The Kentucky River Giant: Conclusion

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023


Contributing columnist

Ray Welday was a next-door neighbor and business associate of Martin Van Buren Bates, the Kentucky River Giant. Once when they had a disagreement Bates bought a parrot and trained it for weeks before putting it’s cage on the porch. There it would tell Welday, “Get off the grass, get off the grass.”

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The Kentucky River Giant died in 1919, at age 74. It was written at the time that Bates lived to an unusual age for giants, noting that giants generally don’t live to advanced ages.

Although giants were not common there were giants living in different parts of the world in olden times. Choung Chi, a Chinese giant, was 8 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 500 pounds. Donald McGregor, known as “The Scottish Giant,” was 8 feet, 2½ inches tall and weighed 463 pounds. There were many others.

Bates bought his casket years before following the fiasco after Anna’s death.

When it arrived at the railway station it required four stout men to handle. They stored the casket in the barn where it remained for many years before being put to use.

The giant asked several men to serve as his pallbearers. The funeral director named several additional ones because, “The chosen crew just wasn’t strong enough.”

The pallbearers were able to carry the casket to the hearse after the service but found that the vehicle was too short for the coffin. The casket hung out the back of the hearse, which sagged in the back, as they slowly proceeded to the graveyard.

“Captain Bates looked nice,” a friend wrote in a letter on the day of the funeral. “I will miss him. The pallbearers weren’t strong enough and the hearse wasn’t long enough. Mr. Armstrong, the funeral director, had to tie the casket in because the rear doors wouldn’t shut. He had all sorts of problems.”

An interest in the giants and their baby resurfaced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1932. Plaster molds of Martin, Anna and the baby were displayed.

Models and drawings are part of a continuing exhibit in the Cleveland, Ohio, Health Museum.

Many visitors to Medina County visit the museum which honors the eastern Kentucky native. An annual festival was held in his honor until just a few years ago.

Martin and Anna are buried in the Mound Hill Cemetery in Seville, Ohio, beside their baby. A giant statue of Anna, on a large pedestal, towers above.

Many relatives of Martin Van Buren Bates still reside in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, and the western part of Virginia, but none are held with such lofty regard as “The Kentucky River Giant.”

He and his wife were the tallest couple, that we know of, that ever lived.

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.