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P.T. Barnum's Celebrities in Miniature

from left to right
George Washington Morrison Nutt (1844-1881)
Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883)
Lavinia Warren Stratton (1841-1919)
Minnie Warren (1841-1878)


One of the most curious aspects of American cultural life during the Civil War era was the phenomenal popularity of a quartet of diminuitive performers—Charles Sherwood Stratton ("General Tom Thumb"), George Washington Morrison ("Commodore") Nutt, Lavinia Warren, and Minnie Warren—all in the employ of that "Prince of Humbugs," P. T. Barnum. The most celebrated member of the foursome was "General Tom Thumb" who, at the time of his debut at Barnum's American Museum in 1842, stood just 25 inches tall and weighed but 16 pounds. Taught by Barnum to sing, dance, and act, "Tom Thumb" created a sensation on tour both at home and abroad and made a fortune for his mentor. In 1861, Barnum engaged another little performer, whom he dubbed "Commodore Nutt," to appear at his museum, and one year later he added the tiny Lavinia Warren to his Lilliputian roster. When romance blossomed between "Tom Thumb" and Lavinia and the couple announced their plans to wed, Barnum capitalized on the engagement, reaping as much as $3,000 per day in admission fees from those who mobbed his museum to see the famous pair. When the “The Fairy Wedding” took place in New York City’s Grace Church on February 10, 1863, it was a lavish affair that captured the public imagination and provided a much-needed diversion for a war-weary nation.

This photograph of the wedding party was taken in Mathew Brady’s Broadway Gallery where a painted backdrop was used to simulate the Grace Church interior. When cartes de visite of this scene were produced, the image was cropped to create the illusion that the view had been made in the church during the wedding service.


Mathew Brady Studio (active 18441883)
Albumen silver print
Frederick Hill Meserve Collection
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

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