The tombstone of the Middlebush Giant is pretty ordinary, unlike the man, the myth, and his legend.
The Rutgers Rarities Team first heard about the “Middlebush Giant’s grave” from one of our favorite media friends, the Home News Tribune’s own Ava Gascer, who told us that the legendary 600-pound, 7+ foot tall man was buried in nearby Cedar Grove Cemetery in Middlebush, Franklin Township. Now, the RR Team is always up for a cemetery investigation and the gravesite of a bona-fide Barnum & Bailey Circus sideshow freak definitely qualifies as a rarity of interest. How big would his plot be? Would his tombstone be extra-large (w/pepperoni)? The Team had many questions that would only be answered by an on-site investigation.
Cedar Grove Cemetery is hard to find. We probably drove past it at least six times before finally succumbing to putting on some bright lipstick and asking a gas station attendant for directions (our standard investigatory procedure). As it turned out, the entrance to the cemetery is nestled between two houses in a residential area that is on the outskirts of Franklin. The grave also proved difficult to locate as the cemetery is surprisingly big for its location among suburbia and has a ton of old graves dating from the 1700’s on. Co-investigator Ray was astonished when we first pulled up and he immediately sighted a huge tombstone that stood apart from all the others. “That must be it!” he exclaimed, “who else but a giant could have a monument that big?”. Anybody else, it turns out. The name on the misleadingly gargantuan decoy tombstone was literally “John Smith” or something equally bland. We remembered from Ava’s article that the Giant’s grave had the title “Middlebush Giant” but we had no recollection of what his real name actually was. We blundered around in the twilight for quite a bit trying to systemically work through every grave, getting little for our efforts, although we did find the tombstone of one Charlie Brown. I also happened to find an old bone fragment that I sincerely hope is part of the remains of a deer or dog as it is kinda creepy to find a bone in a boneyard at night. When we finally located the tombstone in one of the oldest sections of the cemetery in the far back lot, it read “Col. Routh Goshen, Middlebush Giant, 1837-1899”. The Team was impressed and surprised by the inscription. A Colonel? -hmmmm…we thought, this begs further research.
Courtesy of Wikipedia, we found out that our Giant was a man of mystery as was the exact location of his plot. It turns out that his tombstone may not truly mark his body’s final resting spot. Fearing that his body would be “dug up and put on display”, this genuine Barnum and Bailey star (billed as the “world’s tallest man”) requested that his plot remain unmarked after death. Several years later his tombstone was put up in “the general area” of his plot, but as Ray and I saw during the investigation, the area in which the tombstone stands is sparsely populated with few other graves and there was certainly a lot of room in the location, even for a giant. Even the Middlebush Giant’s name is uncertain as “Col. Routh Goshen” was a stage name given to him by Bailey, who also fabricated several different exotic biographies for his star, citing him at times to be a Turkish-Hebrew giant, born in Jerusalem and titled a “colonel” by virtue of fighting in the Crimean war. He was alternately billed as a Belgian giant, born on the Isle of Man who met Queen Victoria and toured all the European courts. The newspapers that announced his death list his real name as Arthur James Caley and states that he was of African ancestry, born in the United States, famous for his circus career but ultimately ending his life as a successful farmer in Clyde, NJ.
We may never know the truth of his story, but the RR Team was happy to at least find his tombstone and ascertain that even the mightiest in stature can find a peaceful & spacious resting spot in crowded old Jersey.
We would like to once again thank Home News Tribune Staff Writer Ava Gascer for directing us to this unique find. Her excellent article on the cemetery and its caretaker is entitled “Each Stone Tell Its Own Story”
The Middlebush Giant was the world’s tallest man in the greatest show on earth, yet he went back to his New Jersey roots as a farmer in the latter stages of his life.
The area around the grave appears empty, which begs an answer to the question of where the Middlebush Giant’s body lies. He might be giant, but they hid him well.