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The Real Tom Thumb



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Most people know the tales of Tom Thumb, a small adventurer who was no larger than his father's thumb, from popular children's literature. But fewer people remember the real Tomb Thumb.

General Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, was born January 4, 1838 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His parents, Sherwood E. and Cynthia Stratton were unaware that their son, who entered this world weighing nine and a half pounds, would become one of the world's best know entertainers.

Charles continued to grow and develop just as his siblings had done before him until he reached a year and a half. At this point, it became obvious that Charles Stratton had stopped growing and stopped putting on weight. To his parent's dismay, doctors could not inform them that he would continue to grow. During the next few years, the doctors were proven correct. Charles's body remained small even though every other part of him developed naturally.

In a turn of events that would create the persona General Tom Thumb, P.T. Barnum, a fellow Connecticut resident, discovered the young boy. Barnum immediately was intrigued by the little boy with a winning personality.

At the young age of four, Cynthia, Charles's mother, took him to New York at the request of Barnum. While there, he was introduced to the public at Barnum's Museum on Thanksgiving Day. At this point in life, Charles had only doubled his birth weight. He was sixteen pounds and measured well under two feet. Despite the unusual lack of growth, Charles was in perfect health and was developing normally.

This was the beginning of a long and successful partnership for Charles, the Stratton Family, and Barnum. Charles spent the next two years with Barnum, being presented to the public and being taught to sing, dance, do impersonate famous people, and even mime. During this time, Charles began earning $3.00 and at the end of this tour his wages had increased to $50.00.

His reputation for being talented and smart complemented his small size and won him international fame. In 1844, at the age of six, Charles accompanied his parents and P.T. Barnum to England where they were received by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. On one of these visits, it is said that the Queen's poodle attacked Charles after a performance. In appreciation of his performances and company, the royal family and may others gave him lavish gifts including a gold watch made just for his use.

In 1847, Charles, now known by all as General Tom Thumb, returned with his companions to the United States. He toured in many different places while his body, for the first time in many years, began to slowly grow. By January 1851, Charles measures two feet and thee inches. By his eighteenth birthday he had reached two feet and six inches.

By 1862 Charles had become his own man. He was initiated into the Freemasons and was determined to find a wife. Lavinia Warren of Massachusetts would become the lucky lady.

Lavinia, like Charles, had developed naturally until she reached one year old. Her parents and her siblings, except for the youngest daughter Minnie, all were average size. Her family was practical and taught Lavinia to sew, cook and clean in preparation for her to become a housekeeper. At an early age Livinia was knows for her pleasant nature, keen mind and great common sense. At the age of ten, Livinia stopped growing. Despite her unusual size, she too enjoyed good health and perfect development.

Many papers excitedly printed the news that Charles had taken a lining to a young woman of similar stature. They printed several articles describing Livinia's "full, round, dimpled face, and her fine black eyes fairly sparkle when she becomes interested in conversation."

After their marriage in 1863, Livinia and Charles were kindly received into the highest ranks of society. At their reception, they stood on the top of a grand piano to receive guests numbering in the thousands. After their wedding they were often visited by many of the influential families of New Your and neighboring states. They were also received by President Lincoln at the White House in 1868.

Charles and Livina lived a lavish lifestyle and kept remained in a working relationship with P.T. Barnum. Their fame enabled them to build a custom house in their home state of Connecticut as well as purchase a home in an upscale part of New York. Settling into married life, Charles's final performance was in 1878.

In a tragic turn of events, the couple stayed at the Newhall House hotel in 1883. The hotel fire that took the lives of seventy-one other people, did not immediately take its toll on the Stratton family. Six months later, sadly, Charles suffered a stroke and died at the age of forty-three. Some say he never fully recovered form the tragic effects of the hotel fire.

Over ten thousand people attended his funeral. P.T. Barnum placed a life-sized statue of Charles and placed it at his grave in the Mountain Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Livina, after two years of mourning, married the Italian Count Primo Magri, who was also her size. She enjoyed a comfortable life and eve appeared in the silent film The Lilliputian's Courtship along with her husband. She died November 25, 1919 at the age of 78.

More about this author: Sarah Perryman

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