnut, a job she enjoyed. They outfitted her with an extra-large desk, an extra-large chair. She could type 90 words per minute despite her fingers. Once the Indianapolis Indians visited and had more fun talking with her than they did with the mayor. (She was a big fan of them, and also of the Pacers, who helped her buy shoes.) After, she worked briefly at a sewage treatment plant. By this point her health and mobility were declining and she elected to go on government medical aid. The poverty she’d known as a child would stalk her until her end.

A man named John Kleiman, who’d formerly managed fellow Indianan Bobby Helms, most famous for his rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” approached Sandy at a parade and asked to be her manager, to which she agreed. In the late ’70s and ’80s, she’d had scattered talk show appearances, including Oprah.

With his help, she appeared on more shows, including Jerry Springer, whose host dropped his usual sensational antics while she and other Guinness holders appeared. She appeared on Vicki Lawrence alongside the man who could smoke the most cigarettes at once. She was on Montel alongside the world’s shortest twins and a man with a bone in his nose. She did Leeza Gibbons alongside the man with the world’s longest mustache, the man with the world’s best memory, the woman who had lost the most weight, the woman who was the most flexible, and an escape artist, who escaped on the show from a washing machine. In the mid-’90s, she twice did Howard Stern.

“I have dwarfism of the genitalia,” Howard says, and asks whether her genitalia are normal or proportional.

“I believe everything is proportional,” Sandy replies, playing along. He gets her to say she can’t use regular-sized Tampax and that she’s still a virgin. “My moral standards are, I guess by today’s standards, a little old-fashioned,” she admits.

“You ever get horny for a man?” he asks.

“Of course I’d like male companionship,” Sandy answers with thought. When a caller who’s 6’3” calls in and asks her to have tall children with him, Sandy says she gets asked out all the time by less-than-desirable-seeming gentlemen. Howard’s parting advice to her is that she buy a Hitachi Magic Wand.

While Sandy felt Maury Povich was nice, the talk show host who was her favorite was Sally Jessy Raphael. The first show she did for her, “Don’t Stare, I’m Still Human,” featured a woman who had a severe skin disease, a baby who had a mole that covered a third of her body, a baby with a disease that made her pee smell like maple syrup, a man who ate uncontrollably, and a girl who had a disease that affected her muscles and her bones. Sandy enjoyed that such programs encouraged people to understand and sympathize with those who suffered from strange and unusual diseases — and the humiliation, the isolation, the pain therein. When Raphael more or less repeated the program with a different slate of guests, she let Sandy co-host, a first.

She did these appearances, and spoke at Tall Clubs — an organization for men taller than 6’4” and women taller than 5’10” — churches, and elementary schools. She did it not for the money (she couldn’t make too much and lose her disability): She did it to spread the tolerance of difference.

In a Guinness Book television profile of her from the ’90s, it shows her as she’s wheeled out before an auditorium of squealing elementary-schoolers. With a hand on a male teacher’s shoulder, she raises herself to her full height and the kids roar. Seated, Sandy talks to them. “The toughest thing for me was when I was growing up because everybody wanted to make fun of me just because I was tall,” she says. “And that didn’t fit in with what everybody else was, regular size.” She called her speech “It’s Okay to Be Different.” She released an inspirational video of the same name, which could be purchased by calling 1-888-BIG-SANDY.

She wouldn’t have traveled had she not cared so much about her cause: Traveling was extremely difficult for her. As Kleiman explains to me, television producers often didn’t understand the need for a first-class bulkhead seat, the limo or suburban for transportation. If they were traveling for more than two days, she’d need a woman to help her dress and bathe in the hotel room sink. Sometimes a fire department needed to meet her on the tarmac to help hoist her off the plane. And then, of course, were the glares and sighs and stares from PAs, flight attendants, other travelers. Appearances also garnered negative attention in the press. She was slandered in tabloids all the time. This was before the internet or reality television, before social media might have connected Sandy more intimately with her fans, and before the rise of reality television devoted to capturing lives that are somehow different — for better and for worse.

“She couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing her,” Kleiman says. Since I’ve begun researching Sandy, I’ve been surprised at the number of people who do say they met her once, they saw her once, and where, and what she said to them. She was someone you do not forget. Once, during an appearance at a San Francisco museum, she was approached by a figure in dark sunglasses who revealed himself to be Michael Jackson. He told Sandy he was a fan of hers and mailed her an autographed record.

“In the hundred of times we were out in the public, I never saw her be nasty to anyone who came up to say hi to her,” Kleiman says. “She would be eating, and a crowd would gather around and she’d stop eating and sign autographs. “I have never known anyone with a heart like Sandy Allen.”

