In the annals of human history, there have been tales of extraordinary people whose towering stature or unusual physical attributes have captivated the public’s imagination. Among them were Anna Haining Bates and her husband Martin Van Buren Bates, a colossal couple whose larger-than-life story defied the norms of their time.
Anna Haining Swan was born in 1846 in Nova Scotia, Canada, into a family of 13 children. But Anna was different from her siblings in a remarkable way. At the tender age of 15, she already stood at a towering height of 7 feet 11½ inches (2.1 meters) and weighed over 212 pounds (100 kg). Her feet were equally impressive, measuring 13½ inches (34 cm) in length. During her early years, Anna’s body was proportionate, but her growth showed no signs of slowing down.
By the age of 17, Anna reached her full height, which surpassed 90.5 inches (230 cm). Yet, the exact measurement remains a subject of debate, as she was slightly taller than her future husband, Martin Van Buren Bates, who was himself an extraordinary figure standing at around 8 feet (2.41 meters). To preserve his ego, some sources claimed Anna’s height to be approximately 7.4 feet (2.2 meters).
Martin Van Buren Bates hailed from Kentucky, born in 1837 into a family of normal-sized individuals. But his growth trajectory was far from ordinary. By the age of six or seven, he had already exceeded a height of 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) and weighed nearly 380 pounds (140 kg) before his 14th birthday. Initially, Martin worked as a schoolteacher, but his life took a dramatic turn with the outbreak of the Civil War. He joined the Confederate Army and quickly rose to the rank of captain, earning fame as the “Confederate giant” known for his immense stature and formidable combat skills.
Following the war, Martin ventured into the circus world, where he showcased his colossal presence to the awe-struck audiences. Meanwhile, Anna excelled in the arts and academia, displaying her intelligence through literature, music, acting, and more. In 1865, she faced a harrowing incident when a fire broke out in Barnum’s museum. Rescuing her was no easy task, as the burning stairs and small windows posed challenges. It took the combined efforts of museum staff and 18 others to safely lower Anna to the ground floor.
Fate brought Martin and Anna together when he visited the circus where she was performing during a tour of Canada. The circus manager immediately saw the potential of having a giant couple and employed Martin. Love blossomed between the two, leading to their marriage in 1871. They purchased 130 acres (52 hectares) of land and adapted their housing to accommodate their colossal size.
Their union resulted in two children. Tragedy struck when their firstborn passed away just hours after birth in 1872. In 1879, Anna became pregnant again, and her labor lasted an agonizing 36 hours. The baby, born with astonishing proportions—weighing 23 pounds (10 kg), measuring nearly 30 inches in height, and boasting six-inch-long feet—earned Anna a Guinness World Record on behalf of her newborn.
Anna and Martin, deeply affected by the loss of their children, retired from public life, seeking solace in their home. In 1888, tragedy struck again when Anna unexpectedly passed away in her sleep due to heart failure.
To honor his beloved wife, Martin ordered a statue of Anna from Europe to place at her grave. He sold their oversized home and relocated to town, where he remarried an average-sized woman in 1897. The couple lived a peaceful life until Martin’s death in 1919, leaving behind the legacy of a giant love story that defied convention and continues to intrigue and inspire to this day.