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Considered one of the handsomest giants of his day, Martin van Buren Bates was born at Whitesburg, Kentucky, 70 miles east of Lexington, on November 9, 1837. His father John Wallis Bates was a tall man of six feet, while his mother Sarah was average height. Of the family's twelve children seven boys, five girls Martin was the youngest, and also by far the tallest. The closest contender was a brother who reached six-foot-two, but he was killed at the Battle of Vicksburg. Fully grown, the "Giant of the South" stood 7'11 " tall, weighed 478 pounds, and boasted a 64" chest, size 9 hat, 25" collar, and size 15 boot. In 1861 Bates volunteered for the Confederate army and attained the rank of Captain. When the war ended, Captain Bates decided to join Wiggins and Bennoit, a small circus in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there he joined the John Robinson Circus, earning $400 (about $5,300) a month.

Anna Hannen Swan was born at Mill Brook, Nova Scotia, on August 6, 1846, to Scottish parents, allegedly weighing eighteen pounds at birth. Her mother, who came from Dumbarton, stood five feet, two inches tall and weighed one hundred ten pounds, while her father, a native of Dumfries, was five foot four and one hundred forty pounds. Anna was as tall as her mother by the time she was six years old. At the age of eleven she was six feet, two inches tall and weighed two hundred twelve pounds. She reached her full height of 7'5" (though she later claimed to be 7'11 ", the same height as her husband) at the age of twenty, and weighed 413 pounds.

Anna began touring the United States and Canada as a giantess in 1863 and was secured by Barnum in 1864. Barnum paired her with two male giants, the Belgian Joseph Bihin and the Manxman Colonal Goshen, as well as Zip, the "What is it?". She survived both of Barnum's tragic museum fires, in 1865 and 1868.

In 1868 Anna made her first trip to Europe. When she returned the U.S. in 1870, she toured the West Coast with Joseph Bihin. In January of 1871, in San Francisco, Anna met Martin Bates, a man the same size as her former co-star Bihin, but more "symmetrically formed". Anna and Martin were featured together in a traveling freak revue with the "two-headed girl" Millie-Christine McKoy and the bearded lady Mme. Haldean. The two giants found themselves remarkably compatible as a pair. They decided to break away from the show and go into business together. During their first tour together, in England, Anna and Martin's relationship evolved into a romantic one. On July 17, 1871, they were married at St. Martins-in-the-field, Trafalgar Square, London. The following week, the newlyweds gave a command performance for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace and were presented with a gold watch In May of 1872, still in London, Anna gave birth to the couple's first child, a girl who weighed over 25 pounds. The baby was stillborn.

In 1874, the Bates purchased a 160-acre farmstead in Seville, Ohio, and had a home built with eighteen-foot ceilings and twelve-foot doorways, furnished with custom-made furniture, including a ten-foot-long bed. There, they attended the Seville Baptist Church, and Martin, who had always aspired to be a farmer, took great pleasure in cultivating his farm between circus tours.

In February of 1879 Anna gave birth to another baby, a boy, which weighed 22 pounds, measured 30 inches long, and possessed a sixteen-inch chest and six-inch feet. Sadly, this child lived only a few days.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s the Bates split their time between their Seville farm and W.W. Cole's Circus and Menagerie. Then, in 1888, Anna fell ill with heart disease. She passed away at home on August 5, 1888, one day short of her 42nd birthday. Martin was heartbroken and turned to the Baptist Church for help in his time of need. There, he became close friends with Anne LaVonne Weatherby, daughter of pastor John Weatherby and leader of the church choir, who stood 5'7" tall and weighed 120 pounds. She and Martin were married on October 30, 1889.

Martin died on January 8, 1919, at home in Seville. He was 81.

Left: Anna Hannen Swan with average-sized man, ca. 1870. Right: Martin Bates with his second wife, Anne LaVonne Weatherby, at their home in Seville with Frank Bowman, a dwarf who lived in nearby Medina.