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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Kentucky Giant From Letcher County

Standing at a height of 7 foot and 7 and a half inches, Martin Van Buren Bates was known as the Kentucky Giant. What an impressive man he was, weighing in at a whooping 328 pounds. But there are some conflicting reports on just how large of a man he really was. Some sources list Bates at 7" and 11 inches tall and weighing over 500 pounds. My guess is that he weighed more than 328 pounds. While he was known as the Kentucky Giant, he also was called "Kentucky River Giant", "Giant of the South", and "Baby". He had gotten the nickname baby when he was 11 years old.

Bates was born in 1837 in Letcher county Kentucky to normal sized parent and hit a growth spurt around the age of 7. By the time he was 12 years old, Bates was over 6 foot tall and weighed over 200 pounds and was still growing.

Bates fights in the Civil War

Bates joined the 5th Kentucky Infantry Confederate States Army, as a private, in 1861. His ferocity in battle and imposing figure saw him quickly promoted to the rank of captain. But the Kentucky Giant would later be severely injured in a battle around the Cumberland Gap area and be taken prisoner. Bates was held at Camp Chase in Ohio, as a prisoner of war bates was taken through the town of Louisa, Ky., en route to Camp Chase he was observed astride a small mule, his feet sweeping the ground as he rode. Later, it is reported, that Bates escaped his imprisonment at Camp Chase.

After the war, Bates returned home to Kentucky but didn't stay very long and opted to go to Cincinnati. It was at this point in his life he joined the circus became the star of the show. He traveled throughout the eastern part of U.S and parts of Canada. There he met his future wife, Anna Hannon Swan, known as "Giantess of Nova Scotia" who was almost eight feet tall, She also became part of the circus.

Martin and Anna was married in 1871 highly publicized wedding, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England. The wedding drew 1000's of people.
Martin and Anna moved to Ohio in 1872, settling in Seville. Bates had purchased 130 acres of good farm land with the idea of farming. Bates had also built a house designed especially for their comfort and even had furniture custom built. But once again the Kentucky Giant joined the circus as the leading attraction of the W.W. Cole Circus during the seasons 1878, 1879, and 1880.

Anna Bates was also a spectacular spectacle to behold. She stood a whopping 7" and 11 inches tall. She was also born of normal sized parents but weighed 16 pounds at birth. Anna excelled at literature and music and was considered to be very intelligent. She also excelled at her studies of acting, piano and voice. She played Lady Macbeth in one play. At one time, she nearly burned to death when Barnum's museum was destroyed by fire. The stairs were in flames and she was too large to escape through a window. She did get help and escaped safely. She normally weighed 330 pounds and her highest weight was 371 pounds.

Martin and Anna conceived two children. The first was a girl born on May 19, 1872; she weighed 18 pounds but sadly died at birth. The second child, a boy, was born on January 18, 1879, and survived only 11 hours. The child was the largest newborn ever recorded, at 23 pounds 9 ounces and nearly 30 inches tall; each of his feet was six inches long. For this he was posthumously awarded a Guinness World Record.

Anna spend the remaining years of her life quietly on the farm that she and her husband owned. She died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep at her home on August 5, 1888, one day before her 42nd birthday.

In 1897 Martin remarried, this time to a woman of normal stature, Annette LaVonne Weatherby. The couple lived a rather peaceful life. Martin passed away in January of 1919, he was 81 years old. Martin and Anna are buried in Seville, Ohio. After Anna's death in 1888, Martin ordered a statue of her from Europe for her grave, sold the oversized house, and moved into the town.

The plaque reads something like this, per reports:
"Here lies Martin, his wife Anna Haining Bates, their son who died as an infant, and their daughter who was still-born. "

Martin's second wife, Annette, passed away in April of 1940 at the age of 81. She is buried in Erie Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

Can you imagine what imposing figures Martin and Anna were? I would guess no one gave them much trouble.

But there you have it, a real Kentucky giant who lived a fascinating life.

I hope you enjoyed the post.


This post by Thomas Marcum, Thomas is the founder/leader of the cryptozoology and paranormal research organization known as The Crypto Crew. Over 20 years experience with research and investigation of unexplained activity, working with video and websites. A trained wild land firefighter and a published photographer, and poet.

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