Ladies and gentleman step right up and let me introduce the incomparable Fanny Mills, more commonly known as The Ohio Big Foot Girl. Fanny wasn’t originally from her namesake Ohio, she immigrated to the Sandusky area from England in 1859 when she was just an infant. It was around that same time her family became aware that she had a condition called Milroy’s Disease. Milroy’s is a type of hereditary lymphedema caused by congenital abnormalities of the lymphatic system. It causes fluid buildup and major swelling and with that, a host of other issues.
Fanny turned the ailment into an asset at the age of 24 when she began to tour the US with carnivals and sideshows showing off her feet and lower extremities. She reached the height of her popularity when she was in her late 20’s and at that time was raking in about 150 bucks a week, which is roughly equivalent to over 3500 dollars today. Promoters developed a gimmick to draw even more curious onlookers to Fanny’s shows. The new campaign offered a $5000 incentive for any man who would take Fanny to the altar and make her his wife. The promotional flyer asked:
Let Philadelphia’s beaux answer! Don’t permit two big feet to stand between you and wedlock tinged with fortune.
So much for sensitivity.
But, alas, Fannie was already betrothed. So haha – joke’s on you suckers! She was happily married to a man by the name of William Brown. The brother of her travel nurse and personal assistant Mary.
As for Fanny’s fantastic feet, I’ve found several accounts saying they were over 20 inches long and 10 inches wide. Flyers promoting her show said her shoes took three goat skins to create, and came in at a whopping size 30. She even used pillowcases for her socks. You know, necessity is the mother of invention.
Fanny worked the dime museum circuit dutifully and made a nice life for herself. In 1887 she found out her and William were expecting a child however, sadly, the baby was stillborn. Unfortunately Fanny’s health would begin to deteriorate and by 1892 she bid adieu to life on the road and retired, heading back to the Ohio home she shared with William.
Fanny lived out the rest of her days alongside her husband at their farm in her beloved Ohio. On May 3, 1899 she would pass away at the age of 39 years old. Her cause of death listed on her interment card is “absess.” She is buried at Oakland Cemetery in her beloved Sandusky, Ohio.
Hartman, Marc. American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History’s Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers. 2006. Penguin Books