Becoming Tom Thumb
Charles Stratton, P. T. Barnum, and the Dawn of American Celebrity
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
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...teenth century. On his death in 1883, the Daily Los Angeles Herald said, “General Tom was probably better known than any man in the United States.”one.super The Herald emphatically used the word “man” and not “midget” or “dwarf ” or any other qualifier. This was no accident. Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name of General Tom ...
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I would first like to thank Kathy Maher, director and curator of The Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her generosity with the extensive collections of Tom Thumb and P. T. Barnum materials was invaluable. Adrienne Saint Pierre’s help at the museum made my re-search a pleasure to look forward to. Of course Mary Witkowski and ...
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...in Buckingham Palace they did not show it. This was one thing for a glitter. But for a child who had stopped growing after a few months of life, and now stood only two feet high and weighed only fifteen The showman and the child had not been in England long. Arriving in Liverpool on the transatlantic steamer Yorkshire after a grueling ...
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...the protected bays elsewhere along the coast of Long Island Sound, and boasted no other obvious geographical advantages. Its inhabi-tants gathered around the small Congregational church, farmed the broad f_lat meadows and gentle hills, and built wharves to run a lim-ited coastal trade. Then, when Fairfield was burned by the British in ...
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Charleston, South Carolina in 1773, followed by a variety of societies edge, all with varying levels of capability and finances. Public funds or private donations for institutions arrived haphazardly and rarely. For the next century, museums continued in this state of f_lux, with respected institutions like Boston’s Gallery of Fine Arts promoting ...
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...of a new tradition of “Yankee” characters. Although this Yankee seems to have first been popularized by comedians on the stage. quently encountered. Comedies in early America had featured charac-ters based on these New Englanders, with Royall Tyler’s The Contrast of 1787 the earliest extant play to incorporate “the Yankee” as an im-...
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...town through France during the “vintage season,” with its “vineyards loaded with luscious grapes and groves of olive trees in full bearing.”one.super At the inns Charles slept most often in rooms with two beds, one for his parents, and one for him. He “wished” his meals served in his own apartment, or more likely his parents wished it because they didn’t ...
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...room. “The exquisite taste of the English people,” he said bit-terly, “They rush by thousands to see Tom Thumb. They push, they fight, they scream, they faint. They cry help and murder! And oh! And ah! They see my bills, my boards, my caravans and don’t read them. Their eyes are open, but their sense is shut! It is an insanity, a rabies, ...
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...city, The American Museum, where the most extensive preparations have been made to see him.” At the museum an orang- utang, an “ana-tomical” Venus, a fortune teller, and a diorama of Napoleon’s funeral were current attractions, but were nothing compared to Charles in his Napoleon gear. It was not the fortune teller for whom people ...
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...yer, a physician, or a politician we are not informed.”one.super But as they may have been for children reading the book. He did have the money now to do what he liked, but he was still considered under his parents’ protection, at only eleven years old. Of course, his size lim-ited his possible ambitions as well. Nevertheless, at least some options ...
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...n 1856, P. T. Barnum lost everything. A year earlier he invested a respectable partner. Barnum already owned a small clock company, and it was agreed that Jerome would absorb it, “in return for an ex-change of stock and Barnum’s pledging temporary security to the amount of $110,000.” Supposedly this was one- sixth of the company’s ...
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...nie,” was also a “dwarf,” though that word was used only by others to describe them. Her parents did not treat them differently than their brothers and sisters, and Lavinia learned to sew and cook, as well as the finer points of music, poetry, and art. At age twenty she stood thirty- two inches high and weighed only twenty- nine pounds.one.super...
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Whenever these thimblesful of humanity appear, they are instantly is watched, and if they venture out of the house, they are pounced upon by the crowd which is always in waiting. If they ride out, their monarch in the universe. If they come into our city on a “shopping” excursion, the store which they happen to patronize is filled with ...
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...in the Lecture Room and stayed until July, despite Barnum advertis-ing their “last week” a number of times.one.super “The levees became very irk-some to him,” said Lavinia of this time after their wedding. But they were not about to retire. As Barnum put it: “The General and his wife had been accustomed to excitement, and after a few months retire-...
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...ger ring. Despite his expensive outfit, he dove into the printing press’s workings, asking many questions about it and studying the process with care. But he was fascinated by more than the machine itself. “Well,” he said, “I have traveled over Europe but no where can you see the progress of this age so ingeniously shown as in America. The su-...
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President Ulysses S. Grant’s celebrated tour would not be for another decade, and Buffalo Bill’s 1887 “world tour” never reached beyond Europe. The first American circumnavigation had only been eighty years earlier, by Captain Robert Gray from 1787 to 1790. Certainly, Charles would be the first American celebrity to visit countries like ...
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Paintings from China and Italy hung above carved ivory elephants and a “grand” piano two feet high. A portrait of Sherwood Stratton hung on one wall of the living room. Like Charles’s apartments in the Bridgeport house, things were built to scale, with low windows, small risers on the stairs, and miniature furniture and appliances.one.super ...
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...or if he simply wanted to leave to start a new career. Nutt did try to perform with other traveling shows at first, including with trick on “Colonel” Ruth Goshen, the giant, which Goshen later shared, saying that the theater was sold out, and “the Commodore started on a little racket,” meaning he started drinking. Apparently ...
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...beach in 1881, describing Lavinia as “fair, fat, and forty” a little bad press. Charles had reached a point of permanent fame. His comedy routines were revered and imitated. Marches and waltzes had been named after him. And craftsmen fashioned waxworks of the “Tom Thumb group” in places as far away as Sacramento.two.super “The little ...
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...n the summer of 1883, Charles had been feeling tired, but other-wise fine. He woke on the morning of July 15 and began to dress His brother- in- law, Edward Newell, still lived in the house, and dead of “apoplexy,” an apparent stroke. He was forty- five years old, a year older than his own father had been when he died in 1855....
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In piecing together the biography of Charles Stratton, I have used primary sources such as letters, diaries, autobiographies, and newspaper interviews for most of the details in this biography, and have meticulously documented them, because of the long history of legend and misinformation on the subject. If something other than analysis has not been cited, it was confirmed by multiple ...
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He is the author of seven books, including the Insiders’ Guide to Connecticut and Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City. His essays, reviews, and The Driftless Connecticut Series is a publication award program established in 2010 to recognize excellent books with a Connecticut focus or written by a Connecticut author. To be eligible, the book must have a ...
Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books