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“Big Louie” Moilanen, Once the Tallest Man in the World

Louis \"Big Louie\" MoilanenLouis “Big Louie” Moilanen is a legend in the Upper Peninsula, a legend that transcends much more than just the Upper Peninsula.

Louis Moilanen was born at the turn of the century in 1900 and grew up in the ghost town of Boston, which is about five miles north of Hancock.

Though he was born to a 4 foot tall mother and a 5′ 9″ father, Louis Moilanen would grow to be 8′ 4″ and approximately 450 pounds. During his lifetime it was said that he was the tallest man in the world and become known as “Big Louie”.

Like many locals in the area, “Big Louie” worked in the mines. At one time he also worked as a bartender in Hancock. That is one bartender I would not want to upset. I can’t imagine walking into a bar and seeing a bartender who is 8′ 4″. I would probably be a little scared.

Word traveled fast about Louis and he would eventually work for the Barnum and Bailey Circus for a short time.

The medical condition which lead to his enormous height would also be the cause of his death. “Big Louie” Moilanen passed away in 1926 at the young age of 26. A custom built coffin was built for him and he was buried at the Wasa Cemetery near Hancock.

Photo courtesy of A. L. Paulson, Calumet, MI

27 Wonderful Comments

  1. I can imagine any bar fights while Big Louie was around were rather short!

    (Your Google map of Boston doesn’t point to the U.P. though)

  2. It’s too bad the NBA wasn’t around at that time.

  3. Yooper Steez
    Oct 6, 2008


    Thanks for letting me know, I fixed the Boston link.

  4. Jen Ismirle
    Oct 10, 2008

    what was the medical condition he had?

  5. Grant Holmstrom
    Jun 12, 2009

    It was meningeal tuberculosis.

  6. Howard Witz
    Feb 13, 2010

    My great grandfather was peter pyykkonen from demmon michigan my grandmother was hattie pyykkonen born in 1900 she told me that she was big louies cousin and attended his funeral when she was 13 years old …

  7. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    Jun 8, 2010

    It would be an educated guess these days that my namesake suffered some type of pituitary malfunction. I heard he was 28 when he died. Either way a short life. He has some of the facial characteristics of my first cousin David Moilanen. My family grew up with the legend of Big Louie, I was greatly dispointed as a teen to have my father tell me we were not related. E. Louis Moilanen, Calif.

  8. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    Jun 8, 2010

    I believe my Grandfather Gust Moilanen (d. 1927, buried at St. Henry’s Lutheran Church, Nisula MI) had a sister who married a Pyyrohnen. He had 3 sisters one married a Heikkanen, one a Lahti, and I think the third a Pyrrohnen. But, I’m not 100% sure and if your grandmother was 13 at the time it wouldn’t have been Gust’s sister, but, maybe her daughter?

  9. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    Jul 28, 2010

    I have a better copy of this postcard in California. My family was very familar with Big Louie. I was forever disappointed when my father told me I was NOT related to Big Louie. i dispute it to this day. He looks just like my cousin David. Regards from Willits, Eldon Louis Moilanen.

    Aug 23, 2010

    Hattie pyykkonen married Howard willmont Witz who lived at jacobsviile lighthouse with his parents. Hattie’s parents names were Sophia rikki (pensonen) pyykkonen and her father’s was matti pyykkonen but on howard’s and hattie’s marriage papers in 1921 matti wrote his name as peter pyykkonen …. The family told me that when matti came from finland the russian army was chasing after him, so when he first came to america he changed his last name from pyykkonen to paulson .They lived on a farm in boston michigan wich is know called demmon ….

  11. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    Aug 23, 2010

    I believe that the Pyrrohnen’s in my family changed their name to Petersons.

  12. Tom Falkenhagen
    Nov 5, 2010

    Big Louie was my grandmother Helen Moilenin’s uncle and my great great uncle. I too heard many references to Big Louie growing up and once had a fresh postcard of him from a small museum in Calumet. My parents took me there in the late 1950’s when I was about 5 and they had his clothes displayed along with those of Big Bertha.

  13. Tom Falkenhagen
    Nov 5, 2010

    After looking at the postcard again, my father, who was only 6’6″ had very similar features to Big Louie.

  14. Kaye Koskela
    May 10, 2011

    My grandfather was Clifford Pyykkonen and I was told by my mother that we were somehow related to Big Louis, but I do not know exactly the connection. There are several of Big Louis things at the Houghton Country Historical Museum in Lake Linden along with the Sauna that was built especially for him.

  15. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    May 11, 2011

    I had a frist cousin David Moilanen out of Nisula who was 6’4″ tall and had some of the same facial features of Big Louie. I think still that a modern study done today would have found a runaway pituitary gland.

  16. Howard Witz
    Feb 26, 2012

    Big Louie’s mothers maiden
    name was Anna Pyykkonen

  17. Eldon Louis Moilanen
    Feb 26, 2012

    I have found out in this my 63rd year, that Moilanen comes means “Samuel-son”. The (Sa)Moil instead of Samuel. Goes to show that you learn something new everyday. I found out by joining the “Moilanen Family Group” on Facebook. I am related to Danny Moilanen, who still lives in Nisula. The newly found relatives in Finland and Sweden, traced my Grandfather back to Antti Moilanen 1597.

  18. Howard Witz
    Feb 28, 2012

    My great grandfather Matti Pyykkonen was 6’6″ and my dad Ken Witz was 6’6″ also .

  19. mari jo ristonen
    Apr 4, 2012

    I always heard that we are somehow related to Big Louie. My grandmothers maiden name was Pyykkonen. Mymother always told me she wore his nightshirt for p.j.s. Would like any other info about him maybe a distant cousin. Thanks

  20. We were told that Big Louie was a cousin of my grandmother, too …

  21. Christine from Kentucky
    May 8, 2012

    I am Cindy’s sister. Our great-grandparents were John Peter Peterson (Peter HyttinenxLisa Moilanen) and Mary Christine Sjogren (—-SjogrexSophia—–)John P Peterson was, according to his obituary, “for a number of years conducted a saloon on Fifth St., Red Jacket”. Louis may have worked for him. My dad remembers his grandma chasing women out of the saloon with a broom!

  22. Chris, Louie (Lauri) was a Moilanen, a cousin of our great grandfather.

  23. My grandmother was a Moilanen, and in her papers after she died, I found a picture of big Louie. I have Finn relatives still in Michigan. Guess I will have to look up all this info.

  24. stanley pakkala
    Aug 2, 2012

    my grandfather was also born in demmon/boston of the upper penn in 1889. his name was alexander pakkala

  25. Jeanette(Peterson) Davito
    Aug 25, 2014

    My father said that his dad changed their name to Peterson before coming to to the United States. Myfathers grandmother was a Runtamaki. He said big lois was his third cousin. I have abook that was my great grandmas with big Lois name in it.


  26. tony shuty
    Feb 25, 2015

    We visted Paulson museum often when it was open in 50s–I remember big louies blue shirt there–wonder what happened to all old things that al had in it-new one son mervin well

  27. Jean Butler
    Mar 16, 2015

    My name was Jeam Pyykkonen.

    I was told many yime that he was related to us.

    I think a lot of finnish people changed their name because the

    Finns were looked down on.

    It was not like it is now.

    Even in the 50’s I had friends that were

    french who are now part Finn.

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