Eddie Shih / AP Photo

In addition to her knees, Sandy had lung troubles early on, and early-onset arthritis. The tumor returned and was again removed. Though her body required a lot of water, going to the bathroom was such a production that she often had urinary problems. She got a bad sinus infection, and a blood one. She had to watch out for falls, for ceiling fans and doorways, for not getting stuck in bathtubs. She walked all day long once at Disney World, and the resulting blister grew so bad she eventually had her big toe amputated, compromising her mobility. The older she grew, the harder it was for her system to recover. The longer she was made to stay in bed, the more bed-ridden she became. “She almost died three or four times,” Kleiman says. He credits God, and the fact that she stayed so active, trying to spread a positive message, for her ability to live so long.

“She was the longest-lived giantess in the history of the world!” he exclaims, and there’s something in this phrasing, the majesty of it, that I feel impressed to even be talking to a man who knew her well.

But Sandy was depressed. Kleiman seems disappointed to admit this, as if she would let down her fans if they realized that she wasn’t as positive as she outwardly seemed. Kleiman lived just a floor above her. Sometimes, he recalls, she stopped taking care of herself. Sometimes she physically hurt herself. She always hated hospitals, doctors. More than once she’d been brought to the hospital against her will, Kleiman tells me, which involved the need for five or six medical personnel, her legs dangling out an ambulance’s back door. He admits she was admitted to a psychiatric facility at least once as well.

He recalls the movie My Giant, one line in particular — “You’ve never seen an old giant, have you?” — and says that affected her greatly. “She would have much rather been normal and not have been noticed by anyone.”

When she could no longer travel, he wrote a book about her called Cast a Giant Shadow, which he self-published in 2001. Half of it is written as her, in the first person; the other half he wrote as himself, giving an outside perspective. He says she didn’t mind this form, that she read what he’d written and approved it, changing, according to him, “about six words.” When I realize this, I’m bothered that the only testimony I would have thought was Sandy herself was instead someone speaking for her. Really, like everything, it’s just an impression of what the outside world thought of Sandy Allen.

As her health continued to fail, she went from nursing home to nursing home, eventually ending up in a Shelbyville facility where her grandmother had died some years before. It was also where, coincidentally, the then-World’s Oldest Woman, 115-year-old Edna Parker, lived. (It’s said they were friendly.)

Sandy had a private room with a television and computer and a closet. “She had everything you could possibly want if you’re going to live in one room,” Rita Rose says. People would visit her some, but she was frustrated with her circumstances, once so much that she was even caught wheeling down the street, headed down to a local bar. “She just wanted a normal night out with her friends,” Rose says, recalling visits in Sandy’s room, bringing her cigarettes.

In 2008, Rose also penned a book about Sandy’s life, a somewhat fictionalized one that focused on Sandy’s younger years, called the World’s Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High. Sandy had been very sick that summer, and though she’d long been an avid reader, she didn’t much have the energy now. Rose drove down to Shelbyville, and picked up a couple of chocolate ├ęclairs from a local bakery and some cartons of milk.

“I went to the nursing home and we sat there and ate and I read the entire manuscript to her. It took, like, four and a half hours. I wanted her approval,” Rose says, which Sandy apparently gave. “Then two weeks later she died.” It was early in the morning, Aug. 13, 2008. Sandy lived to 53. (Edna Parker outlived her by three months.)

Rose explains that Sandy had wanted to be buried in a blue nightgown, because her grandmother had also been buried in a blue nightgown, but they couldn’t get the one they’d bought to fit her. Instead she was buried in a Pacers jersey, and Pacers earrings too. Her funeral was packed, and the streets, as people bearing signs and flowers tried to get a glimpse of her coffin as it was wheeled by on a wagon. “It was like a parade,” Rose says. “It was a great funeral as funerals go.” Sandy’s mother attended, Rose recalls, on the condition that she not make a scene, which she did not.

Allen in 1991. AP Photo

The Shelbyville graveyard where Sandy is buried is mostly empty the twilight I visit. Sycamores block the view of the factory on the edge of town. I walk what feels like the entire large cemetery’s paved paths before I find her grave. It’s at a far edge, separated by an unpaved path from all the others. Adjacent to a crumbling old barn and a chain-link fence, it is the loneliest grave. And where her specially constructed, extra-large casket was laid into the ground in four adjacent plots, they did not, it seems, attempt to replant the lawn as they have on the other graves; rather there is hard dirt, patches of weeds.

In other ways it is the most solitary grave, and the most beautiful. A group of her friends and admirers, who raised the funds for the gravestone after her death, purchased one of an unusual teardrop shape, upon which has been inscribed her name, and mine — Sandra E. Allen — and the phrase “Gentle Giant.” They also purchased a little white bench, so visitors could sit and face her, and the elementary school beyond the fence. Rita Rose tells me Michael once went to school there.

I’m struck by how perfectly her grave reflects her life: at once dilapidated, lonely; and yet unique, inviting, nearby to children. What are all those other little graves with their knickknacks compared to this one off here on its own.

