Pardon the completely coincidental and generally inappropriate reference to the first two atomic bombs. Today for your viewing pleasure we have Frank Williams, professional sideshow fat man, who according to his bio data on the back of the CDV weighed in at 487 lbs at just 18 years of age.
According to the Circus Historical Society, he was touring with the King & Franklin New Colossal Shows and Great Wild West in 1888-1890 as part of their sideshow. On a side note, in doing some quick research on Frank, I saw a lot of threads pop up using an image of Frank to start a nasty, snarky discussion of modern-day obesity. It may be true that there are more obese people today than there were 120 years ago, but it’s no excuse for nastiness to those alive today or those long dead. To me it’s victimizing Frank as a sideshow freak all over again, but I wonder how he’d feel about it as exhibition as a sideshow freak was his chosen profession.
Next up, a more pleasant note, is an anonymous CDV of a little person in policeman’s costume with a gigantic fake mustache escorting a pretty girl in a frilly dress. Nothing more is known about it, as there is nothing on the verso either printed to identify the photographer or handwritten to identify the subjects.
Another addition to the collection of 19th century “freaks”. This one is totally anonymous – no label of who the subject is, or blind stamp on the verso from the photographer. But it’s clearly an original image from the overall quality – not a copy made from someone else’s CDV or stereo view, which makes it a little surprising to see. Oftentimes when photographers were stealing images of another photographer to reprint and sell, they would leave the back of the carte blank so if the copyright holder tried to track them down it would be much harder, and provide them with a degree of plausible deniability “I was merely selling these on consignment – I didn’t illegally copy them! And by the way, I don’t know who it was that sold me the copies…I think he said his name was Smith… yeah, that’s the ticket”. The subject looks familiar to me but I’m not sure – I bet he can be identified though. He’s quite handsome, bordering on just unusually short, and very well proportioned, unlike some of the circus freak little people performers of the day.
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.
Here is a CDV of Suzie Reed, another one of Barnum’s Little People. The image is by Brady, even though the backmark just says E. & H.T. Anthony. The image is documented in the Meserve Collection, which was a collection of Brady images assembled by Frederick Hill Meserve that ended up being one of the largest repositories of Brady’s work not held in a museum. Another notable hallmark is the “reaper” clock, which made a regular if infrequent appearance (there are some 60 known images by Brady featuring the clock, but more may exist in the negatives as the clock may have been cropped out of the final prints). There’s a great article about the clock online – Bob Frishman’s Story of the Brady ‘Reaper’ Clock.
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.