Anna Swan (1846-1888)
The Giantess from Tatamagouche
On August 6, 1846, Anna Swan was born in a log cabin in Millbrook near Tatamagouche to parents of normal stature. Her birth weight was thought to be nearly 6 kilograms (13 pounds). Due to excess growth hormone likely because of a problem with her pituitary gland, she grew to a height of 2.4 metres (7 feet 11 inches), weighing approximately 181 kilograms (400 pounds). Anna learned to cope with her great height by heeding the advice of her maternal grandmother to “stand tall and be proud of your Highland ancestry.” Beginning in 1862, the “Nova Scotian Giantess” was employed at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City, and later toured America and Europe with a troupe of Barnum’s entertainers. Anna was well educated, enjoyed a lucrative career, and travelled extensively.
In 1871, while on tour, Anna met Martin Van Buren Bates, the 2.36-metre (7-foot 9-inch) "Kentucky Giant" and officer in the Confederate Army. The two were married in London on June 17, 1871. Anna’s wedding dress was a gift from Queen Victoria. In 1874, Martin bought a farm in Seville, Medina County, Ohio, where they had a ‘giant’ house built complete with custom furniture that suited their stature. They had two children – a stillborn daughter in London, England, and a 10.4-kilogram (23-pound) son, who was born in their Seville house but lived only a few hours. In the spring and summer of 1878, Anna and Martin toured with the W.W. Cole Circus but then retired from the limelight and returned to Seville. Anna taught Sunday School at the Baptist Church in Seville and Martin managed his farm. Anna died in 1888 at the age of 41 from heart failure, and Martin, in 1919 at the age of 82. The "giant" house was torn down in 1948, but Martin's barn still stands. A 4.5-metre monument stands proudly in the Bates lot in Mound Hill Cemetery in Seville.
In an effort to preserve and make known Anna Swan Bate’s connection to Tatamagouche, the Sunrise Trail Museum acquired several artifacts that once belonged to Anna including one of her dresses and a Basque. Ray Carruthers, a born storyteller and networker, and his wife Margaret, took several of the Anna artifacts to the Festival of the Giants in Seville. After the Sunrise Trail Museum closed for renovations, Ray Carruthers moved the Giantess’ artifacts to the Fraser Cultural Centre where they were put on display. When the idea arose of a heritage centre at the former Tatamagouche Creamery, the board members of the Sunrise Trail Museum voted unanimously to vacate the old museum building and move their many artifacts to the new heritage centre, including Anna’s clothing. Some of Anna’s relatives in Tatamagouche had also collected materials pertaining to the Giantess, and they, too, favoured the development of a heritage centre. And so in June 2009, the Giantess Anna Swan Museum opened in the new Creamery Square Heritage Centre in Tatamagouche. The Museum is in good company with the Brule Fossils, Creamery Museum, Sunrise Trail Museum, and North Shore Archives.
The focus at the Giantess Anna Swan Museum is on the lives, careers, and character of the "tallest married couple in the world." The exhibits tell the story of how the two fit into their adopted community of Seville, Ohio – the good times and the sad – and how they learned to cope with a world in which they did not physically fit. Anna's thyroid condition, Martin's farm, Anna's church work, the loss of their two children, are all interesting components of their life stories. Along with the artifacts that once belonged to Anna, the Museum exhibits a door from the couple’s house in Seville.
The Giantess Anna Swan Museum is in regular contact with the Seville Historical Society and museum as well as many members of the Bates family in Kentucky. These connections have allowed each to learn and share stories about Anna’s and Martin’s lives. Dale Swan, Anna’s great-great nephew and volunteer at the Giantess Anna Swan Museum, enjoys doing presentations on Anna and Martin (and other topics, too) at homes for special care, schools, and historical societies. He also regularly assists local students with Heritage Fair projects on Anna Swan Bates. Books of Swan family genealogy are available for perusal in the adjacent North Shore Archives. And of course, there are also talks with visitors to the Giantess Anna Swan Museum at the Creamery Heritage Centre. There are still many stories and memories about Anna and Martin that are waiting to be documented, preserved, and told.