Articles

THE BIGGEST TWINS IN HISTORY

CLYDE GILMOUR June 1 1952
Articles

THE BIGGEST TWINS IN HISTORY

CLYDE GILMOUR June 1 1952

THE BIGGEST TWINS IN HISTORY

VANCOUVER CITIZENS HAVE CEASED TO BE ALARMED AT THE SIGHT OF TWO IDENTICAL GIANTS LUMBERING ABOUT THE STREETS. JACK AND LEO LEAVY DON’T MIND THE GASPS FROM PASSERS-BY BUT THEY WISH THEY’D BUILD PHONE BOOTHS, BATHTUBS AND UPPER BERTHS A LITTLE BIGGER

CLYDE GILMOUR

JACK AND Leo Leavy, of Vancouver, are a team of jovial and gigantic Irish-Canadian bachelors who look as much alike as a pair of two-ton trucks just oil the assembly line. They are considered by reliable authorities to be the largest identical twins in the documented medical history of the human race. As such, they are accustomed to being stared at and to causing a certain amount of commotion everywhere they go. Even the imperturbable Leavys, however, were mildly jolted by one reaction they evoked during a recent visit to the American city of Seattle.

An angular old woman, who had been watching them for several minutes as they stood windowshopping in front of a downtown camera store, suddenly accosted the immense tourists and asked fiercely, “Are you Russians?”

“No, ma’am,”,they assured her in unison.

“Thank God!” she gasped, and scurried off, evidently feeling a lot better about the ultimate survival of the Western powers.

On another occasion the brothers, who usually walk single-file on narrow streets because they take up the whole sidewalk if they go together, became separated by half a block in heavy Saturday traffic. Along came a drunk, clasping an unwrapped “mickey” of liquor in open defiance of British Columbia’s stringent regulations. At the sight of Jack Leavy, bulking above the populace like a teacher at kindergarten, the celebrant was visibly shaken. Then l e turre 1 the corner and ran into Leo, looking exactly the same. With a cry of dismay, the fellow staggered to the curb and smashed his bottle in the gutter.

This sort of occurrence, unnerving to lesser mortals, merely tickles the funnybones of the brothers Leavy, whose mutual sense of humor is almost as robust as their bodies. They stand six feet, ten inches tall in their diamond socks, and they weigh three hundred pounds apiece. By way of comparison, this makes each of them three and a half inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than movie actor Buddy Baer, the enormous Christian slave who strangles a bull in Hollywood’s Quo Vadis. The average “big” man looks like a shrimp alongside the Leavys. They are even a full inch higher than one of the world’s tallest basketball players, Clyde Lovellette, the sensational centre for the University of Kansas. Lovellette, a rigorous two hundred and forty-pounder, would seem downright skinny in the same room with the Leavys, who have been known to gobble a whole pie each for breakfast because they couldn’t wait for their mother’s bacon and eggs.

The Leavys are also as big as most circus sideshow giants whose height is usually exaggerated

with ten-gallon hats, elevator shoes and vertical stripe costumes.

The giants were born twenty-nine years ago in Vancouver. They have never moved away from the Pacific Coast metropolis, where they are as familiar local phenomena as the Lions, the twin mountains towering over the waters of Burrard Inlet. Their father, Leo Leavy Sr., is a district chief in the Vancouver fire department. Now fifty-two years old he is a husky but hardly outsized man of five feet, ten and a half inches, and his weight is one hundred and ninety pounds. The twins’ mother, Helene, is five feet, seven inches tall but her weight is only a hundred and nineteen. At forty-nine she has a figure as youthful as those of most of the young girls her sons dance with at parish and club socials. There are no other children in the family. “The stork,” one of the giants told a friend not long ago, “brought us . . . and dropped dead.”

SCALES WONT HOLD THEM

The twins sleep in specially built beds eight feet long and five feet wide. They find it practically impossible to get a decent rest in trains or hotels and for that reason they never go on ;_n overnight trip unless it’s absolutely necessary. Sleeping-car berths force them to squash their knees right up under their chins. Once Jack liad a violent dream under (hese conditions and lashed out with his powerful toes against the partition at his feet, sending it crashing down on the head of the stranger next door. “After that,” Jack remembers, “I didn’t get any sleep at all and he had the nightmares.”

A man who has known the twins for a long time says Leo once soberly asked a CNR porier to fetch a red lantern so he could hang it on his feet as a warning beacon and stick them out in mid-air over the aisle from his upper berth. The request was turned down.

To get weighed the Leavys have to clamber on platform scales, ordinarily used for such things as cattle carcasses. Most domestic bathroom scales don’t register beyond two hundred and sixty.

