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Giants' wedding: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

The Bates threw a housewarming party, staged in the giant section of the house, but found that none of their female guests would risk trying to tackle the out-size furniture. Victorian ladies valued their dignity, and the prospect of showing their knickers while clambering on or off a giant chair was too terrible to contemplate. Anna's sister Maggie would often visit the Seville farm in later years, but always had to endure Martin's teasing as she struggled to cope with the place. “The furniture was all built to order,” Martin writes in The Kentucky River Giant, “and to see our guests make use of it recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift's traveller in the land of Brobdingnag.”
Old friends from the circus and sideshow world would sometimes visit the farm too, including The Living Skeleton, Millie-Christine, Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia. Martin and Anna picked up the Thumbs from the railway station on one trip, but the ever-competitive Martin got into a carriage race with one of his neighbours on the way back. As they hurtled down the rough country road, tiny Lavinia was nearly bounced into the hedgerow before Anna could make Martin slow down. On another visit, one elderly Seville resident remembered, he saw Tom Thumb sitting beside Anna in the carriage “like a doll resting on the seat”.
James Craven, a former animal trainer with Barnum's operation, owned a circus menagerie just west of Seville, and would sometimes give Martin and Anna one of his surplus animals. In this way, they acquired a boa constrictor and a monkey called Buttons, which Anna adopted as her pet. Buttons was kept on a chain at the centre of the circular lawn dividing the Bates' twin driveways, where he amused himself by throwing things at the staff. Not to be outdone, Martin installed a parrot on the front porch which he trained to screech “Get off my property” at a hated neighbour.

As he got older, Martin became more inclined to bully anyone who crossed him

Martin's construction work did not stop at their own property. A single service crammed into a standard pew at Seville's First Baptist Church prompted him to commission a giant replacement, which he told the carpenter to finish by the following Sunday. When it became clear this deadline wouldn't be met, Martin kicked at the carpenter, who grabbed the protruding foot and propped it on to his shoulder. This left Martin hopping helplessly on one leg until the man released him and ran away. Martin got his special pew in the end, but not without having to find a replacement carpenter first.
This incident was a rare come-uppance for Martin, who seemed to become more bad-tempered as he got older, and more inclined to bully anyone who crossed him. He was walking with a cane by this time, which he sometimes used to hit people who displeased him. He also took to wearing his old Confederate uniform around Seville, hoping to provoke a reaction from someone. On one occasion, he got into an argument with two men at the town's barber shop and ended up fighting them both simultaneously.
Dale Swan, Anna's great grand-nephew, sums up Martin as “a gruff, argumentative man”, while one of Cavin's Seville interviewees calls him “a man of violent temper”. But he had his kinder side too. After church each Sunday, local children would cluster round Martin to hear the giant watch Victoria had given him chime the hour, or climb him like a tree to get at the sweets he kept for them in his pockets. When a toddler called Mable Mapledoram got restless during the service one morning, Martin soothed her by holding his watch against her ear until the ticking sent her to sleep.
Another little girl called Elgia Ogilvie was walking home after an errand at the Bates' house one day when Martin, driving his team hard, swept up the narrow road behind her and sent her scurrying into the ditch. She clambered out, her clothes ruined, and was so angry that she started shouting after the departing rig and throwing stones at it. Surprised, Martin returned to apologise, helped her on to the seat beside him and gave her a lift home. She arrived disarrayed, but triumphant.
Anna led a far quieter life in Seville than her husband. While Martin was kicking carpenters, brawling in barbershops or driving little girls into ditches, she occupied herself with quilting bees, where she told stories of her adventures round the world, and teaching at the local Sunday school. She always insisted that the farm's workers wash and smarten themselves up before sitting down to the evening meal.
Whatever the trials of having giants for your neighbours, most people in Seville seemed to regard Martin and Anna with affection, recalling in old age the times they had been allowed to sit in the giants' laps as children or proudly pointing visitors to the local dance floor which had collapsed when Martin and Anna cut a measure there. In 2006, the town staged its first annual Giant Fest, a three-day event in the couple's honour.
Things took a darker turn in 1878, when the couple found two years of non-stop building work had exhausted their savings. Martin had made matters worse by agreeing to lend money to several local enterprises, where he became a silent partner, but may never have seen any return. He's known to have launched several lawsuits over business matters too, which suggests that many of these loans proved ill-advised, and that Martin was not the shrewd businessman he imagined himself to be.
Just two years earlier, Martin had been rich enough to present a handful of diamonds to anyone he wanted to impress, but now he and his wife needed to start earning again. They signed up for a tour headlining with the WW Cole Circus, where a specially chartered train took them round the mining towns of the American West.
This was 1878, remember, and the American West was still very wild indeed. The real Al Swearengen - played by Ian McShane in the HBO series Deadwood - opened his Gem saloon there in April 1877, going on to run the prostitution and opium trades in a mining town every bit as squalid and lawless as the TV series depicts. Wild Bill Hickok had died only in 1876, Jesse James survived until 1882, and the indian wars lasted till 1890.
Cole's circus pushed into each new territory as soon as a railway line was laid to take it there, and was often the first professional entertainment the town had ever seen. Many of the towns Martin and Anna visited during this phase of their careers must have been just as rough as Deadwood, and a very far cry from the European palaces they'd frequented seven years before.

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