The love giants: Part IV

Published 2:31 pm Monday, February 13, 2023

The love giants: Part IV


Contributing columnist

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Martin Van Buren and his wife Anna Bates retired and resided in Scotland before relocating in Anna’s homeland, Nova Scotia. Later they moved to rural Medina County, Ohio, where they built a home that was large enough to give them comfort. The house was made of yellow pine shipped from the west. It was built with 14-foot ceilings and the doors were 8½ feet high. Their bed was ten feet in length with a height twice that of ordinary beds. Anna’s dressing table had a mirror of gigantic proportions.

Area residents loved the giants who drove about the countryside just like their normal-sized neighbors except their horses and carriage was huge. It was drawn by six stout Norman horses like Anheuser Busch used in their television commercials for many years. Anna loved children and held many youngsters on her lap.

Martin loved to dance but the floor of the McCleary home in rural Seville, Ohio, collapsed beneath the dancing giants due to their weight. Together they may have weighed between 800 and 900 pounds or more. The floor was repaired and the undaunted giants continued dancing at festive occasions.

Both were members of the First Baptist Church of Seville where the church officials added a special pew of much larger dimensions for their comfort.

A true story that Americans find of interest regards the time Anna took the carriage to the local train station to pick up the wee midget Lavinia. Lavinia’s husband, the popular midget Gen. Tom Thumb was one of the leading acts in the Barnum and Bailey Circus for many years and a good friend of Martin and Anna.

Lavinia looked like a little girl’s doll as she was sitting next to Anna. Attending to Mrs. Thumb during the visit was a two-headed woman, an exhibition oddity of the day.

The railroad industry experienced a rapid expansion into the western United States in the years following the War Between the States. The W. W. Cole Circus organized an extensive tour of the west and contracted the Love Giants, Martin Van Buren Bates and his wife Anna, as the featured attraction. The western tour was very successful and it resulted in other shows railroading to the west in the years that followed.

Anna became pregnant on their trip in 1878 and they took off from their exhibitions and travel. Both anxiously awaited the baby’s arrival. Everything seemed normal except Anna had become unusually large. Finally the day came for the baby’s arrival .

“I was called to the Bates home in Seville, Ohio, on January 18, 1879,” Dr. A. P. Beach wrote later. “Mrs. Bates was of such a tremendous size that I could not make a satisfactory examination. She remained in the initial stages of labor for 24 hours, and delivery began at 36 hours.” Dr. Beach called Dr. J. D. Robinson, of Wooster, Ohio, to assist him and after much difficulty the baby was delivered.

“When the membranes broke, what I estimated to be six gallons of fluid came pouring out of the mother,” Dr. Beach recorded. “The baby was the size of an average six-month old baby.”

In most cases giants are born to normal size parents but giants usually have normal size children. That wasn’t the case with Martin and Anna’s baby. They gave birth to a giant son, the largest known in history. He weighed a fraction under 24 pounds at birth and measured 30 inches in length. The baby boy’s feet were 5 1/2 inches long.

The baby lived for only a short while, dying eleven hours after birth. Dr. Beach wrote about the giant delivery in the Medical Record, a physician’s journal of that era. Martin Van Buren Bates also recorded his thoughts.

“We have been blessed with many things during the years,” Bates wrote. “But affliction again visited in January, 1879 with the loss of our son. He was perfect in every respect. He looked like an ordinary child except he appeared much larger and older.”

Following the death of the baby the couple cut back on their touring schedule making appearances only for recitals and Anna’s piano playing and singing. She never fully recovered her health and died from heart trouble on August 5, 1888.

Editor’s note: Read more next week. Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historic and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.