Private John Palmer of Philadelphia boasted the honor of having been the heaviest Colonial soldier to fight in the American Revolution. So said one of his descendants, Norma Langham, who made her way to California University of Pennsylvania two centuries later to teach theatrics.
Before she died in January 2003, Langham laid her hands on a giant ring at a flea market, a band that Palmer supposedly flashed on the ring finger of his right hand. She prized the possession so much that she even wrote a poem, Fat John Palmer, that paid tribute to the man, his ring, and her family’s unsuccessful bid to claim the land the Quaker once owned in Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia now has a lot of debt and we don’t want it,” wrote Langham, who also was an actress, singer, poet, composer, playwright, investor, producer and director.
Her poem about Palmer went on to thank him for “being fat, else we never would have known the ring was yours.”
At her instruction, the ring was donated to the archives at the California Area Historical Society, which counts the object among its weirdest possessions. And its staff has some doubt as to whether the ring really belonged to the soldier who tipped the scale at more than 400 pounds.
Either way, the society has an incredible collection of history that relates to the borough along the Monongahela River in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It should be the first place to turn for anyone who is chasing down genealogy that has a connection to that area.