It’s been a very long time since I collected any additional CDVs. Perhaps a year or more. So I was overdue. Here is another one of my circus freaks (I’m using the period appropriate term for them, no disrespect meant to any little people who might find the term offensive): Admiral Dot, a contemporary and colleague of Tom Thumb. This is my third CDV of Admiral Dot, but the first one to have the photographer identified on the verso. The other two were from negatives sold to E & HT Anthony who then reproduced them with their own stamp, no other credit supplied.
I’m really starting to think of these circus performer CDVs as a subspecies of occupational image – they’re showing the performers in their stage attire, doing what they do to get paid. It’s not exactly the same thing as a cobbler with a leather apron, some awls and a shoe, or a cooper with a hammer, metal hoops and barrel staves, but nonetheless, they are enacting for the camera that which they do professionally.
Here’s another rather rare image – a portrait of what appears to be an actor by Camille Silvy. Camille Silvy was a French photographer who moved to London in 1858 and opened a studio at 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. He photographed society clients, including many members of the British royal family, as well as royals of other nations (the queen of Hawaii among others). According to Wikipedia,
He closed his studio and returned to France in 1868. He himself believed that his nervous system had been damaged by exposure to potassium cyanide in the darkroom but it more likely that he suffered from manic depression. The last thirty years of his life were spent in a succession of hospitals, sanatoria and convalescent homes.
So he had a working career in London of approximately 10 years, in which he made over 17,000 sittings – rather productive for a short career. That’s about six portraits a day, 300+ days a year. According to the Wikipedia entry, the National Portrait Gallery in London has his daybooks, which include 12,000 photo illustrations to accompany the records of sittings. I’d love to visit them and see if I could find out who this actor was. Maybe next year when I return the favor to visit my friends Peter and Mirza who came to see me in Paris.
I bet you didn’t realize what paparazzi-junkies the Thumbs were. Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren were frequently photographed, throughout their life. I don’t know if they profited from the sale of their photographs or not – I would hope they did, but given the general state of intellectual property ethics in the later half of the 19th century, I highly doubt it. Often the photographers themselves didn’t, as others would buy one copy of their image, re-photograph it and sell it themselves at a cheaper price!
Here they are, at middle age, in an anonymous CDV. I think this may be a copy of someone else’s photo, although if it is it’s a very good one, because it has no photographer’s stamp on the verso (and because it is such a good image, it strikes me as odd that there is no stamp taking credit).
In doing some more digging around, I found another copy of the same image. This one had a stamp on the bac from the photographer – a K(?).C. ????, Photographs and Ferrotypes, ??? Main Street, Bridgeport, CT. The Thumbs resided in Connecticut in their later years, so this is entirely reasonable.
Also, the blotchy mottling at the margins of the image is present in both copies, so I assume it is actually in the original negative, which is a relief.
P.T. Barnum never passed up an opportunity to promote himself. So, when the top star in his showbiz empire, the midget performer Charles Stratton, announced plans to marry his fellow midget stage star Lavinia Warren in January 1863, Barnum celebrated the news by immediately starting a public-relations blitz.
The reading public’s celebrity mania and the media’s zeal to sell newspapers proved a huge boon for business to the attention-hungry Barnum. In return, the happy buzz which Barnum created for Stratton’s impending marriage provided war-weary Northerners a momentary diversion from the unrelenting march of bad news, even knocking war reports off the front pages for a while.
Barnum plucked Stratton, a poor carpenter’s son from Bridgeport, Conn., from obscurity at the age of 4 in 1842 because of his remarkable size. The boy’s growth had halted between the ages of 6 months and 9 years; he measured only 32 inches tall at the time of his death in 1883. Performing under the stage name General Tom Thumb, Stratton immediately hit it big with New York audiences at Barnum’s American Museum with his song and dance routines and costumed impersonations of Napoleon, Cupid and a Scottish Highlander. A European tour followed these early successes in 1844, during which he gave public appearances, as well as private command performances before European royalty, including a young Queen Victoria.
Over the next two decades, Stratton’s showbiz career made him one of the most famous and fabulously wealthy celebrities of his generation. Far from feeling exploited by Barnum, Stratton and his boss became fast friends, and later, he even partnered in business with the showman.
In January 1863, Barnum signed on a new performer, Lavinia Warren, a midget also 32 inches tall whom he billed as “The Little Queen of Beauty” and “The Smallest Woman Alive.” Stratton was immediately smitten, and within a matter of weeks, he popped the question.
Once the news hit the New York papers, attendance at Warren’s appearances at the museum became, in Barnum’s words, “crowded to suffocation.” Profits from ticket and memorabilia sales soared to over $3,000 a day for weeks, further enhanced as Barnum began selling $75 tickets for the wedding reception (he decided not to sell tickets to the ceremony itself).
Despite the breathlessly enthusiastic tone of media coverage, some onlookers openly cast suspicion on Barnum’s motives. “When Mr. Barnum brings the church and its solemn rites into his show business, he outrages public decency,” intoned The Brooklyn Eagle. “We are surprised that the clergy, or representatives of so respectable a body as the Episcopal Church should, for a moment, allow themselves to be used by this Yankee showman to advertise his business.”
