Born in 1838 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, legendary entertainer Charles Sherwood Stratton, a.k.a. “Tom Thumb,” began touring with the internationally famous showman and fellow Connectican P. T. Barnum at the tender age of five. Stratton had first attracted Barnum’s attention because of his unusually small size — Stratton was a dwarf who never grew taller than 42 inches in adulthood — but Barnum was delighted to discover that the young boy was remarkably clever and proved to be a brilliant entertainer. Over the years, Stratton, as “General Tom Thumb,” developed a reputation as a charming performer, with a talent for acting, singing, and improvising comedic routines on stage. Already a celebrity in the United States, Stratton achieved international stardom following a European tour in the 1850s, where he met several heads-of-state, including Queen Victoria.
Years later, when Barnum’s most famous and beloved performer decided to tie the knot to fellow little person Lavinia Warren in 1863, the showman couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote their wedding as the event of a lifetime. The nonstop coverage of what was called “The Fairy Wedding” between “General Tom Thumb” and his bride, “The Queen of Beauty,” was so extensive that it pushed news of the ongoing American Civil War off the front pages of the New York Times for three full days. Newspapers across the country latched onto every last detail of the matrimonial preparations, publishing breathless articles about Lavinia’s satin wedding gown, the wedding party (all composed of little people), and the couple’s scheduled European honeymoon.
On February 10, 1863, Charles Stratton wed Lavinia Warren in front of thousands at the cathedral-like Grace Episcopal Church in downtown New York City in what was undoubtedly the biggest celebrity wedding of the decade. After the service, the newlyweds hosted a lavish reception at the nearby Metropolitan Hotel, standing atop a grand piano to greet their many well-wishers, most of whom paid $75 a head (over $2,000 in today’s money) to attend. Afterwards, the couple were welcomed to a special reception at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln before leaving on their honeymoon. By many accounts, their marriage was a happy one, cut short only by Charles Stratton’s untimely death in 1883; their status as international celebrities and accomplished performers allowed them to live a very comfortable life by 19th century standards, owning multiple homes, a yacht, and even one of Connecticut’s Thimble Islands. One of the biggest days for one of P. T. Barnum’s smallest — and most beloved — performers, today in Connecticut history.
“General Tom Thumb and the ‘Fairy Wedding’,” The Barnum Museum
Anne Farrow, “Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren Wed,” connecticuthistory.org