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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The "The General Comes To Lancaster" Story

York, Pa. photographer took this photo
of Lavinia, former wife of Tom Thumb.
It was an ordinary day.  Searching the Internet for black and white photographs taken in the mid to late 1800's when one of the photographs showed the name of Swords Bro's Photographers from York, Pa.  Very interesting since York, Pa. is a bit over 25 miles from my home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Lancaster, as well as York, had quite a few professional photographers.  Seems that the subjects of the photograph were a woman named Lavinia and two men, Count Primo Magri and his brother Baron Giuseppe Magri.  Nothing unusual except that Lavinia's former husband had died two years before and his name happened to be General Tom Thumb.  Yep, the little guy who toured with PT Barnum.  Did some more searching and found a link to the Lititz, Pa. newspaper and a story written by Cory Van Brookhoven telling of a Wednesday in May of 1879 when General Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia performed at Orchestra Hall in Lititz.  
Charles Stratton, also known
as General Tom Thumb.
That's all I needed to begin a more thorough search about the woman in the photo and her miniature
husband.  Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1938 to average sized parents.  His father had married his first cousin whose family line showed that there were small people in the family.  Charles was 9 pounds, 8 ounces at birth and grew normally for the first six months of his life, but at that point stopped growing at 25 inches tall and 15 pounds.  By the age of 4 he had grown an additional inch.  Along came Phineas T. Barnum, a half fifth cousin, twice removed, and after hearing about Stratton, contacted Charles' parents and told them he could make their son achieve fame and fortune if they would allow him to take their son on the road.  So, at the age of five, PT gave him the name of General Tom Thumb, taught him singing, dancing and comical banter and headed out on the road.  
The wedding of General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren.
Tom Thumb's impersonations of Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte made him a huge success every where he went.  A year later they were traveling to Europe where PT made Thumb an international celebrity.  Then in 1847 Tom began to grow once again until in 1851 he was 29 inches in height.  By his 18th birthday he had grown another half inch.  In 1863 he married another little person named Lavinia Warren.  2,000 people attended the wedding while 10,000 guests came to the reception in New York.  
Photo of the Lititz Lyceum where Orchestra Hall is located.
Tom's best man was George Washington Morrison, another dwarf performer in Barnum's employ.  Minnie Warren served as her sister's maid of honor.  Minnie was smaller than her sister.  Following the wedding the couple were received by President Lincoln at the White House.  Over the next couple years they toured the world several times, entertaining to masses.  
General Tom Thumb and wife Lavinia often had photos taken
with children thought to be their own.  They never had any
children.  As the children grew older, they used younger
children to have photos taken of their "family".
Then in May of 1879 they made a stop in Lititz.  General Tom Thumb appeared at Orchestra Hall on the second floor of the Lititz Lyceum building.  That location is now the home of the Moravian Archives Museum.  Hundreds of residents lined the streets of Lititz for the arrival of Tom Thumb and his wife, hoping for a glimpse of the famous couple.  Three years later Tom and his wife and touring company returned to the Lancaster area where they performed at the Fulton Opera House in downtown Lancaster.  
General Tom Thumb's monument in
Middleborough, Massachusetts.
By then a child had been added to the show.  Everyone thought it to be their child, but at every stop, a new child took the place of the baby.  Then in 1883, while Lavinia was away on a solo tour, Charles Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb", died of a stroke at the age of 45 in Middleborough, Massachusetts.  He was 46 years old.  Thousands of people attended the funeral.  He was buried in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut.   It's been 148 years since General Tom Thumb visited Lancaster County, but my find while looking for old photographs has brought his name to the forefront once again.  As to the photograph I found, his wife evidently remarried two years later to a younger man, Count Primo Magri.  Now, that sounds like an alias to me!  Gonna have to search some more for his real name.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

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