When we produced the sideshow for the Ringling stand at
Washington, D.C. in 1973, we got Johann The Viking Giant, to
come out of retirement for the date. The circus hired
publicist Sid Friedman as press agent. Another circus was
opposing Ringling in the area at the same time. Irvin Feld,
the guiding genius of the Ringling-Barnum show wanted a
feature which the competition couldn't present. Hence, the
last super sideshow that was seen. The sideshow garnered
eighty five percent of the publicity with fantastic press
and air coverage arranged by Sid Friedman.
We sent Johann K. Peterson, The Viking Giant to Washington a
week early. The circus provided him a suite in a luxury
hotel and chauffeured limousine to transport him to the TV
stations and newspaper offices.
Johann was born in Rejivak, Iceland. He toured European
vaudeville theatres performing a musical act with two
midgets. They played accordion and marimbas built to suit
their respective sizes.
He was in Copenhagen when the Nazis closed in during World
War Two. He was forced to spend the duration working in a
shipyard. Returning to show business, after the war, he was
imported to the United States by the Ringling Bros. Barnum
and Bailey Circus for the 1948 season. After a few circus
seasons, he went with Glen Porter's Side Show at fairs.
Glen's wife Marge was a designer par excellence of costumes,
and changed Johann's character to be the "Viking Giant".
Johann operated his own show, exhibiting himself at fairs
for many years till failing health induced retirement to his
Riverview, Florida home. Johann stood eight foot nine and
one half inches in height, weighing in excess of four
hundred pounds. An outgoing friendly personality and
imposing stature made him attractive to women you would
consider smaller than average.
His home, his living trailer, vehicles, furniture, and
clothing all had to be specially made to accommodate his
size. A prominent member of both the Tampa Showmen's
Association, and the International Independent Showmen's
Association, he was involved in their charitable activities
and for many years played Santa Claus for the Tampa clubs
Christmas party for underprivileged children. The I.I.S.A.
had special chairs built for Johann and for fat man Harold
Johann was an avid binge player. attending the weekly games
at the showmen's club. On one cold winter night, returning
home from the club, he fell in his yard. Unable to arise, he
lay through the night on the cold ground. A neighbor
discovered him the following morning. After a time in a
local hospital, his brother came from Rejivak to return him
to his homeland. He died a few months later. His memory is
honored with personal belongings displayed in the showmen's
museum of the I.I.S.A. in Gibsonton, Florida.
Photographs courtesy of
Faith Payton ©copyright 2007 all rights reserved