The weather was rather unpleasant Thursday night, Jan. 25; the temperature was – 9 C. For some, the decision to stay at home was probably an easy one.
Others, between 70 and 80 or so, chose to go to the museum and meet, if you will, Anna Swan, a giantess, who was born in New Annan.
Dale Swan, a volunteer heritage worker from Tatamagouche, was to give an illustrated talk on the life of Anna. The retired teacher and Anna’s great-grand nephew has been described as the heart and soul of the Anna Swan Museum, at the Creamery Square, Tatamagouche. As the presentation began, it was obvious Swan knew the facts; the Colchester Historeum audience was immediately held captive by his interesting tales regarding Anna’s life.
Born Aug. 6, 1846, Anna was destined to grow to be 7-ft. 11-in. in height. During her youth, her father had to on occasion, build an addition onto her bed.
A petition also had to be removed from the side of the family cabin to allow Anna’s bedroom to be extended. Attending school in Central New Annan, Anna sat at a desk the size of a kitchen table. On occasion, her desk was raised higher by adding additional planks below the legs. Desiring to become a teacher, Anna attended Normal College in Truro.
A major twist in Anna’s life saw her accept a contract at the American Museum in New York. A formal introduction to “The Kentucky Giant” Martin Van Buren Bates, standing 7-ft. 9-in. and weighing 500 pounds, also had significant consequences. They met again on a tour of England and Scotland. While in London, they announced their engagement. They were invited to Buckingham Palace where they met Queen Victoria.
Married June 17, 1871, the Queen gifted Anna with a wedding dress made of 60 yards of lace. Both giants were given watches. Swan, in his interesting presentation, described Martin and Anna vacationing in New Annan. He also spoke of their purchasing 130 acres of land in Seville, Ohio, this is where they built a giant house.
Depending on who you might talk to following Swan’s presentation, a favourite highlight could be recalled.
One colourful story demonstrated that Anna did not appreciate Martin swearing or fist-fighting. Swan described the 500-lb. giant taking on four men in a fist fight at the Seville barbershop. Everyone listened intently to the story, when Swan completed the tale, the audience responded with a roar of laughter.
“The first two went out through the door,” said Swan. “Do you know what happened to the other two? Martin threw them both through the window.”
Anna died in her sleep Aug. 5, 1888, one day before her 42nd birthday.
Joyce Ferguson, of The Falls, assists Swan during presentations at schools and during public functions. Both are members of the North Shore Archives Society.
Taking part at the Historeum, Ferguson wore a dress, one of three replicas made by Mermaid Theatre for the 1978 play called Giant Anna. The dress was styled from fashion in the 1860s and 1870s. Ferguson also demonstrated an interesting measuring stick.
“This is made up of yard sticks and some metre sticks,” Ferguson said. “It is calibrated to Anna’s height. This measuring stick is a good tool for demonstrations.”
Ferguson is also a distant relative of the giantess as her great-great-great-grandfather, James “Miller Jim” Swan, was an older brother to Anna’s father Alexander.
After Swan spoke and as refreshments were being enjoyed, comments from people in the audience added to the occasion.
“We have a strange curiosity about giants,” Ruth Matheson, of Brookfield, said.
“We find giants very interesting. It’s amazing how well Anna went on to do in life; it certainly shows the strength of her character.”
Arden Whidden, of Bible Hill, also commented.
“I feel we have a fascination with giants. Dale Swan’s talk was well received by the audience, there were good vibes. I couldn’t get over the turnout, that was a big crowd, considering the night.”
Jane Henderson, Sandra McInnis and others in attendance, likewise enjoyed the ‘giant’ subject and Swan’s illustrated talk.
“We were very pleased with the big turnout,” Elinor Maher, of the Colchester Historeum, said. “People always were interested in giants; people apparently stared at them on the street. I suppose it had something to do with people being interested in things that deviate from the norm.”
Lyle Carter’s column appears every second Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 902-673-2857.