There is something in us as human beings that makes us unable to look away when we see something that is “abnormal”. A prime example of this is the Circus Freak Shows dating back to as early as the 16th century in England. A Freak Show usually consists of a group of people that have deformities, odd talents, genetic anomalies and all other things that were amusing for poeple to look at and usually pay money to see the show. In England it started to become wildly popular people with with deformities began to be treated as an object for amusement and entertainment purposes only.
The Things you would see at places like this could be anything from abnormally tall, short, fat, skinny, hairy, hairless people or Tattoos and piercings covering whole bodies and even classic acts like sword swallowing. It was all fair game at a freak show.
One of the most well known circus freak shows would have to have been done by P.T. Barnum founder of the world famous Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1842 Barnum debuted his first major Hoax used in his Freak Show act and that was a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish called “FeeJee Mermaid”. But one of his most popular would have to be Charles Stratton, the dwarf “General Tom Thumb” they called him. Now this was actually a five year old kid, although it was stated he was 11, that had stopped growing when he was just 6 months old and was only 25 inches tall and weighed in at just 15 pounds. The boy was born to normal size parents but just stop growing at 6 months old for unknown reasons. Barnum made an arrangement with the boys father to teach him how to sing, dance and do impersonations of famous characters like napoleon and cupid. So basically you had this 2ft tall toddler looking kid that was able to act, walk and talk like an adult. There were stories that the boy was drinking wine and smoking up to seven cigars a day just to amuse the onlooking crowds. Tom Thumb became an international star that even went with Barnum to perform in front of Queen Victoria herself who was a huge fan of Thumb.
However as humiliating as that may have been for the little guy, he was making pretty good money doing his thing making $150 a week which in the 1840’s was great money. To put that into today’s terms it equates out to be around $4300 a week. Charles Stratton was able to retire off if time playing Tom Thumb, Barnum made that 2 foot playboy a very rich man actually. He was able to buy a home in New York, buy a steam yacht and wore only the finest clothes. In 1847 Stratton started to grow for the first time since he was 6 months old, in 1851 on his 13th birthday he measured a whopping 2 feet 5 inches tall (4 inches taller than he had been since 6 months old). On his 18th birthday he was 2 feet 8.5 inches tall, and when he was inducted into the Freemasons in 1862 at age 24 he was a whopping 2 feet 11 inches tall.
In 1863 Stratton was married to Lavinia Warren who at 2 feet 6 inches was also a dwarf that was the perfect size for Stratton. The wedding was front page news as the couple stood atop of a Grand Piano in front of 10,000 guests at New York’s Metropolitan hotel. Stratton had George Washington “Commodore” Nutt as his best man who was also working for Barnum circus doing Tom Thumbs old job since he was only about 2 feet 6 inches tall also. After the wedding the couple was received by the President of the United states, Abraham Lincoln, at the white house.
After touring all over the world performing with his wife, Stratton decided to settle back down in the United States where he went on to live a happy life with his wife. January 10th 1883 Stratton had a heart attack and passed away at the age of just 45 years old, although he did live longer than most expected he would with his condition. P.T. Barnum purchased a life size sculptor of Stratton and placed it on a large grave stone marking the burial of the great Tom Thumb in Bridgeport, Connecticut/