Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Looking for Giants

When I taught first grade I used to introduce our plant unit with a picture book called, Jasper's Beanstalk. It's a short story about an impatient cat who plants a beanstalk and ends up Looking for giants. This week, as I put the finishing touches on the revisions suggested by my beta readers, I found myself Looking for giants. The giant reference I needed was just for one line, yet, as a writer, we know that every line matters. 

In my research I discovered several stories about real life giants three of which I found interesting and thought you would, too. Most of these giants suffered from Acromegaly a serious condition that occurs when the body produces too much of the hormones that control growth. Today, we are able to treat Acromegaly through drugs, radiation or surgery, but one hundred years ago no one understood the disease, let alone how to treat it. If there had been a treatment, we may never have heard of Anna Haining Bates, Jane Bunford, or Zhan Shi Chai.

anna haining bates


Anna (1846 – 1888) was one of thirteen children and came into the world weighing eighteen pounds. By the time she was seventeen, she had reached her full height of 7 feet 5 ½ inches and weighed around three-hundred and fifty pounds. Like many with her affliction, Anna supported herself through touring with the circus. Anna's show consisted of her putting a tape measure around her waist and then doing the same to a lady from the audience. The tape would go around the average woman's waist three times. While touring Anna met her husband and fellow giant Martin Van Buren Bates. The Bates had two children, a stillborn daughter and a son who only lived for eleven hours, but until 1955 held the Guinness world record for the largest baby born in recorded history.
Image result for Anna Haining Bates
The husband and wife team retired from touring in 1880 with Anna passing in her sleep eight years later. When her husband requested a coffin from Cleveland, they assumed the measurements they received were a mistake and sent a standard sized coffin instead. After being assured by Martin that he knew his wife's measurements and yes, she actually existed, a proper coffin was sent three days later.


Jane “Jinny” Bunford (1895-1922)
Jane started life as a normal child in Bartley Green, a suburb of Birmingham, England, but a fall from her bike and subsequent head injury is believed to have damaged her pituitary gland. Jane grew until she reached somewhere between 7’11”, and 7’8”. 

Unlike most who suffered with this affliction, Jane avoided the circus tours choosing instead to work in the Cadbury factory in her home town of Bunford. Due to her lack of life on the circus, no photographs of her have ever been seen by or shown to the general public.  Jane, kind and gentle in demeanor, never married, but often watched neighborhood children.

Like many with hyperactive pituitary glands, Jane Bunford, died young. Guinness listed her as the tallest woman ever born. She also had the record for the longest hair; her auburn mane hung to a height of over eight feet.

zhan shi chai
Zhan Shichai (1841-1893)
Zhan Shichai, whose stage name was Chang Woo Gow, toured the world as Chang the Chinese Giant. His height was claimed to be over 8 feet. Zhan left China in 1865 to travel to London where he appeared on stage, later travelling around Europe, the US, and Australia. Zhan was educated in various countries ultimately learning to speak ten languages. While touring in America, he earned a salary of $500 a month, that's about $10,000 in today's dollars.

After the death of Kin Foo, the Chinese wife who accompanied Zhan from China, he married Catherine Santley, a Liverpudlian whom he met in Sydney, Australia. They had two children: Edwin, born in 1877 in Shanghai, and Ernest, born in 1879 in Paris.

In 1878, Zhan, like Anna, retired from the stage but unlike most of the other giants of his day, lived to see his fiftieth birthday.

Had you heard of real life giants before? Discovered interesting facts while researching one line in your ms? Wished finding the words to make that one line work wasn't so hard? As for the giants line that kick started this entire theme, it was cut. 

14 comments:

Julie Flanders said...

I hadn't heard of this condition before. I love history and stories like these that are about real people are so interesting. I can't imagine what it must have been like for these people when no one understood what had caused them to be so big.

Crystal Collier said...

LOVE the giant history. =) I do actually have a couple friends who reach into these massive proportions. One is 7'4", and I tell you what, he was an interesting dance partner. My best friend in elementary came from a family where her mom was 6'11", and her dad 7'2". I felt like the ultimate shorty while hanging out. Their youngest son often played the role of Andre the giant in skits and the like, because he was HUGE. Ah, good memories.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

It must have been a difficult life back then. I doubt it would be a whole lot easier now, but at least they would have more options open to them.

Gah! All that awesome research and then its cut. I've done that too.

Angela Verges said...

Thanks for this interesting piece of history. I had not heard this before.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This was interesting. I knew what created giants but never read such details of real people.
I rewrote an important sentence six times last night until I found the right words. It was my giant for the day.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never knew what caused the growth. I knew most didn't live full lives because of it. Thanks, that was fascinating.

Nick Wilford said...

It's interesting. The coffin story is quite tragicomic but everything would have been difficult. In the Lake District in England, there's a town where a giant lived, and he seems to have been quite well cared for and they're proud of him. You can tour his specially built house which is now a museum and view his giant bed!

The Happy Whisk said...

Wow, it sounded like it was not an easy thing to deal with. And like Holly said, probably wouldn't be much easier today, either.

Maybe a good basketball player though.

LD Masterson said...

It's sad that the career path most available to those who don't fit what we consider "normal" used to be the circus.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Funny that the line got cut out, but sometimes it's worth it to have learned something new and interesting. I seem to recall that the disorder that causes them also causes them great pain, which made me so sad.

Medeia Sharif said...

I've read about this condition.

I go off on all sorts of tangents when I'm researching. I can't help it when I stumble on fascinating info. I want to keep reading and learning.

~Sia McKye~ said...

What an interesting post. How sad that Anna lost her children. But then, many women lost their children in the 18oo's.

Oh, I find all kinds of fun tidbits when researching. I actually have to apply discipline blinders so I keep on track for answers I'm looking for. :-)

Sia McKye Over Coffee

cleemckenzie said...

This is one reason I love writing. You find out so many interesting things. I'd never heard of this disease before. Being a giant has to have it's problems. Coffins. Beds. Doorways. I can't imagine what all!

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Julie, I imagine it really was pretty difficult.

Wow, Crystal, that is tall. Glad to allow you a moment to reminiscence.

I was sad it was cut,Southpaw, but at least I learned something in the process.

Thank you, Angela, I learned something new, too.

Aww, Susan, I FEEL your writing pain!

You're welcome, Alex. Yes, the disease took it's toll on their life in many ways.

How nice of the people in Lake District, Nick, to make their giant feel loved instead of strange.

The Happy Whisk, yes, today's basketball coaches would sign them up in a heartbeat.

I agree, L.D., it had to be a hard life being stared at all the time. I'm glad it payed well.

Shannon, you are correct, a lot of physical and mental pain.

Medeia, not letting myself get lost in the research can be challenging at times.

Sia, my heart broke for Anna as well. Such a tragic lost.

C.Lee, yes, I do find myself on a lot of interesting bunny trails.

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