Fat Men’s Convention Held at Put-in-Bay

“Fat Men of the West” at Put-in-Bay, 1872

“The fat men’s clubs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were spectacular celebrations of the wealth and chubbiness of a bygone era,” writes Tanya Basu in a March 2016 National Public Radio (NPR) report.  “At once sociological curiosity and anthropological artifact, these clubs were a vestige of perhaps the last time society found corpulence to be worthy of celebration.”

Somewhat appropriately for Fat Tuesday, Steven Nemec uncovered historical records which indicate South Bass Island participated, in Basu’s words, “spectacular celebrations of the wealth and chubbiness.”

Documents shared by Nemec give a partial history:

“Many organizations held their meetings at Put-in-Bay, but none were of such gigantic proportions as the Fat Men’s Convention which assembled in 1872.  One hundred fifty-one fat men were registered, and the heaviest, John Templeton of Swanton, Ohio–413 pounds–was elected president.”

“Corpulent gentleman standing on a scale, surrounded by men of mighty girth.”

“The event gave rise to much newspaper jocularity–such as a rumor that extra foundations were being built under the dance hall, beds made up on the ground floor, a daily order of 60 bushels of clams for chowder, a warning to the fat men to distribute themselves over the island as much as possible so as not to capsize it, and to guard each other’s steps because each could not see his own feet–and so on.”

“There were several members from the islands: C. Brick, 215 pounds; S.F. Atwood, 235; George M. High, 211; and John Stone, 233, a member of the executive committee.”

“For the 1874 convention the members planned the usual events:  foot, sack, wheelbarrow, and tag races; wrestling, baseball, croquet, and pole climbing.  An island specialty was a sailboat race and a rowboat race around Gibraltar Island.”