The newest addition to the collection of CDVs of little people sideshow performers – Admiral Dot, age thirteen.
I would take his age, height and weight in this photo with a grain of salt – the producers of these CDVs were prone to mis-statement, exaggeration and even outright lies about the subject’s physical traits as part of the sideshow hype. Fat men and women were often described as sometimes a hundred plus pounds bigger than they were. “Giants” were often endowed with an additional six or seven inches in height. In this case, I’ve managed to wangle a series of Admiral Dot at three different ages- 13, 14 and 18. In the span of five years he’s gained an inch (not unbelievable) and only five pounds.
Admiral Dot was born Leopold Kahn in San Francisco. He had two brothers, also little people, who also went on to become sideshow performers – Major Atom and General Pin. He began his career working for P.T. Barnum, but went on to perform with other companies of little people, married another little person, Lottie Swartood, and have two children before dying from the Spanish Flu during the 1918 epidemic at the age of 59. While I do have images of Major Atom, I have yet to come across one of General Pin – he must not have had the career his two siblings did.
Here is my CDV of Major Atom. Can you see a family resemblance?
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.
When I had previously posted this image, I stated that I didn’t know the identities of everyone, especially the little person on the right, although I had seen him before somewhere. Well, troll Ebay long enough and another image will show up. He’s Colonel Small. The other little man is Commodore Foote. I’m not certain of the identity of the little woman in the middle, but all three were Barnum performers.
I’m feeling a little bit like doing a review of the little people in my collection, so here goes nothing:
A newly arrived pair of circus midgets – Admiral Dot and General Cardenas. The Admiral Dot image is not in the best of condition, but it’s a different photo than the one I already have, and for some reason there are certain little people images that are much more expensive than others – Admiral Dot and Che Mah the Chinese Dwarf being two among them. I have yet to find a Che Mah in a condition I’d like to have it in for less than $150, and I’ve been outbid twice now on nice ones. Dudly Foster is another one that seems to command high prices for some reason.
Admiral Dot, was born Leopold Kahn in 1857(?). He was uncle of Samuel Kahn, “Major Atom”. In 1870, Phineas Taylor Barnum traveled with friends by train across the western United States. In San Francisco, a German named Gabriel Kahn offered the showman his dwarf son, Leopold. Barnum was quite taken with the little fellow, whom he said was “a dwarf more diminutive in stature than General Tom Thumb was when I found him.” Barnum promptly signed up Leopold under the new name of Admiral Dot, otherwise known as the the El Dorado Elf because he was such “a valuable nugget”.
As early as 1872, Barnum had already coined the phrase “The Greatest Show on Earth”, and now referrred to his circus as “P. T. Barnum’s Great Traveling World’s Fair”. At the time, Admiral Dot was touted as being sixteen years old, twenty-five inches tall, and a mere nineteen pounds. At least initially, Dot appeared on stage with his mother.
Admiral Dot’s career lasted for approximately the next twenty years, despite the fact that as he aged and grew taller he was soon eclipsed in size by smaller performers such as Major Atom, with whom he occasionally performed. Not one to rest on his laurels, Dot developed a stage persona that at one time saw him billed as “The Smallest Character Actor in the World”. During the 1880’s, Dot traveled with the Locke & Davis Royal Lilliputian Opera Company, which was populated by other famous little people such as the Magri Brothers and and Colonel Speck.
By the turn of the century, Leopold Kahn had settled in White Plains, New York, with his twenty-six-inch-tall wife Lottie Swartwood (a fellow performer in the opera company) and their two normal-sized children. Seeking respectability, Dot joined the Elks, sang with the town choir, and opened the Admiral Dot Hotel. The citizens of White Plains named the admiral honorary chief of the fire department, but unkindly referred to his business establishment as the Hotel Pee Wee (which, ironically, burned to the ground in 1911). Admiral Dot died of influenza in his home in White Plains on 28 October 1918, aged 54 years.
I couldn’t find any biographical references for General Cardenas – for all I know even the last name is fake and he was a Swede from Minneapolis and not hispanic at all. I’ll keep digging and see if I can find more about him. I did find a different photo of him on the Syracuse University online image library that looks like it was taken at the same time because his outfit is identical and the chair next to him appears the same, but its set in a faux-outdoors scene with a bunch of tufted grass around the chair.
I’ll include some of my other little people with faux-military titles for reference, starting with Major Atom.
My latest CDV of a circus sideshow midget. What was it with the circus and fake military ranks or titles? Major Houghton, Admiral Dot, Major Atom (although there’s a wee (pardon the pun) bit of irony in that one), Commodore Nutt, General Tom Thumb, Baron Littlefinger and Count Rosebud and just to name a few. Even when folks weren’t given fake titles, they often got dressed up in military-esque uniforms, like my photo of Landon Middlecoff, or some of the other giants I’ve seen.
In my online shopping peregrinations, I came across another Nellie Keeler CDV, so of course I had to add the second varietal to my collection. The captions have it that these are one year apart. Who knows the truth of such things, as so many facts about the circus freak sideshow performers were grossly exaggerated for dramatic effect.
Here is the first one I collected, for comparison:
And somewhat ironically, here is a larger size (roughly 5×7) Cabinet Card of a much larger woman, seated in front of the same dining room sideboard on which Nellie Keeler is posing. When I saw that, I had to grab it just for that cool factor of coincidence. I’d read a lot about how work of battlefield photographers could be connected if not identified by the use of the same backdrops, furniture and even prop weapons/uniforms in Civil War tintypes. While not exactly the same thing, this is my first instance of finding the same props in two different photos of two VERY different subjects by the same photographer.
And last but not least (well, maybe least, based on the factoids on the front of the card) is Admiral Dot – yet another Barnum embellishment with an exalted military rank for someone of restrained stature. A contemporary of General Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt, Major Atom, Count Rosebud and Baron Littlefinger, he also performed in sideshows.
As the photographer is not credited, it may well have been one of the lesser-known New York studios specializing in the theatrical trade who was able to work a deal with Anthony to distribute their cards.