The Rev. Morgan Dix agreed. Rector of the hoped-for wedding site, Trinity Parish in New York, he vetoed the plan, so wedding planners moved the event to Grace Church farther up Broadway instead.
On the eagerly awaited day — Feb. 10, 1863 — 2,000 invited guests, a who’s who of governors, business tycoons and generals, gathered in Grace Church, vastly outnumbered by the crowds waiting in the streets outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pair. Battalions of police officers lined the processional route along Broadway, which the city had closed to traffic for the duration of the event.
The wedding party’s arrival outside the church at half past noon touched off a stampede among combatants fighting for a close-up view. The police restrained them only with extreme exertion. Inside, “an instantaneous uprising ensued,” The New York Times reported the following day. “All looked, few saw. Many stood upon the seats, others stood upon stools placed on the seats. By many, good breeding was forgotten. By very many the sanctity of the occasion and the sacredness of the ceremonies were entirely ignored. As the little party toddled up the aisle, a sense of the ludicrous seemed to hit many a bump of fun, and irrepressible and unpleasantly audible giggles ran through the church.”
After the ceremony, the hordes chased the couple’s carriage on foot to the Metropolitan Hotel, the reception site, where there awaited a treasury of lavish jewelry, furs and fine watches from the likes of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Lincolns and even Edwin Booth, the Shakespearean actor and brother of future Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Then it was time to hit the road, with stops in Philadelphia and finally Washington, where Abraham Lincoln hosted a reception at the White House for the Strattons, the president’s family and his cabinet.
Coming out to greet the couple, Lincoln shook hands with the two gingerly, almost as if he was afraid of breaking them. Lincoln told Stratton that he had been placed “completely in the shade,” for, since his arrival in the capital, Stratton had been “the greater center of attraction.”
As the president’s 9-year-old son Tad stood beside his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, he gazed awestruck at the sight, saying quietly at last, “Mother, isn’t it funny that father is so tall, and Mr. and Mrs. Stratton are so little?” Lincoln, overhearing the remark, replied, “My boy, it is because Dame Nature sometimes delights in doing funny things. You need not seek for any other reason, for here you have the short and the long of it,” pointing to Stratton and himself.
The next day the Strattons and Benjamin Warren, brother of the bride and a soldier on leave from the 40th Massachusetts Regiment, toured an Army encampment on Arlington Heights across the Potomac. Long afterward , Lavinia Warren reminisced, “As we rode through the vast camp, we were greeted with cheers, throwing up of caps, and shouts from all sides, such as, ‘General, I saw you last down in Maine!’ — ‘I saw you in Boston!’ — ‘Three cheers for General Tom Thumb and his little wife!’ It seemed a joy to them to see a face which recalled to their minds memories of happy days at home.”
The marriage lasted until Stratton’s sudden death by stroke in 1883. Lavinia Warren soon remarried, and died in 1919.
Sources: The New York Times, Feb. 11, 1863; “Mrs. Tom Thumb’s Autobiography,” New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, Sept. 16, 1906; “Some Recollections: the Story of My Marriage and Honeymoon,” New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, Oct. 7, 1906; “Tom Thumb and His Wife,” Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 21, 1863; P.T. Barnum, The Life of P.T. Barnum”; The Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 26, 1863; “Sketch Of The Life, Personal Appearance, Character And Manners Of Charles S. Stratton, The Man In Miniature, Known As General Tom Thumb, And His Wife, Lavinia Warren Stratton; Including The History Of Their Courtship And Marriage, With Some Account Of Remarkable Dwarfs, Giants, & Other Human Phenomena, Of Ancient And Modern Times, And Songs Given At Their Public Levees.”
The original story in the NY Times was illustrated by an engraving owned by the Library of Congress depicting the Fairy Wedding. I’ll recap my collection of their photos here to provide better illustrations.
Here’s a cute photo of a teenage boy in a toreador suit, taken in Mexico City, August 20, 1949. The photographer’s stamp on the back of the print specifies the exact date, which is inordinately helpful. I just wish I could read his name, though – the script on the front AND the typeface used for his name on the back makes it impossible for me to decipher the exact spelling of his last name. Translation of the stamp:
A Photographer Whom You Can Recommend
Bolivar 57, Tel: 12.38.84
20 August 1949
I don’t know that this boy would actually have been a toreador – he could well have been playing dress-up for the camera. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s legit. Google Mapping the studio address, in all likelihood this was a very posh studio in the center of Mexico City, not far from the historic district (I found THREE addresses with the same street number around the city, but the street views of the other two showed nothing that looked like commercial enterprise ever happening there). If anyone out there in cyberland knows who this photographer was, I’d greatly appreciate letting me know the exact spelling of his name and any biographical data about him. Ditto for the identity of the subject – if he was in fact a toreador, someone out there somewhere knows who he is.
I cropped out some of the card the image is mounted on because it would be wasting space on the screen to show nothing of value, and left enough to show the texture and pattern of the card decoration. It’s truly a vintage piece of the period. The stamp I converted to black and white so I could tweak the contrast in Photoshop and make it easier to read.
