The Giantess
Written and Directed by Maria Vail
Anna Swan
Categories: Uncategorized

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Anna Swan

- from Accounts of Giants in North America, by Steve Quayle

Born at Mill Brook, Nova Scotia, in 1846, Anna Haining Swan joined P. T. Barnum’s gallery of wonders in the early 1860s and became the best known giantess of her day. Barnum proclaimed that his four male giants stood above eight feet and advertised Miss Swan’s height as seven feet eleven inches. However, according to Dr. A. P. Beach, her physician when she lived at Seville, she only measured seven feet nine inches.

One of thirteen children born to Scottish immigrants Alexander and Ann Swan, Anna grew so rapidly that at age six she already stood as tall as her mother. By age sixteen she towered seven feet high and had many curious people following her through the streets.

Barnum, in his autobiography, recounts that he “first heard of her through a Quaker who came into my office one day and told me of a wonderful girl, 17 years of age, who resided near him at Pictou, Nova Scotia, and who was probably the tallest girl in the world.

”I asked him to obtain her exact height. He did and sent it to me, and I at once sent an agent who in due time came back with Anna Swan.

”She was an intelligent and by no means ill-looking girl, and during the long period she was in my employe she was visited by thousands of persons.”44 In February, 1864, Barnum took his American Museum to New York where crowds flocked to see the curiosities. But on July 13, 1865, fire broke out in the museum and spread so quickly that the giantess barely escaped. Rescuers found Miss Swan at the top of the stairway “in a swooning condition from the smoke.” Because of her great size, it took eighteen men using a block and tackle to remove her from the burning building. The blaze reportedly cost her every-thing she owned except the clothes on her back. Her trunk, which the fire destroyed, contained $1,200 in gold plus a sizable amount of “greenbacks.”

Anna Swan towers over her sister Maggie, who visited the Bates at their farm near Medina, Ohio 

(Courtesy Medina County Historical Society)

In 1870, Miss Swan met Captain Martin Van Buren Bates from Letcher County, Kentucky, when the two giants joined Judge H. P. Ingalls’ company for a tour of Europe. The next year, following their presentation to Queen Victoria, they were married in London’s historic St-Martin-in-the-Fields church. After a grand tour of England and Scotland, the couple returned to the States and bought a farm near Seville, Ohio.

(Contemporary Lee Cavin wrote: “The house he built on that farm … astounded visitors of ordinary size for 70 years.  It had 14-foot ceilings in the principal wing. The doors were 8 feet high. The furniture was built to order. Captain Bates delighted in seeing normal-size people dwarfed in his house”.)  -























The giantess gave birth to two “abnormally large” children, but both soon died. In 1888, tuberculosis claimed her own life.In its obituary, the Seville Times described Anna Swan as a learned woman who “at an early age developed an inquiring mind” and a thirst for knowledge. “Even when independent of the resources of her native home,” the newspaper added, “she continued her habits of study; she had thus acquired a breadth of information and a facility of expression which made her very interesting as a companion and conversationalist…. Her knowledge of the world was wide and varied, a fact which in no small degree added to her ability to entertain and instruct.

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