Two More Little People

Mr. Chas. Decker, by Henry Heyde
Mr. Chas. Decker, by Henry Heyde
Mr. Tower, by L.J. Hurd
Mr. Tower, by L.J. Hurd

Two more little people. This collecting of circus folk, specifically little people, makes me wonder if anyone has ever written about the Victorian fixation with little people. Compared to today there seems to be a veritable cornucopia of them in the Victorian era – today there’s the family on Little People, Big World (the reality TV show), Vern Troyer, Hornswoggle (part of the WWE cast), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones) and the lady who played E.T. That’s really about it. But in the 1860s-1890s, there was Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt, Lavinia Warren, Minnie Warren, Admiral Dot, Major Atom, General Cardenas, The Magri brothers, Nellie Keeler, the Rice Family, Che Mah, Maj. S.E. Houghton, and Chas. Decker. And that’s just to name some of the better known ones whose images I’ve collected. I’ll even go out on a limb and include Waino and Plutano on that list although I think strictly speaking they weren’t midgets/dwarves. Perhaps it was a side effect of marginalization – in the Victorian era, if you were not an able-bodied white male, employment options were VERY limited for you. There may not have been any greater percent of the population born with disabilities/physical deviations in the last half of the 19th century, but perhaps we know of more of them because the only thing they could do to survive was go into show business.

I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Tower, by L.J. Hurd, because not only is he atypically large for a little person, and relatively proportionate, but the note on the back from the photographer caught my attention: “L.J. Hurd, Artist, Traveling Photograph Gallery. The Plate from which this was made will be preserved one month.” This is the first time I’ve seen anyone specify a lifespan for a negative – most of them have said something to the effect of “reprints available at any time”. It makes perfect sense to discard/recycle your glass plates every month if you’re an itinerant photographer. Glass is heavy and a pain to haul around. IF that was true of this image, in all probability this is unique or nearly so. Then again, if Mr. Tower was a well-known performer, this could be one of dozens if not hundreds that Mr. Hurd printed and sold, and he probably retained the negative beyond his stated month.

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