Aah- the wonders of google. I was trying to figure out the photographers name, and did some google searching, and came up with Carlos Ysunza as a name. Additionally, there is a currently practicing commercial photographer in Mexico City by that same name. I’ll email him and find out if he is the son of the Carlos who took this photo.
Circassian beauties is a phrase used to refer to an idealized image of the women of the Circassian people of the Northern Caucasus. A fairly extensive literary history suggests that Circassian women were thought to be unusually beautiful, spirited, and elegant, and as such were desirable as concubines. This reputation dates back to the later Middle Ages, when the Circassian coast was frequented by Italian traders from Genoa, and the founder of the Medici dynasty, Cosimo I de Medici, had a well-known affair with a Circassian slave girl. During the Ottoman Empire. Circassian women living as slaves in the Sultan’s Imperial Harem started to build their reputation as extremely beautiful and genteel, which then became a common trope in Western Orientalism.
As a result of this reputation, in Europe and America Circassians were regularly characterised as the ideal of feminine beauty in poetry, novels, and art. Cosmetic products were advertised, from the 18th century on, using the word “Circassian” in the title, or claiming that the product was based on substances used by the women of Circassia.
In the 1860s the showman P. T. Barnum exhibited women whom he claimed were Circassian beauties. They wore a distinctive Afro-like hair style, which had no precedent in earlier portrayals of Circassians, but which was soon copied by other female performers, who became known as “moss haired girls”. These were typically presented as victims of sexual enslavement among the Turks, who had escaped from the harem to achieve freedom in America.
The combination of the popular issues of slavery, the Orient, racial ideology, and sexual titillation gave the reports of Circassian women sufficient notoriety at the time that the circus leader P. T. Barnum decided to capitalize on this interest. He displayed a “Circassian Beauty” at his American Museum in 1865. Barnum’s Circassian beauties were young women with tall, teased hairstyles, rather like the Afro style of the 1970s. Actual Circassian hairstyles bore no resemblance to Barnum’s fantasy. Barnum’s first “Circassian” was marketed under the name “Zalumma Agra” and was exhibited at his American Museum in New York from 1864. Barnum had written to John Greenwood, his agent in Europe, asking him to purchase a beautiful Circassian girl to exhibit, or at least to hire a girl who could “pass for” one. However, it seems that “Zalumma Agra” was probably a local girl hired by the show, as were later “Circassians”.Barnum also produced a booklet about another of his Circassians, Zoe Meleke, who was portrayed as an ideally beautiful and refined woman who had escaped a life of sexual slavery.
The portrayal of a white woman as a rescued slave at the time of the American Civil War played on the racial connotations of slavery at the time. It has been argued that the distinctive hairstyle affiliates the side-show Circassian with African identity, and thus,
resonates oddly yet resoundingly with the rest of her identifying significations: her racial purity, her sexual enslavement, her position as colonial subject; her beauty. The Circassian blended elements of white Victorian True Womanhood with traits of the enslaved African American woman in one curiosity.
The trend spread, with supposedly Circassian women featured in dime museums and travelling medicine shows, sometimes known as “Moss-haired girls”. They were typically identified by the distinctive hairstyle, which was held in place by the use of beer. They also often performed in pseudo-oriental costume. Many postcards of Circassians also circulated. Though Barnum’s original women were portrayed as proud and genteel, later images of Circassians often emphasised erotic poses and revealing costumes. As the original fad faded, the “Circassians” started to add to their appeal by performing traditional circus tricks such as sword swallowing.
I had been hunting for a CDV of the Circassian Beauty for a while, and then found two images of “Circassian Beauties” on CDV recently. The one is fascinating because she’s obviously just a teenager. The other is an adult woman. I have seen other CDVs of Barnum’s Circassian, although I’ve seen a different name associated with her – Zenobia. It’s highly likely that there was more than one associated with Barnum’s Museum and later the traveling circus. I find the showman mentality of Barnum and his contemporaries utterly fascinating that they would have no qualms about not only faking someone supposedly from the Ottoman Empire, but that they would indulge in the exploitation of the specific mores and fears of their time that they did – enslaved white women as concubines of “the Oriental” was only one step removed from the notion of white women being sexually used by black men, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. And that Barnum would try to buy an actual Circassian woman speaks volumes to his mindset – while he would display her as liberated from slavery, in fact, he would acquire her as if she were still property.
I’d love if anyone out there knows anything about the sticker on the back of the second card – thematically it could be contemporary to the card, but it could also be as recent as the 1930s.
I’ve selected this batch to group based on them being people of the theater or in theatrical performances of some kind. I excluded the circus freaks even though many of them were theatrical as well (Tom Thumb was a comic actor as well as a star of Barnum’s circus). I’m grouping the cross-dressed women in this because it may well have been a theatrical role they were playing, like Sallie Holman as Ike Partington. There are also acrobats in this grouping, as many of them performed in vaudeville halls as well as in circuses, so they count as theatricals in a way.
Take a look at the two violinists in the fifth row – I’m wondering if they aren’t in fact two pictures of the same duo, at different times.