Standing at less than five feet tall, Jo Ann Edwards is pictured comparing herself to the cardboard cutout of her great-grandfather, Noah Orr, which stands at nearly eight feet tall, at his former home on West Sixth Street. She recently visited his home for her 90th birthday and was delighted to learn more about the great-grandfather she didn’t know much about before.
The story of the tallest man in Union County history has hardly fallen short.
The tale of Noah Orr, a man dubbed as “the American Giant” for being eight feet and three inches tall and weighing 550 pounds, is well preserved within the Union County Historical Society.
According to Marysville City Planner Chad Flowers, his image is planned to be projected on a building downtown. Residents can also talk to Bob Parrott, of the Historical Society, who is always happy to tell people about the giant’s circus career and charitable deeds. People can also talk to Bruce Eberly to visit Orr’s house on 118 W. Sixth St.
There are certainly many remnants of Orr’s legacy leftover in Marysville for residents to explore. However, his descendants were left in the dark as to the details of the giant’s life.
And by coincidence, two families visited his home this year, in June and July, and both were able to learn more about their ancestor, the Union County Giant.
Bringing mom to see it all
Jill Franz was planning a special birthday celebration for her mother, Jo Ann Edwards, who turned 90 on June 7.
She figured the best way to celebrate it would be to honor her mother’s heritage. The problem, however, was she didn’t know much about her famous great-great-grandfather besides his circus career and his mentioning in her uncle’s genealogy book.
“As a kid, I would hear there was a giant in my mom’s family,” she said. “But I really didn’t know much about him.”
The Celina native decided to pull her family together, spanning as far as Missouri and Colorado, for a trip to Marysville. She met the eager Parrott, who helped her set up a visit to Orr’s house and shared his knowledge of Orr’s world to her family.
“Bob (Parrott) especially went above and beyond in his preparations for our visit,” she said. “And that was a pleasant surprise.”
Franz and her family were awestruck when they arrived at Orr’s house. The many vestiges of Orr left throughout his house piqued her imagination, ranging from the rickety, narrow stairs to the windows that were used to transport his coffin out of the house after he died.
“How did he maneuver that big body in those quarters?” she would ask as Parrott would tell her more about how Orr shared his house with not only his family, but also other circus performers. “I can’t imagine how crowded that must have felt.”
And then they met the man himself, or rather, the cardboard cutout of the tallest man in Union County.
As if interacting with Orr in the flesh, her family members took turns taking pictures alongside the cardboard giant. No one could come close to matching Orr’s height in their pictures, even though the cutout is slightly shorter than his real height.
And then came her mother’s reaction to the whole experience.
“She was just delighted, and she couldn’t stop smiling and laughing,” Franz said. “She has since talked about appreciating being there multiple times.”
For Edwards, it was as much of a learning experience as it was for the rest of her family.
Being the great-granddaughter of Orr, she was raised by his son, and her grandfather, William “Cap” Orr. However, she couldn’t remember Noah ever being discussed in her childhood.
“Of course, I’ve never knew him, and what I’ve heard is just here-say,” Edwards said. “But I always knew he was my great-grandfather.”
Upon meeting Parrott, she was delighted to know he had so much knowledge of her ancestors to offer her. She said it was great to find out more about the people in her family.
“I found it very interesting,” Edwards said. “I’m glad I could find out some things about him I hadn’t known.”
Through visiting the home, Franz and Edwards now feel they know a lot more about Orr and how much of a kind man he was to his family and community. Franz said it felt special to discover more about her heritage and appreciate Orr’s history.
And thanks to Parrott, Edwards learned about a relative from New Jersey she didn’t even know she had; another great-granddaughter to Orr.
The family history
Kathleen Brown had a belt that belonged to a giant, and she was able to show her classmates during show and tell that her ancestor was indeed the Union County Giant.
Other than owning Orr’s costume belt that could fit up to five of her classmates, Brown has gone through her life not knowing much about him. Her grandparents and parents didn’t tell her much, and most of the stories she was told were about Orr’s circus endeavors or how some of his family migrated to New Jersey.
Unfortunately, many artifacts of Orr’s history were discarded over the years.
In 2013, her nephew discovered more information about Orr, and found a way to contact Parrott. After Parrott had spoken to Brown, she made it a bucket list goal of hers to finally see where Noah was from.
“This year, when we were tossing around where to go for the Fourth of July, I said I wanted to go to Marysville,” Brown said. “Before I die, I just want to see where Noah was from and see the whole nine yards.”
So she and her husband, Jim, set off on a tour of Ohio, eventually making their way to Marysville for the Fourth of July holiday.
Once she arrived in the “cute, little town” of Marysville, she set off on seeing Orr’s old house. Along her trip, she visited Orr’s grave in Oakdale Cemetery, and learned about how it had to be donated by the Union County Historical Society because of Orr’s financial misfortunes.
She was “totally in awe” at being in the giant’s presence, the man of her elementary school stories.
“Wow, this was really cool,” Brown said. “I was taken aback.”
And as Parrott entertained the many questions her husband had, Brown started wondering about how she was going to pass on the knowledge of this man’s legacy and her family.
Because she has a small family, she became inspired by her trip to write down as much of her family’s history as possible to share with her children. She wished her parents would have written down more of her family’s history, but she knows she can at least try her best to fill in the blanks.
“I’m thrilled to have found out more about my ancestors,” Brown said. “I wanted to pass that down along to the boys who are still Orrs.”
She’s excited to have found out more about her heritage, and appreciates knowing Orr “was a decent man.”
From his perspective
Though he pours a lot of dedication and knowledge into these tours, Parrott is certainly no stranger to educating Orr’s relatives about their heritage.
Being with the Union County Historical Society since 1985, he has led two to three generations of Orr’s family through the giant’s house and showed them a slice of history. And through each tour, he shows an eager smile, ready to tell you everything he knows about Orr.
He considers Orr to be a “fascinating character,” given his size and career. He appreciates the fact many families have gone out of their way to learn more about Orr, and he enjoys teaching them.
“I think people kind of underappreciated what a celebrity he was in his day,” Parrott said. “We forget that today.”
It also helps with how interesting Orr is, as Parrott said his exhibit at the Union County Historical Society is one of the most memorable parts of the museum.
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