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?
I haven’t been collecting much lately as I’ve been focused (pun intended) on shooting and creating images more. However, in a casual perusal of Ebay the other day I found this image. I’ve been wanting a CDV of Che Mah for a while. This one is rather faded and not in the best of condition, but I jumped on it as A: it was a reasonable price, and B: CDVs of Che Mah don’t show up all that often. I’ll shop around for another one in better condition later, but having this one fills a gap in my collection.
About Che Mah:
Like many sideshow performers, Che Mah had an exotic backstory. It was claimed that he was born in Ningpo in 1838 off China’s coast on the island of Choo-Sang and discovered by Barnum on one of his worldwide scouting expeditions. The reality is likely more mundane. After his death the book This Way to the Big Show: The Life of Dexter Fellows made the claim that he was Jewish and from London.1
Regardless of his ethnicity and country of origin, Che Mah was a popular attraction and throughout his career he worked in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Kohl and Middleton dime museum in Chicago and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Unlike many of the more diminutive performers of his day, he married a women far larger than he. His first wife, Louisa Colman was a normal-sized trapeze artist, his second, Norah Cleveland, weighed 200 pounds. Norah and he divorced after 14 years of marriage on the grounds his wife would not provide enough sex.2
Upon retirement, he bought a farm in rural Indiana but working a farm proved to be too difficult. He sold the farm and brought a house in Knox. Che Mah died in 1936 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox, Indiana.
1.Hartzman Marc, American Sideshow. New York: Tarcher. 2006. 27. Print.
2.Homberger, Francine. Carny Folk. New York: Citadel. 2005. 1-3. Print.
Apologies for the long delay in posting. I just needed a bit of a break from blogging. I’ve been on a bit of a collecting hiatus, but this was a good deal that I didn’t want to pass up. It’s a nice CDV of a circus midget, whose identity, while at the moment remains undetermined, I’m sure I can figure out- I think I’ve seen him before, and I’m sure others would know.
This is a cabinet card (roughly 4×6″), as opposed to most of the CDVs I’ve been collecting, which are 2 1/2″ x 4″-ish. Major Littlefinger and his wife are depicted here, circa 1880, on a cabinet card by Eisenmann, “the Popular Photographer” who specialized in photographing the theatrical profession (and by theatrical profession, I mean that in the broadest terms – he not only photographed actors and musicians, but sideshow performers and circus freaks, basically anyone who could be called an “entertainer”).
Here is another CDV for your consideration, in rather poorer condition than I normally like to buy, but I hadn’t seen this one before. This is Admiral Dot and his wife, Lottie Swartwood. I’ve inverted the image of the verso so you can at least try to make out the handwriting. From what I can read, it says, “…height 33… age 36…weight 36” (the ellipsis are where I can’t make out for sure what it says).
If you’ve been following my blog you know that Chas Eisenmann was quite the celebrity photographer specializing in people of the theater, which included the circus and vaudeville. I suppose photographing the Dots would have been a way to compete with Mathew Brady and the Anthonys, who had the Tom Thumb wedding photos in their portfolio.
We’ll start this one with two of the most famous Victorian era photographers, Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady. The Gardner blind stamp changes, but the only thing I can say for certain is that the stamp with the US Capitol building on it was during or shortly after the Civil War, as it touts his association with the Union army.
The Brady evolution is more obvious. The simple, plain version is his blind stamp from early in the Civil War period. The more ornate, shield-like design would be the 1870s, and the final version is the large letters.
Note the similar evolution in Chas Eisenmann’s blind stamp design. I don’t have a good idea of how long a span of time it took for his design to evolve – it may have been as little as a few years, or it may have been a decade or more separating them. I think though that once he changed it, he stuck with the globetrotter logo for an extended period, perhaps 20 years or more.
C.D. Fredricks bind stamp. I know I have another one of his that would be the “middle” design, but I haven’t hunted it down in the CDV album I have – it would be the “middle” in that it no longer says, “specialité”, but also lists Paris and Havana as studio locations, but the design is not as fancy as the late one.
M.P. Rice. Note the change also includes the addition of (most likely) his son to the masthead of the business. Using the date on the verso, this style had arrived by the late 1870s, so the shield designs would have been late 1860s to early 1870s.
Finally some others for which I don’t have early/late pairings. These are just a few of the others I have, but I like looking at them just for the art.
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.
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.
The Brady image:
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.