HOUDINI

Some Recollections

  Mrs. Tom Thumb's Autobiography,  New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, November 25, 1906

by Lavinia Warren

 

After our adventurous tour of Australasia, we sailed for India, arriving in Madras on December 3, 1870.   

Here we found an enormous tent formed of the leaves of a native tree which had been built by a company of Portuguese for circus performances. This we procured, but as it required a week to make it available for out use, we went meanwhile to Bangalur, two hundred and sixteen miles inland, in the Province of Mysore, and performed for three days. Returning to Madras, we gave our performances to large audiences of Europeans and wealthy natives. On the fourteenth, we received a visit from His Royal Highness, the Maharaja of Vizianagram, and suite, he having previously signified his intention of calling. He was dressed in French military costume, but wore a close fitting cap embroidered with gold and sparkling with jewels. After a pleasant interview, he departed, leaving with us a souvenir of his visit.   

Among our callers was a Roman Catholic priest, who possessed the complexion and characteristic features of a native, and whom we received as such. Our surprise was almost consternation when he spoke, to hear a rich brogue that would have done credit to Tipperary. Minnie couldn?t master her wonder, but stood and gazed at his dark face and hands while he talked to the General with the unmistakable Irish brogue, as if she could not solve the riddle. We are accustomed to the effects of intermarriages as developing in complexion or feature, but here was a case where the mixture of blood found no expression save in the tongue, and from our American knowledge of the antagonism between Irishmen and Negroes, the effect of a pronounced Irish brogue from the lips of a black man was startling.  

We received many invitations in Madras, among them one from a wealthy native merchant, to be at his residence on the occasion of the celebration of the first anniversary of his grandson's birth. coupled with the invitation was the information that the most celebrated nautch girls would be present. At eleven P.M. we went to his residence, three miles from the city. Passing through an avenue of rare plants, we alighted at the center of a long piazza. This piazza was covered with rich rugs, so arranged as to leave an avenue a yard wide the entire length. At one end stood a band with tom-toms, small jals or gongs, and an instrument resembling a guitar.


An Odd Reception  

We were welcomed by the host, a fine looking portly man in rich Oriental costume. Two magnificent diamonds sparkled in his ears, and his fingers were covered with jewels. There were a dozen European men and women, residents of Madras, present. A servant presented each of us with a nosegay, and a second brought refreshments. The host at intervals approached and sprinkled us from a gold vessel with perfumed water. We were introduced to a number of his distinguished guests, Prince Oomduth-ood Dowlah-Kahn-Baha-doo: His Highness the Prince of Arcot; His Highness Corela Vurmah, brother of the Maharaja of Travancore, who was also present; His Highness Wudayer-Reve-Nabee-yah-lung, Maharaja of Mysore, etc. It is needless to say that we bowed without attempting the names.

Presently the music played and a nautch girl advanced in to the avenue and began her peculiar but graceful movements. She was a star in her profession, receiving two hundred rupees for her service, which she expended almost entirely in procuring jewels to adorn her person. Her costume certainly astonished us. Upon her head she wore a circular crowned cap of gold tissue, in which diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls were ingeniously and thickly placed. Her hair was braided, and fell in thick plaits down her back, the ends fringed with gold thread, upon which were strung beads of Oriental pearls.  

The upper part of her person was covered with a waist of blue silk, fitting tight to the body, over which was a crimson cloth jacket such as now could be called an Eton jacket, and from which the present style is modeled, both waist and jacket heavily embroidered with gold thread. From her waist hung a blue silk skirt reaching to the knee, embroidered in stripes representing a running vine; beneath was a pair of Turkish trousers of gold tissue. Her ankles were encircled with silver bells, and upon her feet were Oriental slippers, with a large emerald surrounded by brilliants upon each instep. Her arms were naked to the shoulder, with a broad armlet set with jewels above each elbow. In her left nostril was a gold hoop of such diameter that it reached to the chin. A broad crescent upon the hoop was set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Long jeweled pendants hung from her ears, and drooping across her forehead and temples was a golden fringe strung with pearls. Her waist was encircled with a broad gold band with a cluster of emeralds and diamonds in the center. Upon every finger she wore one or more jewels. Her age I was told was sixteen.  

Advancing with a step similar to the minuet de la cour, the bells tinkling at every movement, she stopped at every three or four steps, twisted her arms and body, and rolled her eyes, expressing in pantomime the passions of love, anger, fear, sorrow. etc., the actions combined forming a little romance.

