From Sept. 29, 1977: Gen. Tom Thumb, Barnum’s tiny star, amused Hudsonians just 130 years ago

From Sept. 29, 1977:

During the late summer of 1847. Hudson newspapers carried blaring notices that showman, Phineas Taylor Barnum, was bringing to the city his most famous star — General Tom Thumb.

The General, it was reported, was “Ten years old, less than 24 inches tall, yet perfectly proportioned, exceptionally intelligent, and indeed, in all ways amazing!”

He had, Barnum reported, “Just returned from a tour of Europe where he achieved great popularity and Queen Victoria was so delighted with him, that Her Majesty kept him for two hours on her footstool in animated conversation.”

The good residents of Hudson awaited the General’s arrival with both interest and anticipation. It wasn’t this tiny person they doubted, but P.T. Barnum.

Didn’t they remember the black woman, Joyce Heath, whom Barnum had claimed was “161 years old and the nurse of George Washington when he was a baby’.” Untold dollars had been spent by those visiting Barnum’s shows to see this link with the Father of Our Country. Unfortunately, however, Joyce met a natural and untimely death. A postmortem examination showed she had been 75 years of age at the most and Washington, therefore, was an adult when she was born.

Yet, when Tom Thumb arrived, Barnum showed Hudsonians exactly what he had promised. Five years earlier, in 1842, a Bridgeport, Conn. woman brought her five-year-old son to Barnum. Born of normal size parents, the baby had not been exceedingly small at birth, in fact he was of average size, but he didn’t grow.

At five, he was extremely bright, walked, talked and was perfectly proprotioned...but he was only 16 inches tall. His name, Charles Sherwood Stratton.

Barnum conferred at length with Mrs. Stratton and it was agreed that young Charles would be taken to New York’s Scudder Museum where he would be placed in a show under the billing — General Tom Thumb.

The General was an instant success and in 1844, Barnum took him to Europe. His rather falsetto voice and ready wit gained him phenomenal acclaim in England. Barnum taught the child to recognize famous personages on sight and speak to them when they approached. This gained the little person more acclaim as inevitably he was picked up by politicians, theatre stars and royalty who chatted with him and were amazed by his cogent replies — (well rehearsed with Mr. Barnum.

Returning to the United States in 1874, Barnum began a nationwide tour with Tom Thumb, including Hudson.

Sitting in a little chair or strugging around the platform, Tom Thumb chatted with members of his audience, leaning over several times to extend his hand to those who approached the stage. At 10 he was already an accomplished showman; there was very little of the child about him.

Tom Thumb’s countrywide engagements continued until he was 25 and reached his full height — 31 inches. He married Miss Lavina Warren, 32 inches tall, and with his bride went to another extended tour of Europe. One tiny person was interesting enough but two brought standing room only audiences.

The rest of his life was spent in show business appearing with his wife in all parts of the world. His death occurred in Middleboro, Mass. On July 15, 1883 and so at age 46, the curtain came down on one of Barnum’s and America’s most colorful Lilliputian legends.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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