I sit on the white bench. I look at the expanse of earth before me, trying to picture the enormous woman below. I say, “Hello.”

Photograph by Sandra Allen / BuzzFeed


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In the ’90s, two companies were using the same motto. They arm wrestled to see who got to keep it.

In October of 1990, Southwest Airlines unveiled a new slogan: “Just Plane Smart.”

Southwest Airlines was founded in 1967 by Rollin King, an investment consultant, and Herb Kelleher, an attorney. Kelleher served as the company’s CEO from 1981 until 2001 and oversaw many different initiatives during his tenure.

One of those initiatives was a marketing campaign around a new motto: “Just Plane Smart.” Southwest proudly unveiled the punny new slogan in October of 1990, and it seemed to go over well.

A recent picture of Southwest planes. Image by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.

Most people seemed to like it. But there was one notable exception: a guy named Kurt Herwald.

Herwald was the CEO of Stevens Aviation, a (much smaller) company that sells and services small aircraft.

Stevens Aviation, it turned out, had a slogan of their own, the very similar and also punny Plane Smart.” And Stevens had been using it in their ads for years prior and may have had it trademarked.

In late-1991 or early-1992, Herwald noticed that Southwest was using very similar words, and out came the muscle. But in this case, the “muscle” wasn’t the Stevens Aviation legal team. It was the forearms of Kurt Herwald.

Herwald sent a unique cease-and-desist letter to Southwest … challenging their chairman to an arm wrestling match.

The letter, sent to Kelleher’s attention, is reprinted below (
via Inc.):

Dear Mr. Kelleher:

We LOVE your new ads that use the clever, creative, effective “Plane Smart” theme! We can testify to its effectiveness since we’ve been using it in our own ads for a long time. In the true fun-loving spirit on which Southwest Airlines was founded, we challenge you to a duel to see who gets to keep “Plane Smart” big ol’ Southwest or little bitty Stevens. (Please no lawyers!) We trust that you accept this challenge in the spirit intended. … No litigiousness implied at all. We challenge you to a sleeves-up, best-two-out-of-three arm wrestling match between you and our chairman, at high noon on Monday, January 27, 1992…


Stephen D. Townes

Executive Vice President

Stevens Aviation

P.S. Our chairman is a burly 38-year-old former weight lifter who can bench press a King Air or something like that…

If that sounds like a ridiculous thing to ask of a major, publicly traded company CEO, well, that’s because it is.

But Stevens was right Southwest has a longstanding tradition of being somewhat ridiculous. (For example, the company’s stock symbol is LUV, a reference to “love,” of course, but also to Love Field in Dallas, where Southwest Airlines hoped to operate from originally.)

Not only did Southwest reply, but CEO Kelleher did so personally, with style.

Dear Mr. Townes:

Our chairman can bench press a quart of Wild Turkey and five packs of cigarettes a day. He is also a fearsome competitor who resorts to kicking, biting, gouging, scratching, and hair pulling in order to win. When really pressed, he has also been known to beg, plead, whine, and sob piteously. Can your pusillanimous little wimp of a chairman stand up against the martial valor of our giant?

Best regards,

Herbert D. Kelleher

And shortly thereafter, Stevens and Southwest scheduled an arm wrestling match, dubbed the “Malice in Dallas.”

Best two out of three, winner gets to use the name and makes a charitable donation as part of the deal.

And, while this was probably not in the contract, the two sides agreed to have a whole lot of fun in the process.

They hired an official/emcee who wore a massive wig, symbolic of fight promoter Don King; they rented out a Dallas-area wrestling facility; and, even though this was in the age before YouTube, they filmed faux pre-fight “training” videos of each of the competitors. And, thankfully for those of us in the YouTube era, they also filmed the match.

Kelleher (left) and Herwald (right) face off. Image via
Southwest Airlines Archive (Unofficial).

Here’s round three, below. Herwald is the one in the maroon polo shirt. Kelleher is the guy in the headband and T-shirt with cigarette in his mouth, playing to the cameras.

In the video below, the arm wrestling match ends within the first couple of minutes, but it’s worth watching until the end because some weird stuff happens (like, an impromptu wrestling match breaks out):

Stevens Aviation’s CEO won the match and with it earned the exclusive right to use the “Plane Smart” slogan.

After the match, he immediately announced (as was clearly preplanned, given the novelty check that soon followed) that Stevens was going to continue to allow Southwest to use the motto in exchange for a $5,000 donation to Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland.

Kelleher presents the check made out to Ronald McDonald House. Image via Southwest Airlines Archive (Unofficial).

Both Stevens and Southwest got a nice PR bump out of the creative way to avoid litigation (and associated legal fees), and for Stevens in particular, it likely led to rewards.

As Priceonomics
notes, “Stevens Aviation, previously a peon in its industry, rose to prominence: It experienced a 25% growth over the next four years, during which its revenues rocketed from $28 million to over $100 million.”

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

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