An Elephant on Their Hands

From Madras we went by sea to Calcutta, and thence through Jamalpur to Benares, the city of a thousand temples. While we were there the King of Benares visited us. He was a very benevolent looking old man. He urged us to visit his palace, seven miles from the city, but we could not spare the time. Early the next morning, after his visit, we were surprised by the appearance at our bungalow of two enormous elephants, one of them the largest I ever saw. The old King had a herd of sixty, and sent two for our use. The largest was his favorite tiger hunting elephant. They were covered with trappings, and had howdahs upon their backs. We rode on the large one while we remained. The smaller one he wished to present to us, mahout and all; but we felt obliged to refuse the present. The royal old man evidently did not recognize the difficulties that might accrue to our traveling party were we to take an elephant on our hands.  

After traveling thirty-five hundred miles over-land in India we set sail for Egypt: but there our visit was of the briefest. We glanced at the pyramids, spent a day or two in Cairo, and went on to Italy, landing at Brindisi on March 14. 1871.   

A short tour of the principal continental cities followed. We were received by King Victor Emanuel at his palace in Florence, also by Prince Humbert, the late King and Marguerite, his beautiful wife. In Vienna we appeared before the Emperor Francis Joseph at his palace; and indeed we stood within most of the palaces of Europe, and were received by royalty in every captial.  

April 18, 1871, we landed in England and traversed again the United Kingdom, exhibiting in two hundred and eight different cities and towns. We sailed from Liverpool on June 12, 1872, in the steamship Egypt, and sighted Sandy Hook on the twenty-second, three years and one day after the time of our departure.   

To sum up the result of our tour, we traveled fifty-five thousand four hundred and eighty-seven miles, thirty-one thousand two hundred and sixteen miles by sea, gave fourteen hundred and seventy-one entertainments in five hundred and eighty-seven different cities and towns in all climates of the world, without, through accident or ills, missing a single performance wherever announced.  

In 1876, Mr. Barnum invited us to visit him at Bridgeport. After dinner he asked us into his library, as he wished to have a private conversation with us. After a little chat, he said,   I feel that I am of no more use to you than the fifth wheel to a coach; then, turning to Mr. Bleeker, he continued:  Although I am part owner, you have been the captain of the ship so long, and I not rendering any assistance even in the working of the vessel, that I feel as if I had no right to any share of the profit from the voyages. I therefore resign my interest, which you may take and divide between yourself, the General, and Lavinia. If at any time necessities should arise, whereby you may require my assistance, call upon me and I will freely aid you. I have long thought of doing this.  

We all thanked his heartily. But, he continued, don't thank me. You could easily have thrown the old man overboard long ago, as thousands would have done; but I honor you for your friendship and fidelity to me. God bless you for it! and the tears stood in his eyes as he took our hands.  

In the summer of 1878, my sister Minnie died at our home in Middleboro. And here I will refute a general impression which meets me everywhere I go which is that Minnie married Commodore Nutt. This impression arose, I think, from the fact that the Commodore was groomsman at the marriage of General Tom Thumb and myself, and my sister officiated as bridesmaid. Then they were with us in our subsequent travels over the United States and Canada, and completed our quartet on our trip round the world. Minnie married Major Edward Newell, a little man, with whom she became acquainted in New York. He is now in London, England, and has a second wife. Minnie's grave is on the hillside in the beautiful cemetery of my native town.

Continuing Their Travels

It proved one of the greatest trials of my life to go again before the public without her, but it was the life work marked out for me, and I resumed it just as others resume their regular duties after an overwhelming grief. Even now, I do not find it easy to speak of it. All my other sisters and brothers were of normal size, and hence she and I were in a measure isolated from them and brought nearer each other.   

The General and I continued our travels with flattering success until 1881, when Mr. Barnum induced us by a most liberal offer to travel with his Greatest Show on Earth for that season. Although every convenience and luxury that such a life afforded was ours, it was not to our liking, and at the end of the season we withdrew and again resumed our usual travel.  

An even happened on January 10, 1883, the remembrance of which has ever since cast a gloom over my life, and indirectly was the cause of a change in my future. I allude to the burning of the Newhall House in Milwaukee, with all its accompanying horrors. My dearly beloved Mrs. Bleeker was the only victim of our party. Although her husband rescued her from the flames, she was so badly injured that she died twelve days afterward.

The General never recovered from the shock of that terrible ordeal. He died suddenly from heart failure the following July.   

After my husband's death, I determined upon retiring to private life, but almost daily received letters from managers of places of amusement, in all parts of the States, offering me engagements, all of which I declined. My most intimate friends urged me to forego my determination, but I refused.

