Robert Earl Hughes was a tall, wall-eyed country boy who grew up in Missouri who became the heaviest human being alive, tipping the scales at over 1,041 pounds—that is, until July 10, 1958, when he was laid low by the measles and uremia at the age of 32. He died in his own mobile home in the parking lot of the Bremen Community Hospital.

Hughes was born in 1926 in Montecillo, Illinois and grew up around Fish Hook, Missouri. As a baby, a bout of whooping cough is thought to have damaged his thyroid gland, which caused him to rise to more than 200 pounds at age 6 and more than 500 pounds by age 13. As an adult, he was just over six feet tall with a waist measuring 122 inches. With his brother Guy as his carer, he joined a sideshow as a way to support himself. In 1956, he was shipped to New York to appear on television by an air freight company, which got special permission from the Civil Aeronautics Board to carry a human being.

Traveling with the Gooding Amusement Company in the summer of 1958, Hughes contracted measles while at the Nappanee fair and was brought to Bremen, where portable oxygen tanks were available (other hospitals had oxygen piped into the rooms). Attended by Dr Cecil R Burket, Hughes was thought to be responding well to treatment when he died suddenly of kidney failure after a week (July 3 – July 10).

The Huff funeral home took charge of the body. Marvin Siefer and Duwaine Elliott used old embalming equipment from the days when such things were done in the deceased’s own home. The body was shipped home to Missouri still in its bed. Hughes’ coffin was custom-made—naturally—steel-reinforced, said to be “as large as a piano case” and itself weighed 1,100 pounds. He is buried in Benville, Illinois.

The news traveled far and wide. Karl Bak, still a Bremen resident, caught the story while vacationing with family in Denmark.

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Robert Earl Hughes