The original oversized boot, which was a Gibsonton landmark, went missing in 2007.
The new memorial at Giant's Fish Camp in Gibsonton was unveiled today. It commemorates the oversized boot that was a Gibsonton landmark for more than 40 years.
By JOHN CEBALLOS South Shore News & Tribune
Published: September 29, 2010 FROM: WWW.TAMPABAYONLINE.COM
GIBSONTON - A distinctive piece of footwear welcomed visitors to Gibsonton for more than 40 years.
"We lived on the other side of town, but it was the Giant's Camp and that boot that symbolized home," said Carol Phillips, historian for the Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton.
Today, a new memorial was unveiled in honor of the Tomaini family, who lived here for decades and brought the area national recognition.
The area, known as a haven for circus and carnival performers, was the home of Al and Jeanie Tomaini starting in 1941. That year, the couple bought a 3.1-acre site on an inlet just south of the Alafia River on U.S. 41. It eventually featured fishing cabins and a restaurant. The site came to be known as Giant's Fish Camp.
Al, who stood 8 feet, 4 inches, was known as "The Giant." Born legless, Jeanie was 2 feet, 6 inches, and called "The Half Girl." The Tomainis became the "World's Strangest Married Couple."
One day, Al brought home a 35-inch-tall boot with a 25-inch sole as a souvenir.
Shortly after Al's death at age 50 in 1962, Jeanie placed the boot outside their home as a memorial. The boot became a Gibsonton landmark throughout the years, with kids fishing Halloween candy out of the shoe, and tourists from across the country posing with the oversize footwear.Jim Johnson of Mosaic presents Tina Tomaini with a framed remnant of her grandfather Al's original boot during Wednesday's dedication ceremony.
"The amazing thing is that, because of their profession and their accomplishments, people across the world knew who they were," said Phillips, a former wolf trainer. "It wasn't just a Gibsonton landmark."
Jeanie died in 1999 at age 82. The remaining Tomaini family members sold the property to Mosaic, a phosphate fertilizer company, in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the boot went missing.
Mosaic's planned restoration of the camp included cleaning up the site, installing new fences, building a welcome sign and clearing out all but one of the cabins.
Two of those cabins were obtained by the Ruskin Community Development Foundation and transported to Camp Bayou, where they will be used as educational facilities, while the rest had fallen into disrepair.
The remaining cabin on the Giant's Fish Camp site was moved closer to the highway.
The citizens group had a $6,000 fund for highway beautification and eventually decided to apply the money toward replacing the boot by creating a memorial.
All that was needed was a place, so Phillips and the group collaborated with Mosaic.
"We are pleased to help extend the storied heritage of Gibsonton," said Larry Simpson, manager of Mosaic's Riverview manufacturing facility, which is adjacent to the site. "After seeing all the Tomaini family has done for the community, we realize the historical significance of this property."
In May, the county approved a variance that allowed for the building of the memorial in full view of U.S. 41.
A crowd of about 60, which included Mosaic officials and members of the Tomaini family, were on hand for the unveiling.
The replica, made from composite material, sits atop an 8-foot-4-inch granite base.
Tina Tomaini, Al and Jeanie's granddaughter, was at the unveiling and accepted a framed remnant from Al's original boot.
"This is very emotional for me — there are so many landmarks on this property that people don't even know about," Tina said. "I'm very proud that there is a dedication to my grandparents.
"They deserve it and they had a lot of love for this community."