Even as babies the twins dwarfed their contemporaries. At birth they weighed eight pounds each; normal full-term (i.e., non-premature) twins average around six pounds on arrival. Jack and Leo were two-hundred-pound six-footers at the age of thirteen. From then on they kept adding about three more inches and ten more pounds every couple of years. They reached their full height of six feet ten at twenty-two, and their present

weight of three hundred about two years later. Nowadays the spectacle of the two of them alone, suddenly rounding a rainy corner at night and blotting out a street lamp, is enough to freeze the blood.

In spite of their frightening proportions the twins are as benevolent as a pair of Saint Bernards and a good deal less melancholy.

Their grandmother, Mrs. Frank Leavy, who has been near tl em most of their lives, says proudly, “I have never known them to say one cross word to each other or to anybody else.” Rev. Louis Forget, the Canadien priest who married the parents and baptized the infants, recalls that from their earliest days they were “good boys and loads of fun — always big Irish comedians and entertainers.” The lifelong affection that links them is a heartening thing to see, but the twins themselves make light of it in conversation. “You just get sort of used to hearing that ponderous tread behind you,” was the way one of them lately summed up the feeling of incompleteness that afflicts them whenever they are apart. The longest separation they have suffered since they were born was ten days in 1947 when Jack went to Hamilton to attend a national convention of Young Liberals.

The Leavy brothers are the largest inhabitants of Vancouver and definitely among the largest in all of Canada. However, it is not as individuals but as duplicate twins that they probably are entitled to significant and historic status as human mammoths.

Dr. Vernon C. Brink, a biologist on the medical faculty of the University of British Columbia, the Leavys’ alma mater, recently examined a stack of scientific records dealing with multiple births. He reported he could find nothing to indicate either the past or present existence of identical twins anywhere in the world as tall or as heavy as UBC’s Jack and Leo. One of Brink’s associates, warily refusing to let his own name be published, told me he was “utterly convinced” that the Vancouver behemot hs were the biggest duo ever.

Their vast size is all the more remarkable because the Leavys are not abnormal or pituitary monsters like most of the giants authenticated in medical annals. Giantism is usually due to chronic overactivity of the pituitary gland, a small chestnutshaped body which lies under the front part of the brain. That was the diagnosis, for example, in the case of the unhappy Robert Wadlow, an American colossus who died in 1940 at twenty-two. Wadlow was the most tremendous human being ever known to science. He had reached the awesome height of eight feet, ten inches and weighed four hundred and ninety Continued on page 47

Biggest Twins in History

Continued from page 21

pounds and was still growing—when an infection, caused by a chafing footbrace, ended his precarious career.

Oddly enough, the Leavy boys each weighed twice as much at birth as the famous Jack Earle, a San Francisco wine salesman who began life as a puny premature four-pounder. Earle, another pituitary case, today at forty-six weighs about four hundred pounds and his height is eight feet, six and a half inches.

Quite different from such titanic prodigies of nature, the Vancouver twins are completely normal in their glandular and structural characteristics. Dr. David Steele, the family’s physician since 1939, says Jack and Leo have blood pressure slightly higher than the average for their ages, but their hearts and other organs are perfectly sound, “and with any luck at all they should both live to a ripe old age.”

In iheir hopes for a long and hearty life the twins certainly have heredity on their side. They are descended from two lines of tenacious Irish ancestors. Their father’s parents are still in good health at eighty-one and seventyfour. Their maternal grandmother, Mrs. Corinne Rafuse, of Vancouver, is sevenny-one; her husband was seventynine when he died. The senior Mrs. Leavy had six boisterous uncles over six feet tail and they a\\ lived we\\ into their seventies or eighties.

Like most men of truly imposing dimensions, the twin giants easily manage to stay out of brawls: few antagonists are rash enough to tackle them.

Vancouver, in common with most North American cities, is occasionally bothered by roving gangs of zootsuited exhibitionistic teen-agers. Three of these apprentice hoodlums recently shambled into a restaurant where Jack Leavy, enjoying a midnight snack with a friend, had just put a nickel in a counter juke box. One of the newcomers soon began nasally mocking the pleasant balladry of the recording, almost drowning out the singer. Leavy, who looks a lot less formidable than usual when sitting down, politely protested.

“Aaah, shaddap!” the tough youth retorted.

The giant shrugged and said nothing more, but a couple of minutes later he stood up to pay his bill and go, and on the way out his companion heard the zoot-suiter exclaim in a paralyzed

whisper, “Hey, look — 1 told that to shut up!”

