GIBSONTON — Self-billed as “The Strangest Married Couple in the World,” with the husband claiming he stood at 8 feet, 4 inches tall and the wife at 2 feet, 6 inches, Al and Jeanie Tomaini were a popular travelling sideshow attraction in the mid-1900s.
They were also entrepreneurial, establishing Giant’s Fish Camp in Gibsonton in the 1940s.
The camp had a restaurant, bait house and cottages, one of which was their home.
Phosphate company Mosaic purchased the camp in 2008 and kept one cottage standing to honor the property’s history.
That cottage at 9815 US Highway 41 “burned to the ground” on Saturday morning, according to a post by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue on its official Facebook page. A cause has not yet been announced.
No one lived inside, the post says. “It took firefighters just 10 minutes to extinguish the fire. There were no injuries to first responders or civilians.”
Riverview’s International Showmen’s Museum, which celebrates the area’s sideshow history, mourned the loss.
“Tragedy comes in all sizes,” the museum’s Facebook page says. “It was one of the last remnants of a piece of our dwindling showbiz cultural history and a Gibsonton landmark that will be sorely missed.”
Gibsonton was once known as the “Sideshow Capital of the World” due its residents, including 138 traveling entertainers known back then as ‘human oddities.’
According to the museum’s website, Guinness World Records listed Al Tomaini, known as the Gibsonton Giant, at 7 feet, 4 inches, but his daughter, Tina Tomaini, recently told the Tampa Bay Times that he was a foot taller.
The Tomainis had other ventures in Gibsonton: They owned a television repair shop, gave the town its first ambulance and the giant served as fire chief and as a deputy.
When Al Tomaini died in 1962, his wife placed his 35-inch boot on a pillar outside their home as a memorial. Jeanie Tomaini died in 1999.
The boot eventually deteriorated, and the community replaced it with a replica sculpture.
Earlier this year, the sculpture was restored.
It’s still there, in front of where the cottage once stood.