2010 is shaping up as The Year of the Tall. The world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which was designed and built by Chicago firms, opened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The world's tallest Jesus statue was erected in western Poland. Tennis great Martina Navratilova needed medical attention when she was defeated by Africa's tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. And a 6-2 woman won "America's Next Top Model." Here are 10 tall tales that are true:
Descriptions of Barack Obama often include his height, but plenty of presidents were taller, including two of the previous three. Histories are inconsistent on presidential heights, but it appears that Abraham Lincoln was tallest at six foot four, with Lyndon Johnson between 6-3 and 6-4. Also listed as taller than Obama were Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Washington and Chester Arthur. Obama and Ronald Reagan could see eye-to-eye -- at 6-1. The shortest? James Madison at 5-4 inches.
Among the famous people afraid of heights: Steven Spielberg, Wayne Gretzky, Sarah Palin, Billie Jean King, Ray Bradbury, Adolf Hitler, Bridget Fonda, Frank Sinatra and Whoopi Goldberg. Even Spiderman — Tobey Maguire — has admitted to acrophobia.
A healthy fear of high places may be innate. In 1960, Cornell University psychologists Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk conducted a "visual cliff" experiment. In the study, babies of various species (humans, rats, chickens, cats, goat and sheep) refused to venture onto a glass panel that covered what looked like a sharp drop-off. The 6- to 14-month-old human babies recognized the apparent danger of the drop-off and even refused to cross it, despite being coaxed by their mothers. Only three of the 36 infants ventured onto the glass, though some backed onto it without realizing it. None of the chicks, kittens, kids and lambs — some less than a day old — made the same mistake and mistakenly walked off the "cliff."
Because of spine compression, people lose height during the day, becoming 1 to 2 percent shorter than when they woke up. The same trend occurs long-term: In adulthood, the average person loses a half-inch every 20 years.
An American B-25 bomber collided with the 79th floor of the Empire State Building on a foggy Manhattan morning at the end of World War II. Three crew members died, along with 11 people in the building. A worker in the building survived a bizarre double accident: Badly burned by the fireball, she was taken to an elevator to be lowered to safety. But the impact had damaged the elevator cable, and it snapped, sending the woman and her helper hurtling to the ground. An automatic braking system saved them.
How tall can grass grow? Up to 120 feet, if it's bamboo.
Mount Everest is not the highest point on the Earth. A dormant volcano in Ecuador beats out the 29,035-foot Himalayan peak. Mount Chimborazo, at just over 20,500 feet, gets a step-stool boost from the Earth's equatorial bulge, which pushes the mountain an extra few miles into space and farther from the center of the planet. For the record, Mount Everest is the highest point above sea level.
According to a 1998 study, North America's Plains Indians were the tallest people in the world during the mid-19th century.
Language purists may get annoyed that the smallest coffee on the Starbucks menu is labeled "tall." But it wasn't always that way. The 12-ounce "tall" used to be a medium, in between the 8-ounce "short" and the 16-ounce "grande." Later, a 20-ounce "venti' was added and the "short" was taken off the menu (though some stores still sell it).
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Facts about the Presidents," by Joseph Kane; "Tallest in the World: Native Americans of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century," by Richard H. Steckel and Joseph M. Prince; "Grande Expectations: A Year in the Life of Starbucks' Stock," by Karen Blumenthal; "The Tall Book," by Arianne Cohen; "Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, and the Battle for an American Icon," By Mitchell Pacelle; "The Rat Pack," by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell; "Great Mythconceptions: The Science Behind the Myths," by Karl Kruszelnicki and Adam Yazxhi; "The 'Visual Cliff,'" by Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Welk; npr.org; World Book Encyclopedia; New York Daily News; Associated Press; San Francisco Chronicle; Orange County Register; New Yorker; Anchorage Daily News; Vancouver Sun; Newark Star Ledger; Toronto Star; Houston Chronicle.