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Giants' wedding: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Anna Swan was born in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia on August 6, 1846, weighing in at over 18lbs. All the rest of the family were normal size. Her father Alexander had emigrated from Dumfries in Scotland and married Ann, a Nova Scotia girl with ancestors in the Orkneys. Anna was the third of their 13 children and worked, like everyone else, on the family farm.
When she was just four years old, Anna was already tall and strong enough to carry two full buckets of water up the steep hill to their log farmhouse. Alexander launched her showbiz career early, exhibiting Anna at Halifax as “The Infant Giantess”. One newspaperman seeing her there wrote: “This healthy child, 4 years 7 months, was as rosy as a milkmaid, weighed over 94lbs and already had arms and wrists as large as a full-grown man” (12).
Six months later, Anna was 4' 8” tall and weighed over 100lbs. By the time she turned six, her father had become accustomed to the regular task of demolishing and rebuilding her bed to keep up with her growth. At eight, she was routinely wearing her mother's dresses when she played outside, prompting one passer-by to stop and watch what he assumed was a retarded adult behaving like a child.
Anna's teachers made her as comfortable as they could at school by building up a table on planks to serve as her desk and allowing her to sit on a high stool there. She began to excel in music and literature, read all the classics and was considered an intelligent young lady. At home, she would sit on the floor, propping her back against the wall in order to eat at the family's standard-size dinner table. Her only escape from this infuriatingly Lilliputian world was to spend as much time as she could outside, where she took long, solitary walks in the countryside or read beneath a tree.
In 1860, a Quaker who'd seen Anna in New Annan told PT Barnum about her. Impressed by her measurements - the teenage Anna was then 7' 11” tall and weighed over 400lbs - he sent his scout, HP Ingalls, to find the giant girl and bring her to New York. Anna refused the offer, saying she had no interest in exhibiting herself and that her parents were against her moving to New York.
Instead, she spent that summer living with her aunt in the Nova Scotia town of Truro, and began attending school there. But her aunt's house lacked the modifications Dad had made at home, which left Anna feeling uncomfortable there. Finding the people of Truro followed her around staring wherever she went, she quickly tired of the experience and returned to New Annan.
When Anna turned 16, Ingalls approached her again, and found her resolve beginning to weaken. Her experiences in Truro had shown Anna that a normal life would never be possible for her, and at least Barnum's offer would allow her to pursue her education while earning a good living at the same time. It took one more visit from Ingalls to seal the deal, but this time Anna accepted. In 1862, she and her mother moved to New York.
Barnum paid Anna a generous wage to exhibit herself at his American Museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street, near City Hall. Her remuneration package at the museum included $23 a week in gold, plus comfortable lodgings, the finest clothes, a private tutor, provision for her mother to stay in New York and occasional trips to Nova Scotia and back. Anna also received singing, acting and piano lessons. Anna's mother stayed with her in New York for the first 12 months and then, seeing her daughter was in good hands, returned home.
Barnum advertised Anna as “The Tallest Girl in the World”, and had a spectacular dress made for her using 100 yards of satin and 50 yards of lace. The wily old showman had her pile her hair on top of her head to achieve an extra inch or so, and stressed Anna's size in publicity photos by posing her next to one of his many dwarves. Anna's peak height, recorded at about this time with Barnum's chosen hair-do in place, was 8' 1”.
Barnum soon realised that Anna was wasted in the minor room where he first placed her, and promoted her to the museum's grand hall, where she would play piano, lecture on giants in history or pose in classical tableaux. On at least one occasion, she played Lady Macbeth. As the world's only known giantess, Anna pulled in enormous crowds. “She was an intelligent and by no means ill-looking girl,” Barnum wrote. “During the long period when she was in my employ, she was visited by thousands of persons.”
Every now and then, Barnum would publicise the museum by sending Anna out on a carriage ride round New York. The giant carriage he built for this purpose was drawn by two huge Clydesdales, and drew such attention that crowds often followed it all the way back to Barnum's door, where box office staff waited to take their money.
Other attractions at the museum during Anna's time there included two male giants, Monsieur Bihin and Colonel Goshen, who were jealous of one another and would often fight. Tom Thumb (2' 5”) and his wife Lavinia (2' 8”) were also there, and Anna became good friends with the couple. All the performers lived at the museum, where they were expected to share a communal kitchen and living room, which had to be furnished to accommodate everyone from giants and fat ladies to living skeletons and dwarves.
In July 1865, Anna was trapped on the museum's third floor when a terrible fire broke out there. She was too big to escape through the window, the stairwell was filled with flames, and she feared the weakened stairs would not support her weight. The staff eventually got her out by commandeering a nearby derrick, smashing away the wall around the window to enlarge its opening and lowering Anna to the ground by block and tackle.

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Conjoined twins: continued

On June 24, 1871 - just three week's after Martin and Anna's appearance - Millie-Christine had a Royal Command of her own. Queen Victoria noted the occasion in her journal. “Directly after breakfast, went down with the children to see an extraordinary object, far more extraordinary than the Siamese twins,” she wrote. “A two-headed girl, or rather two girls, yet one, joined together by a sort of bar of flesh. [...] It is one of the most remarkable phenomena possible. They are very dark-coloured, if not exactly negro, and look very merry and happy. They sang duets with clear, fine voices”.
      Any reference to “the Siamese twins” at that time meant Chang and Eng, the first couple to use that billing. Victoria was not alone in preferring Millie-Christine, who most people agreed was more cheerful than the sometimes sour Chang and Eng, as well as more fluid in her movements. The girls had learned to co-ordinate their four legs well, incorporating a few dance numbers into their act, and never seemed to feel sorry for themselves. “Although we speak in the plural, we feel as but one person,” they wrote in 1868. “We would not wish to be severed, even if science could effect a separation. We are contented with our lot, and happy as the day is long” (20).
      When the Bates left for the continent in 1872, Millie-Christine stayed on in London, appearing at the Agricultural Hall, the South London Palace and the Standard Theatre. After a family holiday with the Smiths in Brighton, where they visited the Royal Pavilion, Millie-Christine and Joseph Jr left for Vienna to begin her own European tour. They were back in London for an 1875 show at St James's Hall. “She sings beautifully,” the poster declared. “She dances elegantly, talks with two persons on different subjects at the same time, and excites the wonder and admiration of all beholders” (21).

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