Although the Leavy twins would barely have reached the shoulders of such a mastodon as Robert Wadlow, they are so much larger than the common run of humanity that they are continually beset by many of the problems and vexations that tormented him. There is, for example, the little matter of corny kidding. The brothers believe they could retire in luxury if they had five cents in cash for every time they’ve heard the wheeze, “Say, big boy, how’s the weather up there?”

It is anguish for these huge fellows to cram their bulk into theatre seats and it is utter frustration for the squirming customers behind them. They must be constantly on their guard against doorways, beams, water pipes, chandeliers, and even ceilings, all of which lurk in ambush to crack their skulls if they aren’t careful. The family bathtub, commodious enough for their burly father, seems toy-sized to the twins. They have never experienced the simple delight of stretching out full-length in hot soapy water.

Leo’s Thirty-Minute Lead

“Squeezing into the average telephone booth is like trying to crash into a doghouse,” says Leo. “And, once I do get in, my fingers are too big to operate a dial phone in comfort. Mostly I use a pencil.”

The twins’ clothing costs them about twenty percent extra for oversize. A “sixty-five-dollar suit” sets one of them back at least eighty dollars. Their suit size is fifty-four. Their shoes, size fifteen, don’t have to be specially made, but they are imported from England and retail in Vancouver at twenty dollars a pair. Their shirts must have twenty-inch collars and fortyinch sleeves. Most men with twentyinch necks are bull-shaped shorties, with arms that end around the Leavy elbows. Despairing of finding what they need the twins often compromise by buying size twenty shirts and cutting off the sleeves halfway.

To save themselves a bit of money, and also because they frankly enjoy the perpetual muddle about their identities, the brothers always dress exactly alike. This extends even to such details as shorts, socks, handkerchiefs, types of shoelaces, and ties. Most of the time they are not quite sure if they are wearing their own clothes or not.

“If there’s any money in the pockets,” Leo says with a massive chuckle, “Jack claims it’s his.”

Even their parents sometimes have trouble distinguishing one twin from the other.

“If the boys swap chairs while I'm out of the room for a minute,” says Mrs. Leavy, “or if one of them walks in alone I often call them by the wrong names. When they’re asleep it’s just about impossible to tell them apart. The same applies when they are both laughing, which is what they are doing a good deal of the time.”

A few years ago the Leavy boys occasionally went around with identical twin sisters. “Damnedest coni fusing foursome you ever saw,” one old friend of the big men testifies. “They were nice gills, but I was glad to see the combination finally break up.”

Actually, a close observer soon notices that Leo’s expression in repose is slightly more serious than Jack’s. This is a circumstance which Leo blandly explains by pointing out that he is older than his brother and therefore more thoughtful and responsible. His margin of seniority is thirty minutes.

All their lives the twins have had similar likes and dislikes in people, books, studies, hobbies, and amusements. They passed and failed in the same school subjects, simultaneously fell victim to the usual childhood ailments, graduated together from high school and university. They toiled side by side in spare-time jobs, hoisting Christmas mailbags at the post office, j moving milk cans in a creamery, and putting labels on herring tins along the waterfront. At UBC they both studied agriculture and later worked together for the federal government until November 1949 when Jack reluctantly quit his job rather than accept a compulsory transfer to Edmonton, which would have meant a long separation from his brother.

Today Leo is a federal inspector in j the Pacific Meat. Co. Ltd. plant in Marpole district. Jack works behind the counter in the B. C. government’s Hornby Street liquor store in downtown Vancouver.

Most of the half-dozen cameras around the house belong to Jack, and most of the dozen guns belong to Leo, but both are interested in photography and firearms. The twins are prominent in amateur theatricals and, naturally, much in demand for skits which call for twin giants.

As with most identical twins, the Leavys have almost identical handwriting. Each has a double-jointed left thumb. When Jack had appendicitis, Leo got false pains. Their mother says a psychic bond links the two brothers and claims that they talk backward and forward to each other in their sleep.

Every Sunday morning, in the beautiful little Catholic church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in West Point Grey, the twin giants are ushers at the nineo’clock Mass.

The brothers each drink two quarts of milk a day, but they never touch tea or coffee. They are occasional and moderate users of alcoholic beverages, which have no more effect than soda pop on their Cyclopean constitutions. “vVe’ve never been drunk in our lives,” Jack Leavy told me. “We wouldn’t dare. Who could carry us home?”

The twins are co-presidents of the Vancouver Tip Topper Club, the members of which are men of six feet, two inches or taller and women whose height starts at five feet eleven. The organization is linked with similar groups across Canada and the United States through the American Affiliation of Tall Clubs. Jack and Leo are the biggest in the Vancouver unit.

Since high-school days the Leavys have never met anyone they couldn’t look down on. A"