Johann the Viking Giant


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 Spohn.
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

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