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Jim Porter: The Kentucky Giant

By Kentucky For Kentucky |

There once was a man who was 7' 8" and, although historical records cannot confirm if he killed "for fun," he could have easily accomplished the task if you got on his bad side. And that bad side, like all sides of Kentucky's own literal giant, was pretty damn big.

Imagine: It is sometime in the 1840s, say, 7 o'clock, and you've found yourself wasting away time, cash and brain cells inside a dimly lit bar in the shipping town of Portland — a scant few miles northwest from the then-bustling river hub of Louisville — and after a heated game of cards with one of the locals, you foolishly brandish a pistol to aid your demands of satisfaction. Unfortunately, this time, you've drawn your revolver on no less than one of God's own mutants: An imposing physical monstrosity who produces in kind an eight foot long rifle ("Little" was the loving handle he gave her) and a sword almost as tall as Tom Cruise on platform shoes.


You slunk out of the bar, shaken to your core, and drunkenly shamble back to your boat in order to get that earlier-than-expected start on your river travels.

Thing is, that man you've provoked, whose honor you besmirched? He's the owner of that bar, and he didn't even have to get up from his own poker table in order to give you an idea that letting the shaved Wookie win was the best course of action. He never intended to shoot, because he's never really had to.

This veritable southern-fried force of nature's name? "Big" Jim Porter.

In his admittedly short time on this earth, Kentucky's most kickass giant became renowned the world over for his massive size — Charles Dickens described him as a "lighthouse walking among the lamp-post." Porter eventually attracted the attention of P.T. Barnum's circus, and his international fame began to match the local legend that sprouted ever since his first growth spurt.

Porter, who owned and operated a variety of Louisville-area drinking establishments that may or may not have had doorframes large enough to herd cattle through, is said to have died peacefully in 1859, at the then-not-so-unripe age of 48, surrounded by friends, family and the ghosts of other imposing but benevolent men, including Paul Bunyon and the unborn spirit of retired Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who ushered Kentucky's biggest son into the Great Beyond…

It wasn't until many years later, in the year of our nation's relatively kickass bicentennial, that Porter's spirit was captured, distilled, and poured into the concrete foundation of a magical piece of property near Bluegrass Creek and bucolic I-64. It was there, fueled by the restless ectoplasmic energies of Porter's ghost, that Jim Porter's Good Time Emporium rapidly became a regional institution for cougars, cougar bait and humans looking for a good time amongst cougars and their prey. Three floors of bacchanal, a room dedicated to Dickens' descriptions of Louisville, and the coup de grace: a swing suspended over one establishment's 37,421 bars reserved for karaoke starlets in burlesque attire straight out of Frederick's of Hollywood by way of Dillard's.

It was a pretty kickass place.

Alas, so too did Porter's eponymous Good Time Emporium die in its sleep this year in order to make way for a multi-million dollar metropolitan sewer district scheme involving the nearby creek, shuttering its doors like so many before it to make way for capital-P progress (and a hefty buyout from the local government). It's memory, not unlike the memory of the man who inspired it, will loom large in the memories of those Kentuckians who sought out its kickassery while they could, if only so their livers and libidos might pay homage to Jim Porter, a man who was so large he could drink in bourbon the amount it would take to decontaminate the Enola Gay.

Some say that Porter's ghost still haunts the property to this day, keeping his Little rifle ready at the hip for anyone that would dare have a Bad Time. Still others say, that those people who say that are suffering from acute alcohol poisoning, and are no longer invited to Christmas.

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