William Carlin: Waukesha County’s Heaviest Man

Society’s obsession with weight is not a new phenomenon, but it seems a most curious detail to include in an obituary. William Carlin of the Town of Ottawa in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, suffered such a fate when newspapers made his girth the top fact in his obituary.

“Weighed 385 Pounds,” read the Page 1 headline in the The Waukesha Freeman on May 25, 1899. “Mr. Carlin weighed 385 pounds and was doubtless the heaviest man in the county,” the article said. “His death was caused by fatty degeneration of the heart.” Doubtless. It’s unclear how the newspaper reached such a conclusion. Carlin, who was just 50 when he died, was not part of a circus. He didn’t seek fame as the state’s fattest man. Yet the newspaper deemed his life should boil down to the fact he was heavy. The Weekly Wisconsin newspaper in Milwaukee also found Carlin’s weight newsworthy, but relegated it to Page 5.

The Waukesha Freeman carried the death of William Carlin on Page 1 in May 1899.
The Waukesha Freeman carried the death of William Carlin on Page 1 in May 1899.

So history won’t remember him only for his body size, we’ll shed some more light on the life of William Carlin. Born November 23, 1849 in the Town of Ottawa, he was the son of Christopher Carlin and the former Elizabeth Cobb. Christopher Carlin died at age 37 in June 1858, when William was 8 years old. The Carlins were farmers on land northwest of tiny North Prairie. Christopher Carlin emigrated from England. At one time in the 1890s, William Carlin owned 300 acres of farmland in Waukesha County.

William Carlin married the former Annie Jones, and they had two children. Orville Walter Carlin, husband of Emma (Treutel) Carlin, was born February 5, 1874. Elizabeth J. “Lizzie” Carlin was born in January 1881. Their mother died in May 1889 at the young age of 37. Orville and Lizzie suffered a second tragedy in May 1899 when their father died, as newspapers said, from “fatty degeneration of the heart.” Orville married Emma Treutel and moved to Vesper, Wisconsin, where he operated a butcher shop. He died in 1934 at age 60. Lizzie married Jacob F. Supita. She died in 1944. William’s brother, Thomas Carlin, died in 1903 at age 52, so it seems genetics worked against the Carlin men.

The Waukesha Journal carried this ad in November 1889.
The Waukesha Journal carried this ad in November 1889.

Newspapers have long carried stories about record-setters, be it for height or weight. Often the subject of the stories sought the publicity. But what of those who didn’t? Did La Crosse businessman Samuel P. Welsh approve of his moniker as Wisconsin’s fattest man? When he married Grace Dutzel in June 1911, newspapers across the Midwest carried stories on how he weighed 400 pounds, while his bride “tipped the beam” at just 100 pounds. The Indianapolis News ran a Page 1 wire story on the Welshes arriving in Milwaukee for their honeymoon.

The Green Bay Republican carried this tidbit in December 1843: “The fattest man in the world lives in Connecticut. He is so thick through that he must lie down when he wishes to look tall.”

Dave McGuire of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, posed for a newspaper photograph in May 1921. It ran under the caption, “World’s Fattest? Who Knows?” “Dave McGuire of Silver Lake, Wis., doesn’t belong to a circus, nor does he ever expect to enter one,” one newspaper caption read. “He’s six feet seven inches tall and weighs 744 pounds, but he doesn’t care to go to the trouble of finding out whether he’s the fattest man in the world or not. He’s satisfied with the simple farm life.

Grandma Ruby Collects Rocks, With a Snicker

It wasn’t such a curious hobby, collecting rocks, but more in how it was done. Ruby Viola (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977), simply could not resist picking rocks up off the ground wherever she went. And judging by the facial expressions of those around her, it became somewhat of a family joke.

Lavonne Hanneman can't resist laughing as her mother Ruby bends down to pick up rocks on a trip to South Dakota in 1947.
Lavonne Hanneman can’t resist laughing as her mother Ruby bends down to pick up rocks on a trip to South Dakota in 1947.

Rock collecting was certainly a Hanneman tradition. Uncle Wilbert G. Hanneman (1899-1987) had a rock shop up in Wausau, from which many a Hanneman child procured varieties of colorful, polished rocks. I have a bag of them to this day. Ruby liked to get her collectibles the old fashioned way, by finding them. She’d bend down to grab the most interesting or unusual ones, and husband Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) was often nearby to capture the moment on film.

David D. Hanneman's priceless facial expression says it all, as his father Carl snaps yet another photo of mother Ruby picking up rocks.
David D. Hanneman’s priceless facial expression says it all, as his father Carl snaps yet another photo of mother Ruby picking up rocks.

The best examples of this hobby (or habit) came on a family trip from Mauston, Wisconsin, to Williston, South Dakota in 1947. After getting caught all bent over on several photographic occasions, Ruby and the kids shot back. They put their heads together and gave old Carl Hanneman a two-cheek salute.

David and Lavonne Hanneman joined their mother Ruby in offering a rear-end salute to cameraman Carl F. Hanneman.
David and Lavonne Hanneman joined their mother Ruby in offering a rear-end salute to cameraman Carl F. Hanneman.
This photo proves Ruby’s habit was not a passing fad. Here she gathers samples on a trip to Phoenix in 1959.

 

World War II Hero at the Juneau County Fair

Army Pvt. Rudolph Mika Jr. (at left) of Mauston, Wisconsin, talks to livestock buyer John Randall at the Juneau County Fair at Mauston in the summer of 1942. Mika went into the Army glider corps and took part in the invasion of North Africa during World War II. He was taken prisoner by German troops in Holland in September 1944 and repatriated in June 1945.

Army Pvt. Rudolph Mika (at left) of Mauston, Wis., talks to livestock buyer John Randall at the Juneau County Fair at Mauston in the summer of 1942.
Army Pvt. Rudolph Mika (at left) of Mauston, Wis., talks to livestock buyer John Randall at the Juneau County Fair at Mauston in the summer of 1942.

The 1940 U.S. Census showed Mika working at the Mauston pickle factory and living at home with his parents, Rudolph Mika Sr. and Anna Mika. The elder Mika was a carrier for the local ice dealer. The Mikas lived on Winsor Street, just a few houses away from the Carl F. Hanneman family and the home of Dr. J. Samuel Hess Jr. Hanneman was on the Juneau County Fair Board for many years. He snapped the photo of Mika and Randall.

Rudy Mika enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1942 at Madison. His occupation was listed as a carpenter. After the war, he returned to Mauston. He died on January 6, 2001 at Mauston, age 89. Randall died in January 1971 at age 74.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive