Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

Seth Kinman’s Elkhorn Chair – by Brady

Ok- it looks like the elk horn chair Seth Kinman gave to President Lincoln made the photo studio rounds in 1864. I now have a copy of the Brady version of the chair’s portrait, along with the Alexander Gardner version. In perusing the Wikipedia article, there appears to be at least one other Brady version of the Kinman-Lincoln chair. I’m trying to find out the disposition of the chair today – it may be part of the White House collections, or it may belong to the Smithsonian. I’ll update when I find out.

According to Wikipedia, here is the story of this particular chair:

Kinman’s presentation of an elkhorn chair to President Abraham Lincoln at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 26, 1864 was recorded by artist Alfred Waud, the only known picture of Lincoln accepting a gift. The drawing shows Lincoln examining Kinman’s rifle, which he called “Ol’ Cottonblossum.” Kinman also presented a fiddle made from the skull and a rib of his favorite mule and played the instrument.

Much to the amusement of Lincoln and other spectators, he played ‘Essence of Old Virginia’ and ‘John Brown’ on the bones of the mule. Lincoln said that if he could play the fiddle he would ask him for it, but since he could not, the fiddle would be better off in Mr. Kinman’s hands.

Within three weeks, Lincoln stated that he would prefer to eat Kinman’s chair, antlers and all, than to appoint a certain office-seeker.

The following April, Kinman marched in President Lincoln’s funeral cortege in Washington.

Elkhorn Chair given to A. Lincoln by Seth Kinman, 1864
Elkhorn Chair given to A. Lincoln by Seth Kinman, 1864

Here is the Gardner CDV for comparison:

Seth Kinman's Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864
Seth Kinman’s Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864

To quote the Wikipedia page about Seth Kinman:

Seth Kinman (September 29, 1815 – February 24, 1888) was an early settler of Humboldt County, California, a hunter based in Fort Humboldt, a famous chair maker, and a nationally recognized entertainer. He stood over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and was known for his hunting prowess and his brutality toward bears and Indians. Kinman claimed to have shot a total of over 800 grizzly bears, and, in a single month, over 50 elk. He was also a hotel keeper, barkeeper, and a musician who performed for President Lincoln on a fiddle made from the skull of a mule.

Known for his publicity seeking, Kinman appeared as a stereotypical mountain man dressed in buckskins on the U.S. east coast and selling cartes de visites of himself and his famous chairs. The chairs were made from elkhorns and grizzly bear skins and given to U.S. Presidents. Presidents so honored include James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes. He may have had a special relationship with President Lincoln, appearing in at least two of Lincoln’s funeral corteges, and claiming to have witnessed Lincoln’s assassination.

His autobiography, dictated to a scribe in 1876, was first published in 2010 and is noted for putting “the entertainment value of a story ahead of the strict facts.” His descriptions of events change with his retelling of them. Contemporary journalists and modern writers were clearly aware of the stories contained in the autobiography, “but each chooses which version to accept.

An Article from the New York Times Civil War Blog – The Thumbs get Hitched


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.

Brady's Fairy Wedding
The Fairy Wedding, 1863 E&HT Anthony print, Obverse
Fairy Wedding Group #3
Fairy Wedding Group #3
Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding
Bride & Groom, The Fairy Wedding
George Nutt & Minnie Warren, Groomsman & Bridesmaid
George Nutt & Minnie Warren, Groomsman & Bridesmaid
The Reception Dress, The Fairy Wedding
The Reception Dress, The Fairy Wedding
The Thumbs, by the Stereoscopic Co of London
The Thumbs, by the Stereoscopic Co of London

Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren hit the Baltimore scene

Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren - Walzl, Photographer, Baltimore
Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren – Walzl, Photographer, Baltimore

Here’s a photo of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, NOT by Mathew Brady, Gurney & Sons, Eisenmann or C.D. Fredericks. I’ve seen a few by the other photographers, but the Brady ones are the most common. This is cool to me as it shows them being photographed in other cities as they toured – celebrity culture is not a new thing, but at least back in that day, technology largely excluded the possibility of ambush paparazzi.

Funny story about that though – back when the White House did not have a secure perimeter with heavily armed guards, one of Abraham Lincoln’s boys was out playing in the yard. An enterprising and rather self-assured photographer approached the boy and talked him in to sitting for some pictures, and then sent him inside to get his dad to pay. Needless to say, Mr. Lincoln was NOT happy about this, and came out to confront the photographer. The photographer consented to not charge Mr. Lincoln if he would sit for a few himself, which he grudgingly did. Try doing that to the first family today!

Seth Kinman’s Elk Horn Chair, Presented to Abraham Lincoln, November 26, 1864

Seth Kinman's Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864
Seth Kinman's Elkhorn Chair, Presented to A. Lincoln, November 26, 1864

I was able to kill two birds with one stone on this image – I found an Alexander Gardner CDV (which is rare in itself!) and an image nearly identical to a Mathew Brady version I had seen, but in better overall condition, for the same money as the Brady. So now I have two official Gardners.