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Jeanie Tomaini, co-founder of carnival worker haven, dies

Jeanie Tomaini, born without legs, became known as "The Half Girl" on the carnival circuit because of her diminished body.

Although 2 feet 6, in spirit she is remembered as a giant _ a matriarch who helped shape a tiny hamlet into an off-season haven for circus workers.

Tomaini died Tuesday of heart failure at Memorial Hospital in Tampa. She was 82.

"She was greatly respected; one of the oldtimers," said Billy Rodgers, longtime resident of Gibsonton, a rural, colorful burg 35 miles south of Tampa. To the once-thriving enclave of carny folks and circus performers, it was known simply as "Gibtown."

"She was the mainstay of Gibtown and grandmother to all the circus performers," said Rodgers.

While crisscrossing the United States on the sideshow circuit, Tomaini met Al Tomaini, who stood 8 feet 4 and wore a size 22 shoe.

"The Giant" fell for "The Half Girl." They married and worked the shows together as "The World's Strangest Couple."

They were visiting Ruth "The Fat Lady" Pontico in Tampa in 1936 when they decided to settle in the area and make a home for carnival workers.

Five years later, the Tomainis bought 3{ acres and began to clear the land of thick vegetation. They built Giant's Fish Camp, a collection of tiny white cottages, a bait shop and a restaurant.

Al Tomaini eventually served as volunteer fire chief of Gibsonton and as a deputy sheriff. His wife helped run the restaurant. They adopted two infant girls _ Judy and Patti. Al Tomaini died in 1962. His widow remained at Giant's Fish Camp.

Today, carnytown is weathered. The restaurant is still open, run now by another family. A handful of cottages remain. The bait shop was razed.