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April 11, 2021

The Giants of Seville: Rare Photos of Anna Haining Swan and Martin Van Buren Bates, the Tallest Married Couple Ever

Anna Haining Swan (August 6, 1846 – August 5, 1888), was a Canadian woman famed for her great stature of 7 ft 11 in (2.41 m). Martin Van Buren Bates (November 9, 1837 – January 19, 1919), known as the “Kentucky Giant” was an American man famed for his great height. He was 7 ft 9 in (2.36 m) tall. They were declared to be the world’s “Tallest Married Couple Ever” by Guinness World Record when the couple got married in 1871 in St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square in London.

At birth, Martin Bates was an average sized infant. After he became six years old, he began a monumental growth spurt. By the time he was somewhere between twelve and thirteen years old, he was already over 6 feet (1.82 meters) tall. According to oral testimonies, he was a whopping 7 feet 11 inches tall. However, Guinness Book of World Records lists him two inches shorter.

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Bates joined the 5th Kentucky Infantry Confederate States Army, as a private, in 1861. His ferocity in battle and imposing figure saw him quickly promoted to the rank of captain. Martin was severely wounded in a battle around the Cumberland Gap area and captured and imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio, although he later escaped.

He returned to Kentucky after the war. Before the war, his first occupation was as a schoolteacher. While the circus was on tour in Halifax, Canada, the 7-foot-11-inch-tall (2.41 m) Anna Haining Swan visited. She and Martin soon got to know each other, and were married on June 17, 1871. The highly publicized wedding, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England, drew thousands of people to try to attend, due to both the uncommonness of the spectacle and the disarming good nature of the pair. Queen Victoria herself gave them two extra-large diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents.

Anna Swan was born at Mill Brook, New Annan, Nova Scotia. At birth she weighed 16 pounds (7.26 kg). She was the third of 13 children, all of the others being around average height. From birth she grew very quickly. On her fourth birthday she was 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) tall. On her 6th birthday she was measured again, and she stood 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) tall. On her 11th birthday she stood 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall and weighed 203 pounds (92.08 kg). By her 15th birthday Anna was 7 feet (2.10 m) tall. She reached her full height three years later. Her feet measured 14.2 inches (36 cm) long.

Swan excelled at literature and music and was considered to be very intelligent. She also excelled at her studies of acting, piano and voice. She played Lady Macbeth in one play. At one time, she nearly burned to death when Barnum’s museum was destroyed by fire. The stairs were in flames and she was too large to escape through a window. She did get help and escaped safely. She normally weighed 340 pounds (154.22 kg).

Martin and Anna moved to Ohio in 1872, settling in Seville. The couple purchased 130 acres (53 ha) of land and had furniture made to their specifications. Martin supervised the construction of the house. The main part of the house had fourteen-foot (4.3 m) ceilings, while the doors were extra wide and were eight feet (2.4 m) tall. The back part of the house was built an average size for servants and guests.

Anna conceived two children with Martin. The first was a girl born on May 19, 1872; she weighed 18 pounds (8.16 kg) and died at birth. While touring in the summer of 1878, Anna was pregnant for the second time. The boy was born on January 18, 1879, and survived only 11 hours. He was the largest newborn ever recorded, at 23 pounds 9 ounces (10.7 kg) and nearly 30 inches tall (ca. 75 cm); each of his feet was six inches (152 mm) long.

The Bateses resumed touring with the W.W. Cole Circus in the summer of 1879, and again in the spring of 1880. Anna spent her remaining years quietly on the farm that she and her husband owned. She had joined the local Baptist Church in 1877 and attended services with her husband. She died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure in her sleep at her home on August 5, 1888, one day before her 42nd birthday.

Martin ordered a statue of her from Europe for her grave, sold the oversized house, and moved into the town. In 1889 he remarried, this time to a woman of normal stature, Annette LaVonne Weatherby and lived a mostly peaceful life until his death in 1919 of nephritis.


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