Born to a hardhearted carpenter in Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 4, 1838, little Charles Sherwood Stratton would go on to be the most famous midget in history.
When he was discovered at the age of four by P. T. Barnum little Charles stood a mere 25 inches in height and weighed 15 pounds. His father, long embarrassed by the miniscule stature of his offspring, gladly agreed to consign his son to a month-long trial as an attraction in Barnum’s New York Museum. The agreed rate of pay was $3 as well as room and board. This was a modest financial arrangement but the elder Stratton was simply content to see his tiny toddler be of some use.
In New York, Barnum renamed his new protege after the Arthurian legend of Sir Tom and, in a nod to noted midget Sir Jeffery Hudson, Barnum opted to christen Tom Thumb a General. He was billed as hailing from Europe and Barnum went to great lengths to teach the young prodigy etiquette, dance, song and keen wit. Dressed in military regalia, General Tom Thumb took to the stage like a fish to water and the public absolutely adored his charm, quips and showmanship.
Tom Thumb soon embarked on an American tour, followed by a tour of Europe where he was commanded to appear before Queen Victoria. He was a great favourite of The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. Appearing on stage dressed as Napoleon Bonapart, his farce won over the English public as well. All this and he was barely six years in age.
Under the guidance of Barnum, Tom Thumb became a wealth young man. At his financial peak he had wardrobes of finely tailored clothes, a customized home in a fashionable part of New York and even a steam yacht. So great was his popularity that when Barnum himself face bankruptcy, the teenaged Tom Thumb once again toured Europe for his mentor and friend. While there, he was again invited to perform before the Queen.
On February 10, 1863 Tom Thumb married Lavinia Warren – a young, beautiful dwarf he instantly fell in love with. The wedding was front page news and featured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly Magazine. The wedding took place at utterly packed Grace Episcopal Church. At the reception, held at the Metropolitan Hotel, the newlyweds stood atop a grand piano to greet some 2,000 guest. Following the reception, the couple was received by President Lincoln at the White House.
Following the wedding, the two lovers toured Europe as well as Japan and Barnum displayed Lavinia’s wedding gown in the front window of a store on Fifth Avenue. The frenzy surrounding the wedding, both before and afterwards, generated a staggering amount of money for both Barnum and Tom Thumb. To keep the interest going in the coming years, a baby was added to the mix. The child was not the biological offspring of Tom and Lavinia, in fact it was a different baby in every town they visited, but still the public came.
In 1881, the famous midget couple reunited had one final season with Barnum under the banner of the Barnum and London Circus. By this time, in his early forties, Tom had grown to 2 feet and 3 inches in height. People still came and they still loved him.
On 15 July 1883, while Lavinia was away on a solo tour, Tom died suddenly of a stroke at home in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He was only 46 years old.
Ten thousand people attended his funeral.
midg·et [mij-it] noun
1. an extremely small person having normal physical proportions.