The Real Story: Bernard Coyne

One of my favorite characters in Magruder’s is Bernard the Giant.  (That may surprise those of you who’ve read the book and know how I treated him…. But I swear it’s not personal!  Things happen…)  Bernard as I wrote him is fictional but I chose his name to honor the actual Bernard the Giant, a real person who never—so far as I can tell—got anywhere near the boardwalks of Coney Island.  

The real Bernard Coyne and friends. (Source:

The real Bernard Coyne and friends. (Source:

The real Bernard Coyne was born in Anthon, Iowa in 1897 to Sylvester and Catherine Coyne.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, Coyne was rejected from serving in World War I due to his height—his draft card records him as 7 foot 9 inches.  Eventually he reached at least 8 feet, 2 inches tall (other sources claim 8 ft, 4 in), with size 25 shoes. 

Frequently, the condition known as gigantism is caused by problems with the pituitary gland and certain growth hormones.  But Coyne had something else: eunuchoidal-infantile gigantism, known colloquially as Daddy Long Legs Syndrome.  It’s also related to hormone problems, but the problems are with sex hormones such estrogen.  This leads to a delay in the start of puberty and allows bones to continue to grow.  Daddy Long Legs is extremely rare but, as happened to Coyne, it can cause a person to grow to over 8 feet. 

His cousin, Theresa Coyne Kvidera, told a newspaper reporter that Bernard had so much trouble finding clothes that fit, he eventually learned how to knit his own sweaters.  He was an avid baseball player but, as far as his cousin remembers, never played basketball.  Bernard was remembered by his friends as an extremely kind-hearted, genial sort of person—and it was this quality that I tried to give to my fictional tribute.

Interestingly, Coyne’s parents did briefly display their son in a sideshow at a local fair, but they quickly thought the better of it and stopped.  According to Theresa, they viewed putting their son on display as sinful and worried God would punish them for it.  

Coyne was, for a time, the world’s tallest man.  When he died at age 24, he was still growing. The hearse had to be extended and the back doors left open in order to accommodate him.