One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words … or a Little Less

Vivian Maier, August 1960, Chicago, Ill. Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection (Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery)


Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, or at the very least, a few hours of sleuth work. When I saw this wonderful Vivian Maier photograph, circa August 1960, the first thing I saw was Donald Koehler, once billed the world’s tallest man at 8 ft. 2 inches tall. I love the two ladies standing in the middle of the sidewalk – both appear to be looking at and talking about Koehler. I can almost hear them clucking their tongues in amazement. A fellow standing against the light post also appears to be looking at him from afar. Koehler was days away from his 35th birthday when Maier took this photo and she had turned 34 on February 1. Photographer and subject were exactly 5 months apart in age to the day.


Don Koehler Tribute


I wrote briefly about Koehler in my first Lincolnwood blog. I remember seeing him get up after dining and walk through the aisle past my table at a little coffee shop on Cicero just north of Devon. I was very young, but an incredible visual sight like that tends to stay with you forever. His dad owned the card shop on Cicero, just north of Devon, in the same little strip mall as the coffee shop. The Koehlers didn’t live in Lincolnwood, but close enough in West Rogers Park. Believe it or not, Koehler had a twin sister who at a mere 5 ft. 9 inches tall was 29 inches shorter than her famous brother. He started growing abnormally at age 10, although it’s unclear when he was diagnosed with acromegaly, the pituitary disorder that results from excess growth hormone. This is the same disease that afflicted Sam Kappel, owner of Howard Clothes, who I wrote about in this blog.


Don Koehler Age 26

Don Koehler


Koehler won numerous awards for being the tallest man in the world including in the Guinness Book of World Records when he was at his peak height. As an adult, he worked as a salesman for Big Joe Hydraulic Lifts. When he died at age 55 in 1981, he had shrunk a little to 7 ft. 10 inches, no doubt caused by the spinal deformity kyphosis, which often results in severe curvature of the spine.

Paulson’s Coffee House

The other thing that struck me about this photograph is the wonderful sign for Paulson’s Coffee House, which sparked the sleuth work portion of this blog. Based on my research, this placed Maier’s photo at 115-117 N. Wabash Ave. I was unable to find out what drug store Koehler and his friend were window shopping at – I hope one of my readers can identify it since it was long gone by the time I was old enough to venture downtown. You can clearly see bottles of Old Spice in the window – I vividly recall my dad used this after shave when I was quite young. By the time I was 8 or 9, he switched over to Brooks Brothers and Dunhill brand after shave lotions. 


Paulson's Coffee House


I found several matchbooks, an ad, and menu cover from Paulson’s, which indicate they had locations at 115 N. Wabash, 117 N. Wabash, 3944 W. Madison, 735 W. 63rd, and 3125 N. Lincoln. Lord Don, which is listed on the green menu cover is less than a block away from the 735 W. 63rd St location, but I can’t find anything on that restaurant. I have to wonder about the 115 and 117 N. Wabash addresses – did they move next door and which one came first?


Paulson's Coffee House


Then and Now

As I have done in many of my nostalgic blogs, I love including a “then and now” photo segment, although I don’t have then photos of all the other Paulson’s locations.


Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique


3944 W Madison Street

  • 3944 W. Madison is a 1934 circa building in the West Garfield Park area and currently home to a Bucci Formal Wear & Sports Wear. The area is dangerous, with a high murder rate attributed to guns and gangs.



  • 735 W. 63rd is home to Kennedy-King College, one of seven City Colleges of Chicago. The sprawling 40-acre campus was completed in July 2007 and the official address is 6301 S. Halsted. According to Google maps, it looks like a CTA Green Line stop is at Lord Don’s address 6321 S. Halsted, but you can also see the campus buildings in the street view. Located in Englewood, this is also one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago riddled by horrific gun violence and drive-by shootings.


3125 N Lincoln

  • 3125 N. Lincoln in Lakeview is a luxury condo building with stunning one-of-a-kind 2 bedrooms with 2 baths. Spa Spot nail salon is on the ground floor.
Photo sources: Alchetron, Art Blart, Chicago in the Oven Blogspot, Chuckman’s Collection, Google Maps, Guinness World Records, Pinterest


  1. Dear Consumer Grouch:

    I was happy to see your review of Ms Maier’s photo. My sister came across it first while scrolling through old photos online. She knew nothing of Ms Maier’s body of work or how her photos were “discovered.” My sis (#4 sis of 6) emailed the find to us – saying she thought the women looked familiar. Well, the two women are our paternal aunts, Cornelia and Irene. They were both business women who worked in downtown Chicago. In fact, I feel confident I walked through this area on a trip to Cornelia’s office when I was in high school (40 years ago).

    When we discovered the photo, I contacted one of the galleries connected to Ms Maier’s exhibits in an effort to share what I know about the bit players.

    If you have any ideas of whom I can reach out to, I’d appreciate it…I just feel additional details bring value to these historical treasures.

    Thank you, Amy S.

    • Hi Amy:

      Thanks so much for writing and identifying the two women as your aunts – incredible! If you haven’t already done so, I suggest contacting John Maloof, the gentleman who discovered the treasure trove of negatives and introduced the world to her talent. Although a wonderful street photographer, she would have remained unknown if not for his efforts.

  2. Henrik Schjødt

    I flipped through my book “Street Photographer” by Vivian Maier yesterday. My attention caught the above photo of Paulson’s Coffee Shop. I did not realize that anyone other than me observed details of this and other of Vivian’s photos closely. The aftershave bottles I recognized immediately.

    I find your blog very interesting and I look forward to reading more of your exciting posts. Is it possible to follow your blog on Facebook?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.