Category Archives: Circus Freaks

A Day at the Circus!

Here are some more of my circus freaks/performers collection. We’re going to start our tour of the circus in the sideshow, where P.T. Barnum was a busy man – he collected strange people from all over the world, and when he couldn’t find them from afar, he invented foreign origins for them!

Waino and Plutano(r), the Wild Men of Borneo, were actually brothers born in Ohio with physical and mental developmental challenges. As you can see in the photo, even in adulthood, they were pygmy sized. They did however possess considerable strength for their size, and were known to lift up to 300 pounds. Their real names were Hiram and Barney Davis (no relation!). They were a huge success in Barnum’s circus and over a 25 year career in show business spanning from 1880 to 1905, they earned $200,000, a gigantic sum in that day and age.

Waino and Plutano, The Wild Men of Borneo, by Eisenmann
Waino and Plutano, The Wild Men of Borneo, by Eisenmann

As you can see, this was yet another carte by Chas. Eisenmann, who specialized in photographing theater people and performers. I love the Victorian era advertising slogans – “Portraits taken by Instantaneous Process – Extra Inducements to the Theatrical Profession” on this carte, and on another one I have by him, it shows a photographer striding the globe, with “The Popular Photographer” inscribed below. It’s too bad the carte-de-visite tradition died out; there’s nothing quite like it today in terms of marketing and character.

Next up, also in the sideshow, is the fat lady. Why this particular display was so popular, I’ll never quite understand. I don’t think the fat ladies sang or had any particular performing talent – they were just fat. I think it would have to have been one of the most humiliating experiences in the sideshow, to be looked at that way. At least in the other circus freak cases like the human skeleton or the midgets, they had little or no other viable employment options.

This image is an E&H.T. Anthony publication, with no credit given as to the photographer. The image has the Anthony blind stamps in the corners, and what appears in the scan to even be a fingerprint, possibly of the person who printed and mounted it. It is a breathtakingly beautiful carte in person, and I would suspect that it is probably a Brady carte, given that Anthony owned the Brady negatives for many years, and served as Brady’s publisher/distributor. The lady appears to be Madame Sherwood, a famous fat lady in Barnum’s circus. She also bears a vague resemblance to another fat lady I have, this one from the Brady studio in Washington DC. I don’t think the Brady image is the same woman, but it’s possible.

Madam Sherwood, on an E&H.T. Anthony CDV
Madam Sherwood, on an E&H.T. Anthony CDV

The Brady image:

Circus Fat Lady by Mathew Brady, Washington DC
Fat Lady, Matthew Brady Studio, Washington, DC

Moving under the big top, we have the acrobats! Here is a trio of boy tumblers/high-wire walkers/trapeeze artists. They look very much like the two I have in another cdv, which I’ll post again here for ease of comparison. If they are the same brothers, then the third one’s name is a mystery to me – the first pair appears to be the O’Brien brothers, but in my research, they were only ever a duo, and their father died fairly young as a result of injuries sustained in a circus accident.

Trio of Boy Acrobats, by Drew & Maxwell
Trio of Boy Acrobats, by Drew & Maxwell - possibly the O'Briens?
Circus Siblings, Gurney & Son, New York
Circus Siblings, Gurney & Son, New York

More Fairy Wedding Photos

I admit it – I got the Fairy Wedding bug. No, not the Charles & Diana wedding bug, or the more recent William & Kate or the Kim & Kris wedding bug (I’d pay YOU to remove the People magazine footage of that debacle from my sight! Celebrity whores have you no shame???). But I digress – I’m fixated on the ORIGINAL celebrity wedding photos: the marriage of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, photographed by THE American celebrity photographer, Mathew Brady (yes, Mathew with one T), and stage managed for maximum publicity by P.T. Barnum, the original master promoter and co-creator of the circus that still bears his name.

The Reception Dress, The Fairy Wedding
The Reception Dress, The Fairy Wedding

Here is the follow-up to one of my earlier images of Tom and Lavinia in their wedding ceremony outfits. This one is the dress she wore to their reception with the 2000 guest receiving line where they stood atop a grand piano at the Metropolitan Hotel.

George Nutt & Minnie Warren, Groomsman & Bridesmaid
George Nutt & Minnie Warren, Groomsman & Bridesmaid

Another, odder wedding souvenir card. This one features George Nutt and Minnie Warren, Lavinia Warren (Mrs. Tom Thumb)’s sister and later George’s wife, playing chess. What this had to do with the wedding is beyond me, but it obviously catered to some 19th century sensibility – perhaps the suggestion was that they had outsized brains in their diminutive bodies, further exaggerating the curiosity/freakish attraction to a customer looking for a spot of distraction from the civil war raging around them in 1863.

Tom Thumb, Wife and "child"
Tom Thumb, Wife and "child"

This image, undated and uncredited, is from some time later, possibly in the 1870s. Charles and Lavinia Stratton were not able to have children of their own, so P.T. Barnum, ever the showman, would acquire an orphan baby and give it to them to portray as their own, and when the baby got too big, he would find another one. Apparently, as a result, they “had” a one-year old baby for the better part of a decade.

As a memory refresher, here’s the rest of the gang in thumbnails.

Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding
Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding
Lavinia Warren Stratton, Mrs. Tom Thumb
Lavinia Warren Stratton, Mrs. Tom Thumb
Fairy Wedding Group #3
Fairy Wedding Group #3

Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)
Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)
Commodore Nutt, Mrs. and Mr. Tom Thumb
Commodore Nutt, Mrs. and Mr. Tom Thumb
Brady's Fairy Wedding
The Fairy Wedding, 1863 E&HT Anthony print, Obverse

More from the Family Circus (make that circus family)

I’ve been fascinated by the Tom Thumb “Fairy Wedding” photos since I found the first one. Now that I’ve discovered that there were multiple poses sold, I’m building a collection of them, trying to see if I can find them all. So far, I have four Brady images from the wedding, an unsigned image of Commodore Nutt and what appears to be a regular girl child without back-stamp, and another Brady image of Tom Thumb, his wife, Commodore Nutt and what I’m guessing is a circus giant (he appears to be twice the size of Charles Stratton – Tom Thumb – who was 3 feet 4 inches tall at his death, making the giant next to him in the neighborhood of 7 feet tall).

Here are the new ones:

Lavinia Warren Stratton, Mrs. Tom Thumb
Lavinia Warren Stratton, Mrs. Tom Thumb
Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding
Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding

Addition to the “Fairy Wedding” collection

I just added another “fairy wedding” photo from the Brady group. It’s fun to see how many different poses were taken, and how widely distributed they are. This latest one arrived from the UK. I’m going to put them all together here so they can be seen at the same time without flipping through my blog to find the others.

Fairy Wedding Group #3
Fairy Wedding Group #3
Brady's Fairy Wedding
The Fairy Wedding, 1863 E&HT Anthony print, Obverse
Commodore Nutt, Mrs. and Mr. Tom Thumb
Commodore Nutt, Mrs. and Mr. Tom Thumb

Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)
Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)