Captain and Mrs. Martin Van Buren Bates. Seville, Ohio's most famous couple.

CAPTAIN MARTIN BATES and ANNA SWAN, the world's tallest couple of record, posed for this picture with friend Lei McFarland. (Courtesy Medina County Historical Society)


When the War Between the States broke out, Martin Van Buren Bates left Emma Henry College in Virginia to enlist as a private in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry. Although only sixteen at the time, he already stood a little above six-feet tall. Apparently the youngster conducted himself well on the battlefield, for over the next couple years he received several promotions, the last as a captain in the Seventh Confederate Cavalry.

But all through the war, and for several years afterward, Captain Bates kept growing. By his own account, he finally stopped in his twenty-eighth year, after having reached a height of seven feet and eight inches and a weight of four hundred and seventy pounds.

After the war, the Whitesburg, Kentucky, giant earned his living by exhibiting himself in the United States and Canada. In 1870, Judge H. P. Ingalls, a well-known promoter, asked him to come to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and join a company he was organizing to tour Europe. There his eyes beheld Anna Haining Swan, a seven-foot, eleven-inch Scottish lass from Nova Scotia, and a courtship began.

In April, 1871, Judge Ingalls' company sailed for England. The two enormous sweethearts became an instant hit with the British public, and on June 2, Queen Victoria commanded their appearance at Buckingham Palace. Two weeks later, on June 17, the former Confederate captain and his fiancee, attired in her white satin gown with orange blossoms, spoke their vows before a large crowd in London's historic St.-Martin-in-the-Fields church. Wedding presents from Queen Victoria included a cluster diamond ring for the bride and a watch and chain for the groom. The wedding made world headlines and put the Bates in the record books as history's tallest known married couple.

After a brief honeymoon, the couple returned to London where they gave a private reception for the Prince of Wales, who invited them to be his guests at Marlborough House. They appeared a second time before the Queen, at Windsor, then set out on a tour of the provincial towns in England and Scotland.

Upon their return to the States, the Bates decided to take a vacation tour of the West and Midwest, then buy a farm and settle down. While in Ohio, they passed through Seville. That country appealed to them, so Captain Bates purchased one hundred and thirty acres of good farm land near the town and drew plans for a house big enough to accommodate giants. "The house he built on that farm... astounded visitors of ordinary size for 70 years," writes Lee Cavin. "It had 14-foot ceilings in the principal wing. The doors were 8 feet high. The furniture was built to order. Captain Bates delighted in seeing normal-size people dwarfed in his house, saying, 'Seeing our guests make use of it recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift's traveler in the land of Brobdingnag.

"In 1878,1879, and 1880," continues Cavin, "the giant couple returned to the road as members of the W. W. Cole Circus. This circus, founded in 1871, was noted because it was the first to play many western towns. Its special train was close on the heels of railroad construction throughout the area. The reasons for the return to the road of the couple should be familiar ones to anyone who has built a new home. According to Seville contemporaries, the cost of the giant house exceeded expectations."

Mrs. Bates bore the Captain two children. During the second year of their British tour, an eighteen-pound daughter died at birth. In the winter of 1879, after a difficult delivery, she gave birth to a twenty-three pound boy that measured thirty inches in length. How-ever, the child died the next day. In 1888, after years of declining health, Anna Swan Bates also died. The Seville Times devoted three columns to her obituary.

About a dozen years later, Captain Bates married Lavonne Weatherby, a daughter of the pastor of the Seville Baptist Church, which he and his first wife had long attended. The new Mrs. Bates stood just over five feet tall.

Seville's most famous resident lived seventy-four years, but in January, 1919, he finally yielded to a lingering illness.