Recently a number of television shows, documentaries and circulating picture sets have generated great interest in the genetic phenomena of primordial dwarfism. These tiny people, these seemingly fragile, delicate and near ethereal human beings conjure images of gossamer fairies and quaint folk stories. Such enchanting imagery is likely the root of this new interest in the condition.
The first individual to be medically cited with what we now call primordial dwarfism was Caroline Crachami. The story of ‘The Sicilian Fairy’ is inspiring, tragic and empowering all at once depending on which version of her biography one believes. Regardless, her story is one that should be told and remembered for it demonstrates the greed often found average men and chronicles the careless exploitation of a remarkable human being.According to the pamphlet entitled Memoirs of Miss Crachami, the Celebrated Sicilian Dwarf Caroline Crachami was born at Palermo in Sicily on November 15, 1815. Caroline Crachami purportedly only weighted one pound at birth and measured a scant eight inches in height. Caroline was the only unique child of five siblings and, despite claims of exhibitions in Panama, Miss Crachami first came to major public prominence during an 1824 visit to England. While there Miss Crachami was accompanied by one Dr. Gilligan who acted as her agent and he exhibited her in Liverpool, Birmingham and Oxford before finally taking her to London where she was exhibited in Mayfair.Crachami caused a great amount of sensation and proved to be incredibly popular. Hundreds of people would queue up daily and pay one shilling admission to view the nine-year-old nineteen inch marvel. For the most part, inside the exhibit, Miss Crachami would simply wander around the stage while listening to music. For a few shillings more one was permitted to handle the tiny girl, permitted to dance a little with her, to pat her head and feed her a biscuit or two. King George IV was and admirer as were three hundred members of the English nobility. More than three thousand members of high society visited and played with the doll-like Crachami and likely thousands more common folk did so as well.
The exhibiting schedule was gruelling and on June 3rd of 1824, after receiving more that two hundred patrons, the tiny Miss Crachami collapsed and expired during exhibition.
Her exhibitor, Dr. Gilligan, shopped Crachami’s earthly remains around to various medical institutions before selling them to the anatomist John Hunter for $500, and this is where the tale takes a tragic twist. Caroline was a child far younger than the nine years she was billed as. Modern examinations of her remains place her age at no more than three. She was also likely not Sicilian and probably hailed from Ireland where her parents read of her death in the Cork Inquirer. Her father quickly ferried to England in an attempt to halt any dissection and autopsy. However he arrived too late and Caroline’s bones had already been stripped bare.
The skeleton of Caroline Crachami now resides at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons together with a few mementoes of her life including a pair of her silk stockings, her slippers, a ruby ring and casts of her face and arm. There Caroline forever stands next to The Irish Giant Charles Byrne, his seven foot seven skeleton standing as a silent protector.
image: Portrait of Caroline Crachami by Alfred Edward Chalon.
Note: Caroline Crachami has also been cited as having Seckel’s syndrome or ‘bird headed dwarfism’, however this diagnosis is not the consensus of the medical community.