When visiting some friends in Bridgeport three months subsequent to the General's death, Mr. Barnum called upon me, and when I asked his opinion upon the subject, his reply was that I belonged to the public, and if the public wished to see me I should acquiesce. Turning to Mr. Bleeker, he said, Take her out! Take her out! If she remains as she is, her days will be shortened. You both remember that when I reached the age of sixty-two I retired from business, under advice, for three years. They were years of unhappiness to me. No doubt if I had continued to be inactive, I should have died. I intend when death takes me to find me in harness. He died at the age of eighty -- still in business.  

I accepted his advice, and have since fulfilled many engagements with progit both to the management and myself.  

On Easter Monday, April 6, 1885, I was married to Count Primo Magri, at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Madison ave. and 42nd-st., New York, by the Rev. Mr. Watkins. As I had issue invitations only to personal friends, the large church was well filled, but with no disagreeable crowding. The Count's brother, Baron Magri, acted as groomsman, and Miss Sarah Adams as bridesmaid.

When asked if I don't get tired of this public life, I am wont to answer that in a sense I belong to the public. The appearing before audiences has been my life. I have hardly known any other. It is difficult to realize that in reality I have met three generations. It is not at all unusual for people who meet me to say, I saw you years ago, and have never forgotten it, and now I'm bringing my daughter, that she can have it to tell of, just as I have. Not infrequently women say, here is my grandchild! I want him to shake hands with you, as his mother did when she was little! Recently I was greeted by two elderly women, accompanied by an old man, all of whom had witnessed my marriage with General Tom Thumb (Charles S. Stratton) in 1863.

Then, too, there are many sections of country where new towns have sprung up, and small towns have become thriving cities. In these I am interested. Having been over the ground when it was an unbroken forest or a straggling village, the new developments are like magic to me it is like Houdini Blitz or Herrmann producing live rabbits from an empty hat. Also I find many old friends glad to greet me, and make new friends, whom I hope to meet again. All this, taken into account with Mr. Barnum's advice, Keep going, Mrs. Stratton, keep going! I believe if I remained inactive, it would shorten my days, has influenced me. As Mr. Barnum lived to be eighty, and died in harness, I have felt he was capable of giving advice.


 Lavinia Warren (author) November 25, 1906,  Mrs. Tom Thumb's Autobiography,  New York Tribune Sunday Magazine,  Available at selected libraries Disability History Museum, www.disabilitymuseum.org (March 1, 2005)

 

Images,

General Tom Thumb Charles Eisenmann (photographer) c.1880 Syracuse Univ. Library Cabinet Card Ronald G. Becker Collection of Chas. Eisenmann Photographs, Box 2 No. 207

 

Mrs. Tom Thumb Lavinia Warren c.1880 Syracuse Univ. Library Cabinet Card Charles Eisenmann (photographer)

Ronald G. Becker Collection of Chas. Eisenmann Photographs, Box 2 No. 206

 

Tom Thumb And Wife On Balcony Gen. Tom Thumb and Wife; A. Bogardus, Photo.; 872 B'way cor. 18th St., N.Y. Abraham A. Bogardus (photographer)

Circa 1881   Cabinet Card  Syracuse Univ. Library, Special Collections Ronald G. Becker Collection of Chas. Eisenmann Photographs, Box 3 No. 881

 

Mr. And Mrs. Gen. Tom Thumb With P.T. Barnum, Commodore Nutt, And Minnie Warren Circa 1865 Carte de Visite Tom Thumb Wedding Series  Syracuse Univ. Library, Special Collections Ronald G. Becker Collection of Chas. Eisenmann Photographs, Box 1 No.660

 

Mr. And Mrs. Gen. Tom Thumb Circa 1865 Carte de Visite Tom Thumb Wedding Series  Syracuse Univ. Library, Special Collections Ronald G. Becker Collection of Chas. Eisenmann Photographs, Box 1 No. 659

 

All stories are the property of Sideshow World & their respective authors.  Any republication in part or in whole is strictly prohibited.  For more information please contact us here.

 

Back to the Good Old Days      Back to Main

 

All photos are the property of their respective owners whether titled or marked anonymous.

"Sideshow WorldTM" is the sole property of John Robinson All rights reserved.

 sideshowworld.com   sideshowworld.org   sideshowworld.net  sideshowworld.biz   sideshowworld.info

is the sole property of John Robinson All rights reserved.

E-Mail Sideshow World     E-Mail The Webmaster