This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Here Be Giants

03 August 2018

There are some people we look up to in admiration.
Persons of distinction who are marked by greatness.
Perhaps a man in military uniform,
or a fellow that stands out in a crowd. 

Then there are people who look down on us.
With their nose in the air
they go around belittling average folk.
as beneath them.

Though we might think that these
are two different personality types,
there is actually one word
that describes both.


If it weren't for the smaller man beside him, it would be difficult to see that the gentleman in the center of this photo is not of normal height. In fact his stature was very abnormal. He was known as the Kentucky Giant and earned his military uniform as s soldier in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

On the back of the carte de visite photo
produced by W. L. Germon's Temple of Art,
914 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA.
was his name written in pencil:

Capt. M. V. Bates
Age 32 years
Height – 7 ft 11 inches
Weight  478 lbs.

His full name was Martin Van Buren Bates and he was born on November 9, 1837 in Letcher County, Kentucky, the same year that in March 1837, the more renowned Martin Van Buren was sworn in as the 8th President of the United States. And at 5 ft 6 inches, also the 2nd shortest President. By the age of 12-13, Martin Bates stood 6 feet tall and weighed almost 300 lbs. During the War between the States, Bates chose to serve on the Confederate side with the 5th Kentucky Infantry Regiment. Enlisting as a private, he was quickly promoted to the rank of captain. His fame spread to the Union Army where he was known as the "Confederate giant who's as big as five men and fights like fifty." Wounded in battle near the Cumberland Gap, he was then captured, though he later managed to escape.

After the war, discouraged by the violence of local politics, Bates left Kentucky and moved to Ohio. There he joined a circus and was exhibited as being 7 feet 11 inches tall. The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as 7 feet 9 inches, but the website pegs him at just 7 feet 3.5 inches.

In about 1870 when the circus he was with traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Martin Bates met someone with whom he could finally see eye to eye. Her name was Anna. It was love at first sight.

Just as in Martin Bates's photo, a man stands next to a very tall woman who rests her right hand on his shoulder. Her cdv photo was made by the Yosemite Art Gallery of I. W. Taber and T. H. Boyd, 26 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA. And like Bate's photo the back has a penciled note written in the same handwriting.

  Mrs. Anna H. Bates
7 Feet 11½ inches high
age  29 years

Her maiden name was Anna Haining Swan. She was born on August 6, 1846 in Mill Brook, Nova Scotia. At the age of four, Anna measured 4 feet 6 inches tall. At age ten, 6 feet 1 inch. When she reached maturity as the "Canadian Giantess" her height was advertised as 7 feet 11 inches, but the website calculates that it was really 7 feet  5 inches. Her weight varied from 350 lbs to 394 lbs. In July 1865 Anna was one of  'freaks of nature' exhibited by P. T. Barnum  at his American Museum in New York City when the building caught fire. As she was too large to fit through a window, workers resorted to breaking through an exterior wall on the third floor and using a block and tackle fixed to a derrick to lower her safely to the street outside. It was a narrow escape as the fire destroyed Barnum's museum.

Anna was considered an accomplished performer on piano and voice, and even did some acting. In 1869 while on a tour of Britain a newspaper report described her as "Towers above all men when stood up, and most women when sat down. She has an oval face, and is softly spoken, with a gentle voice".

In 1870, Anna Swan returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a visit. There she was introduced to Martin Van Buren Bates who was appearing in a traveling circus. The show's promoter instantly recognized their doubled potential and hired her on the spot. But evidently money was not Anna's only reason to join the troupe. She and Martin felt a mutual attraction, and on June 17, 1871 Martin and Anna were married in St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The Anglican officiant was Rev. Rupert Cochrane, a friend of Anna's family who was preaching in London at the time. His 6 foot 3 inch frame was dwarfed by the giant bride and groom.

The marriage of Martin van Buren Bates to Anna Swan, 1871
Source: Wikipedia
On their return to America in 1872, the Bates settled in Seville, Ohio. They continued off and on with circus tours in Europe and America, but clearly both desired a normal life. In Seville, Martin bought a small farm and had a special house designed for them with 14 foot ceilings and 8 ft. 6 in. doorways. Tragically in 1872 and again in 1879 Anna lost two infants due to complications during labor. The Bates retired from circus life in the spring of 1880 after their last circus tour.

Anna Haining Bates died unexpectedly in her home on August 5, 1888 just one day before her 42nd birthday. Her funeral was delayed when the casket company, believing the box dimensions ordered were incorrect, at first sent a standard size casket but then had to replace it.

Capt. Martin Van Buren Bates remarried in 1897 to Annette LaVonne Weatherby, a woman of normal stature. He lived a quiet life in Seville, Ohio until his death in January 1919.

Anna Haining Swan Bates
and Martin Van Buren Bates


Even though photos of GIANTS are not my typical genre to collect, it was the handwritten notes on the backs of these photographs.that really compelled me to add them to my collection. The unsophisticated cursive letters have a naive quality that suggest a child's handwriting. It seems likely that the young writer saw Martin and Anna at some circus show and bought the two cards as souvenirs. As the note on Anna's photo reads Mrs.Anna H. Bates, it dates the photo to after their marriage and return to America in 1872. Their ages on the notes were of course a showbiz adjustment to add youth and vitality to the performers, and their heights.were a typical exaggeration for awe inspiring embellishment.

In the 1840s and 1850s the first technology of early photography – the daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes were unique images. Each one captured light directly onto the medium so they could not be reproduced or duplicated. But twenty years later in the 1860s the advent of the carte de visite photograph, which was both inexpensive and easily duplicated, opened up a great age of popular photographs. It did not take long for entertainers and showbiz impresarios to take advantage of this new process by promoting a lucrative fad for the collectible image. Heretofore wondrous people were notable people that ordinary folk could only hear or read about. Now the new cdv photo let anyone with a dime own a picture worth a thousand words. It might be the portrait of a celebrated politician, a member of royalty, a beautiful opera singer,    or even two giants.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no topic is too big, no photo too small.


Avid Reader said...

How'd you learn about the Kentucky Giant?

Great post!

Barbara Rogers said...

What a lovely real-life romance of giants...reminds me of Hedwig in Harry Potter.

Molly's Canopy said...

I am endlessly amazed at the photos you come up with to fit the weekly prompts! Those were the years before Tall Clubs existed for those taller than average to meet and greet, so Anna and Martin are fortunate to have found one another.

ScotSue said...

Little and large, indeed! Like Molly, I am in awe of the scale, wealth and diversity of your collection. How on earth do you have it organized, so you can pull out photographs to make such interesting posts that illustrate the prompt! Tell us more sometime!


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