Sylvia Hardy, better known as the Giantess of Maine, was an unlikely star.
Sylvia’s parents were John Hardy and Jane Dolley Hardy. The couple from Wilton, Maine had seven children, among them two sets of twins that included Sylvia and her brother Samuel. They were born August 17, 1824. Samuel, however, died at four months.
Sylvia weighed a mere five pounds at birth, and she remained undersized as a young child. But she was advanced in other ways – learning to walk at just eight months and learning to read at a very young age.
John Hardy died when Sylvia was seven, and Jane couldn’t manage the full household of children. Several of the older children were sent to live with neighbors.
Ebeneazor Eaton took in Sylvia, and he gave her a good home. At age 12, Sylvia was still short for her age, but that changed quickly. Over the next nine years she grew remarkably tall. She was a quiet young woman who enjoyed time alone in the woods. She worked as household help for several families in Wilton. Her neighbors recalled her as honest and open, but not an attention seeker.
Nevertheless, the promise of fame and fortune lured her from Maine.
Barnum Discovers Sylvia Hardy
Connecticut’s legendary circus impresario P.T. Barnum heard about the extraordinarily tall woman. One source says she was a distant relative of Tom Thumb. Barnum persuaded Sylvia, at age 32, to come join his travelling show. Though she may have needed encouraging to join the show, she stayed for decades.
The crowds could be rude, but Sylvia’s life was by no means unpleasant. She received voluminous fan mail, marriage proposals and applause wherever she went, touring as Sylvia Hardy, The Celebrated Giantess of Maine and Wonder of America.
The show took her to Europe, all across America and to Cuba. And she made a good living, eventually buying her mother a house in Wilton and settling there herself. She never accepted any of the marriage proposals and died in her bed in Wilton in 1888 at the age of 64.
Exactly how tall Sylvia was is a matter for debate. P.T. Barnum claimed in his advertisements that she was “nearly eight feet tall.” Most reasonable accounts suggest she stood around seven feet tall.
According to one source, she said her years with the circus were the happies of her life.
This story was updated in 2021.