Anna the Giantess

anna swan

People scrambled past to an emergency staircase; an
escape that Anna could not use. Her close friend, Isaac Sprague, “The
Living Skeleton,” ran to her and stayed by her side, despite the growing
flames below. At last, rescuers reached the third floor and smashed through
the wall. Isaac escaped to the stairs as Anna was harnessed to a crane,
hoisted precariously over a street of cheering spectators and lowered to
safety. Shaking from fright, Anna climbed into a carriage and raced away
from the flaming museum that was once her home.

Anna Swan was born in Tatamagouche, a farming community in Nova Scotia,
Canada on August 6, 1846, with a remarkable weight of 13 lbs. Her
parents devoted themselves to their little girl but she grew tremendously
and by the time she was 4 years old, Anna was 4’ 6”.

To help with expenses, Anna’s parents put her on exhibition in Halifax.
Anna’s extraordinary size fascinated crowds who paid for the chance to see
the “Infant Giantess.” The young girl stood shyly next to her parents,
hiding her face behind her mother’s shoulder, as hundreds of spectators
peered at her.

After her first day of school, 6-year-old Anna returned home in tears.
Standing at 5’4”, Anna loomed over her classmates. The children were
shocked by her size and teased her. “I hate being different from the
others!” she cried.

In her mother’s arms, Anna felt the support of her family, who knew there
was much more to Anna than just her size. Her grandmother told her, “Stand
tall and be proud of your Highland ancestry!” Anna bravely continued school
and her warm, gentle personality shone through and soon, she won the hearts
of her classmates.

Anna continued to grow, and life became more difficult. At school, she had
to sit on a high stool and her desk needed to be raised on planks. Anna had
ten younger siblings and everyone in the house was average-sized. In their
average-sized home, she stooped through doorways and bumped into furnitures
which made her feels awkward and clumsy, the only place that she felt
comfortable was the outdoors,

wandering through meadows or reading under a tree. “I feel so clear-headed
in the wide-open spaces!” she said.

When Anna was 15-year-old, she was 7’ (2m) tall. Whenever she walked in
town, people stopped to gawk at her or ask personal questions about her
size. Anna was overwhelmed by the attention and the intrusion of rude
strangers. As the family ate dinner at home, Anna sat on the floor with her
back against the wall. She gazed longingly at the family table that she no
longer fit. Her own meal was served on a table placed over her legs, built
just to her size. She wondered if there would ever be a place for her in
the world.

Anna was 17 years old and nearly eight feet tall when a visitor
came to her house with an exciting offer. The director, Phineas T. Barnum,
asked Anna to join the American Museum in New York City as the “The Tallest
Girl in the World.” The museum was a fantastic exhibition of curiosities.
It was a zoo, an art gallery, a theatre and a concert hall filled with
unique animals and “human oddities”. Anna couldn’t resist the opportunity
and took a leap of faith.

At the museum, Anna was finally “at home”. She had a spacious room with a
large, custom-made furniture and a wardrobe filled with beautiful fitted
gowns. She received three hours of tutoring each day and learned to play
the piano and perform in stage plays.

Anna was a huge success and had never been happier. She loved to meet and
interact with people, especially children. Hundreds of people were drawn to
her charming talents and warm personality. With her kindness and
generosity, Anna made valuable friendships with other performers who

were teased and shunned by society just like her. Anna wrote home often,
sharing stories of her experiences and friendships. From her weekly pay of
$23 in gold, (a small fortune) Anna sent money to support her family.

Anna’s life took a drastic turn when a fire destroyed the American Museum.
Too big to use the fire escape, she was lifted to safety by crane. Anna
returned home to recover from the disaster and soon after, she joined the
American Museum Tour of Europe.

In England, Anna met Queen Victoria, who was charmed by the Nova Scotia
Giantess. Anna also met Martin Bates, known as “The Kentucky Giant,” who
was 7’8” tall which she fell in love with him instantly and they were soon
engaged.

The Queen gave Anna a wedding dress made from 100 yards of satin and
50 yards of lace. Anna’s closest friends from the museum and the city
of London celebrated the wedding as if they were royalty.

Now known as “The Tallest Married Couple in the World”, Anna and Martin
returned to North America and built a home in Seville, Ohio. The house had
14’ ceilings, 8’ doorways and enormous furniture. The rocking chair was so
big that an average-sized person needed to climb up the rungs to sit on it.

Anna was delighted in her home and marriage, but devastated by the two
children she lost in childbirth. Her grief was consoled by family and
friends and her joy of teaching Sunday school. Each week,

children looked forward to class with their giant teacher, whose heart was
as big as she. Kind and generous, Anna was loved by the community.

Anna and Martin’s home offered fellowship to everyone. Many of Anna’s
dearest friends enjoyed the safe refuge she provided, away from the prying
eyes of the public. She enjoyed time with Fedor Jeftichew, the “Dog-Faced
Boy,” a Russian man who could speak five languages. She visited with Millie
and Christine McCoy, “The Two-Headed Nightingale,” conjoined twins who sang
at Anna’s wedding. Anna never judged others by their appearance or how they
acted or spoke. She fiercely believed that every person deserves equal
respect.

Anna passed away August 5, 1888, the night before her 42nd
birthday. The community who knew and loved Anna was grief-stricken by her
loss.

At her funeral, the minister read Mark 14:8 “She has done what she could.”
Anna had been teased and ridiculed in her life for being different. From
this, she learned to extend an open and welcoming presence to others. She
cared deeply about family, friendship and community and lived her life to
these beliefs.

Anna was buried in Mound Hill cemetery, in Seville. Below her life-sized
statue, an epitaph reads: “As for me, I will behold thy face in
righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I wake with thy likeness.”

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Anna the Giantess

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