Mrs. Tom Thumb's Autobiography,
New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, November 25, 1906
by Lavinia Warren
adventurous tour of Australasia, we sailed for India, arriving
in Madras on December 3, 1870.
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
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
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
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,
(March 1, 2005)
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
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
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