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Giants' wedding: continued

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Back in Seville, Anna entered 1879 preparing for the birth of her second child. She began a hellish labour on January 15, attended by AP Beach, the small but dapper local doctor. When Anna's waters broke, she produced an estimated six gallons of fluid, and Beach called in his colleague Dr Robinson for help.
As the labour progressed, Beach and Robinson found the baby's head was too big to fit their forceps around it, and so they were forced to help him emerge by pulling at a strong bandage placed round his neck. The 22lb baby boy who appeared in the early hours of January 19, died after just 11 hours and was never named. His gravestone reads only “Babe”. Contemporary models of the child, sculpted with an average baby for comparison, make Babe look like a toddler holding his infant brother. “He was 28” tall, weighed 22lbs and was perfect in every respect,” Martin later wrote. “He looked at birth like an ordinary child of six months” (11).
Martin and Anna embarked on a second tour with Cole's circus later that year, partly to distract Anna from the pain of losing a second child, but they would never tour again. Their last public appearance together came in 1882 at the Barnum and Bailey Spectacular in Cleveland, where old friends remarked how thin and pale Anna was looking. On August 5, 1888, she died peacefully of heart failure, brought on by the consumption she'd suffered since 1874. It was the day before her 42nd birthday.

Anna left an estate of $40,000, willing $500 of this to each of her parents and $1,250 to each of her six surviving siblings. Martin commissioned a suitable coffin for her from a Cleveland company, sending them the required measurements by telegram. Unfortunately, the company decided these dimensions must be a mistake and delivered a standard coffin instead. It took Martin an agonising three days to get the proper casket made up and delivered, and he never forgot this experience.
The funeral, watched by a large crowd, was conducted on the veranda of Martin and Anna's house, and she was buried at Seville's Mound Hill Cemetery alongside her son. Martin had a 15-foot statue of a woman in Greek robes erected there, meaning it as a tribute to Anna rather than a representation of her. His chosen inscription, from Psalm 17, read: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.”
A memorial service for Anna was held at the Baptist church she and Martin had attended, and their customised pew there was draped in mourning cloth. A stand full of flowers was placed where Anna used to sit. The Seville Times obituary mentioned her inquiring mind and thirst for knowledge, adding: “Her knowledge of the world was wide and varied, a fact which added in no small degree to her ability to entertain and instruct.”
Martin married again 1900, this time to Lavonne Weatherby, the daughter of a Baptist minister, who stood just over five feet tall and was some 30 years his junior. Lavonne insisted they move out of the giants' house to a normal home in Seville's East Main Street. This building already had the high ceilings which Martin needed, but the bedroom had to be enlarged to fit his enormous bed. The old house in Seville was sold, and eventually demolished by a family who found it too expensive to heat and maintain.
It was around this time that Martin - no doubt remembering his problems with Anna's coffin - commissioned a giant casket for himself and had it brought to Seville by train. A neighbour agreed to store it in his barn until it was required. That day came on January 19, 1919, when Martin succumbed to kidney failure at the age of 81. He was buried next to Anna, but not before enduring a somewhat disorderly funeral.
Finding the casket was too long to fit properly inside his hearse, the undertaker padded the end against any damage, and left it poking out from the hearse's rear door. It was feared the six pallbearers Martin had named in his will would not be strong enough for the task, so eight younger men were recruited to replace them. The six original nominees flanked the coffin as a honour guard instead.
And so the second of two truly remarkable lives came to its end. Few people remember Martin and Anna Bates today, let alone their wedding ceremony in the heart of Victorian London. For anyone who knows their story, though, it's impossible to pass through Trafalgar Square or glance up at St Martin's church without giving them a thought. Raise a glass to them next time you're there - and make it a tall one.

For a selection of Martin and Anna photographs, see

1) Daily Telegraph, June 19, 1871.
2) Liverpool Daily Courier, May 1871.
3) Liverpool Daily Post, May 1871.
4) Anna Swan: Nova Scotia's Remarkable Giantess
5) Harper's Bazaar, July 29, 1871.
6) This is the birth date shown on Martin's grave marker (see, and it's the one I've used in all my age calculations. Martin's autobiography gives his year of birth as 1845.
7) The Giant of the Hills: Martin van Buren Bates, Tennessee Independent Herald, August 5, 1993.
8) The Rest of the Story About the Civil War Giant, by Bruce Bates, FNB Chronicles, Spring 1998
9) The various sources contradict one another on the details of Martin's military career, so I've put together the most logical sequence I can from the available information.
10) The Giant of Letcher County, by Burdine Webb, reprinted in The Kentucky Explorer, June 2005.
11) The Kentucky Giant, by Martin van Buren Bates (Lulu, 2005).
12) Anna Swan, by Mary M Alward
13) New York Tribune, July 14, 1865.
14) A Dictionary of Victorian London, ed. Lee Jackson (Anthem Press, 2006).
15) British Library catalogue.
16) There Were Giants on the Earth! by Lee Cavin (Saville Chronicle, 1959).
17) Liverpool Leader, May 1871.
18) Mark Gilchrist, Whiteville News Reporter, October 2008.
19) Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Joanne Martell (John F Blair, 2000).
20) The History of the Carolina Twins, by “one of them” (Buffalo Couruier Printing House, 1868).
21) British Library Catalogue
22) Biographical Sketch of Millie Christine, the Carolina Twin. Surnamed the Two-Headed Nightingale and the Eighth Wonder of the World (Hennegan & Co, circa 1909).
23) Find a Grave

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Rick Geary's artwork for The Giants' Wedding

I first stumbled across Martin and Anna's story in 2004 as a single sentence in a book of London walks, and set about researching it just for my own interest. As I found out more and more about them, it struck me that the many dramatic visual elements of their story - the wedding, the Barnum fire, the Kentucky lynching - would make it ideal material for a graphic novel. As soon as that idea came to me, I knew Rick Geary would be the perfect artist.
      Rick's an American cartoonist whose work I've loved ever since I first saw it in National Lampoon back in the 1980s. In 2007, he completed a nine-volume series of graphic novels under the umbrella title A Treasury of Victorian Murder. Each of these meticulously-researched books tells the story of a different 19th Century killing, from the London Ripper murders to Lizzie Borden's double parricide and Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Rick's made the Victorian era something of a speciality, and always draws its characters and their world with great wit and charm.
      I sent Rick a copy of all my Martin and Anna research in early 2006 and suggested we pitch the idea round a few publishers. Just as I'd hoped, he found their story fascinating too, and confirmed it was just the sort of subject he liked to tackle. As ever, though, he was very busy, and had several other projects that would have to be completed first. The ball was in my court.
      You could buy $2 for every 1 then, which let me commission Rick to produce the sample splash page and the two portraits you see here. I framed the originals for my wall and started sending out photocopies and a synopsis to what I hoped were the most likely publishers.
      Of course, all that was before the Credit Crunch hit, so Lord knows whether the project will ever come to anything. In the meantime, we have the drawings here to savour, which Rick was kind enough to say I could reproduce on my site.

For more of Rick's work, see: