The sun had barely peeked over the horizon when I pulled through the gates of Mound Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of Seville, Ohio. I turned left immediately inside the gate and parked on the roadway paralleling East Main Street. I noted the grounds crew were already busy trimming trees and mowing the grass as I stepped out of the vehicle and scanned the cemetery grounds.
As I stood there, one of the men walked over to where I stood. “They’re buried over there,” he said as he pointed towards a large monument in the midst of the field of stone. I merely stared at him unsure what to say. “You are searching for the graves of Martin and Anna Bates, aren’t you?”
“Uhhhh, yes,” I admitted. “How’d you know?”
“I noticed your license plate,” he spoke. “You’re from out of state and most out-of-staters are looking for the Bates’ grave.”
I thanked him for his help and as he went back to work I headed toward the large monument topped by a statue of a lady, The statue is a life-sized likeness of Anna Bates, one of the two giants buried here. She, along with her husband Martin, and their two children rest within the borders of the Mound Hill Cemetery.
Martin Van Buren Bates, who was known as “The Kentucky Giant,” was born November 9, 1837, in Letcher County, Kentucky, the last of twelve children. His growth spurt began around the age of six and by the age of fourteen he stood over seven feet tall.
Martin served as a school teacher and joined the Fifth Kentucky Infantry at the start of the Civil War. He quickly rose to the rank of Captain and was known by many Union soldiers as the “Confederate Giant.” Stories of his fierce fighting spread among the Union soldiers. In one skirmish he was wounded and captured, but was able to escape.
At the end of the Civil War, Martin returned to Kentucky. Finding his home state in turmoil with Union and Confederate supporters still fighting, Martin sold his property and moved across the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Shortly after this move, he joined P.T. Barnum’s circus. While the circus was in Halifax, Canada, he met Anna Swan.
Anna Swan Bates was born August 6, 1846 in Mill Brook, New Annan (Nova Scotia), Canada. Unlike Martin, who was of “normal” baby size when he was born, Anna weighed sixteen pounds at birth. She was the third child of thirteen and all of the others were of average height and weight. By her fifth birthday she was four and a half feet tall and by her fifteenth birthday she was six feet tall. Anna would eventually reach the height of seven and a half feet.
Anna had a passion for literature and music and was extremely intelligent. She was noted for her singing and her ability to play the piano. While Martin had toured with the circus, Anna did not have the same desire to tour, though she did join Martin on the road from time to time. Instead, she would often appear at P.T. Barnum’s museum or in the homes of notable people to have tea parties.
Martin and Anna married June 18, 1871, while in London, England. The spectacle of their wedding drew thousands of curious Londoners who wanted to witness the ceremony.
In 1872, Martin purchased one hundred and thirty acres near the community of Seville, Ohio, where they became active members of the community. There they had a house constructed with fourteen-foot-tall ceilings and doors that were eight and a half feet high. The back portion of the house had normal sized rooms for their servants and guests.
The giant couple would have no heirs, though Anna conceived twice. The first was a stillborn girl on May 19, 1872, while they were in England. The second child was a baby boy born January 15, 1879, who survived eleven hours. Their son was twenty-three pounds, seven ounces and was shy of thirty inches long, with feet that were six inches long. His stone merely states “Babe,” on it.
To deal with their tragedy, the Bates returned to touring. They would tour for two more years before permanently retiring from the circus to the farm outside Seville. The two were often seen riding around town in their large carriage that was drawn by Clydesdales.
Anna would die unexpectedly in her sleep on August 5, 1888, the day before her birthday. Martin had a life-sized statue of Anna created and placed on top her grave.
He would eventually remarry in 1897 to Annette Weatherby, who was “normal” sized. Martin would pass in 1919 of nephritis and was buried with his wife and children in Mound Hill Cemetery.
I finished paying my respects to Martin and Anna and waved my thanks to the groundskeeper as I returned to my vehicle. Exiting the cemetery, I headed towards the opposite side of town for a brief stop at Stanhope Park. Located on the western edge of town, at the intersection of West Main and Pleasant Streets, the park is what one would expect to see in small town America with some playground equipment and a pavilion. At the corner of the intersection stands an Ohio State Historical Marker that provided insight about the giant couple. After reading the information on the marker I headed out of town, leaving Martin, Anna, and family resting in the quiet of the early morning.
Note: I do not want to sound insensitive or morbid about the subject of children dying, but there was a lot of information I searched through regarding the Bates family. I discovered that, while the information about the son of Martin and Anna is the same in all sources, information about their first born varies.
However, there is conflicting information that has been reported over the years. They had one daughter and one son, not two sons like many places state. Their daughter was stillborn, though numerous places state she lived for a couple months before passing. Their daughter was not a “normal” sized baby like numerous accounts have reported.
The version that I believe to be correct is that their daughter was stillborn on May 19, 1872, while the couple was in England. She weighed more than eighteen pounds and was a little over twenty-seven inches long. Although many sources maintain that their daughter was buried in the Mound Hill Cemetery, I’m not one hundred percent sure this is correct, though a stone stating “Sister” does exist in the family plot. Some sources state she was buried in England, while others state that she was brought back to America and buried in Seville. Yet another source states that her body was donated to a museum in London. Even the Ohio Historical Marker fails to mention their daughter, instead stating that Martin, Anna, and their son are buried in Mound Hill Cemetery, so the stone may be a cenotaph to their daughter who is buried elsewhere.