The Nova Scotia Giantess ExhibitThe Lost Museum Archive
The third of 13 children born to Scots-immigrant parents of ordinary height, 17-year old Anna Swan was more than seven feet tall when P. T. Barnum sent an agent to Nova Scotia with instructions to bring her to the American Museum. The Museum became Anna Swan’s school, workplace, and home. She drew crowds to the Lecture Room, where she lectured on giants in history and posed in theatrical tableaux presented on the amphitheater stage. Her rescue from the top floor of the museum on Juy 13, 1865 was one of the more celebrated--and fortunate--incidents during the fire that destroyed the American Museum. Barnum reaped enormous profits from exhibiting a number of "human curiosities" (like Anna Swan), whom he presented ostensibly for their educational and scientific value. While offensive to today’s sensibilities, exhibitions of people with disabilities or who otherwise deviated from what the majority considered normal were not uncommon in mid and late nineteenth-century popular culture.