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Some Recollections: The Story Of My Marriage And Honeymoon

From: Mrs. Tom Thumb's Autobiography
Creator: Lavinia Warren (author)
Date: October 7, 1906
Publication: New York Tribune Sunday Magazine
Source: Available at selected libraries


This was the second of Lavinia Warren's articles to appear in the New York Tribune Sunday Magazine in 1906. Amidst the carnage and uncertainties of the Civil War, the wedding of Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren in New York City on February 10, 1863 was a well-publicized social event and popular culture diversion. Invited to the White House after the celebration, the couple met with Abraham Lincoln, his family, and various dignitaries. The following account of that visit comes from Lavinia Warren’s series of articles in the New York Tribune in 1906. This brief description illustrates Lincoln’s renowned sense of humor as well as the cultural meanings of bodily difference at a time when the dime museum was established as a central institution in the world of American amusements.

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To me as to every other woman, my marriage was the most important event of my life, and as I look back upon it, I think I can safely say that no other event ever occasioned so great public in interest in me as did that. We were married in Grace Church New York, on Tuesday, February 10, 1863. The further particulars are taken from the report published in "Frank Leslie's Weekly."


"Before the hour of high noon," says the report, "the entire neighborhood of Grace Church was thronged with expectant and smiling crowds. All vehicles had been turned from the route by the police, whose cooperation had been obtained by the foresight of the presiding genius, P. T. Barnum.


"To the diminutive bridal pair, the ordinary arrangements of the chancel would have been far too Brobdignagian. The chancel rail would have towered above their heads, and the chancel steps would have proved heights beyond their powers to scale. Therefore, a neat platform was erected in front of the chancel, to the right of the pulpit, carpeted like the aisles, six steps leading to it, and spanning the three ordinary steps which suffice for ordinary sized mortals. The platform was prettily bordered with gilded moldings, and the surface of it was at about half the height of the chancel rail.


"The interior of the church was crowded with a gray assemblage of the youth, beauty, wealth, and worth of the metropolis. The cards of invitation had requested full dress, which was, in most instances, complies with, so that the swarming, bustling congregation resembled one vast parterre of brilliant tulips all ablaze in the midday sun. Major General Ambrose L. Burnside was, perhaps, the most notable guest who assisted upon the extraordinary occasion.

The General as a Bridegroom

General Thumb looked the respectable gentleman in miniature, wearing a full dress suit of the finest broadcloth, vest of white corded silk, with blue silk under vest, white gloves, and shining boots. Commodore Nutt was similarly attired, with a pink under vest.


"The graceful form of the bride was displayed to peculiar advantage in her robe of white satin, its skirt, fashioned with a flowing train, decorated with a superb point lace flounce, which cots its half hundred a yard. Her massive hair, slightly waxed, was rolled a la Eugenie in front, and elaborately puffed behind. The bride's jewels consisted of a complete parure of diamonds comprising a superb necklace, with pendants, bracelets, and brooch of star design, ear rings, solitaires with pear shaped pendants, while two diamond pins fastened the bridal veil.


"The tiny bridesmaid, who had just attained sweet sixteen, wore a white silk dress covered with tulle puffings, interspersed with bright rosebuds, the low neck corsage having a bertha to match. A wreath of small roses rested on her short curls, and unobtrusive diamond ornaments completed her toilet.


"The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Mr. Willey of Bridgeport, Connecticut; the bride was given away, at the request of her parents, by the Rev. Dr. Putnam of Middleboro; and the benediction was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Taylor, rector of Grace Church. After the wedding, re-entering the carriages in waiting, they were rapidly driven through the animated crowds that nearly blocked Broadway, to the Metropolitan hotel, where they received their 'clear five thousand friends,' from one until three o'clock.


"Among the many bridal gifts presented to the happy pair were a coral and gold brooch set, earrings, and studs, of the finest workmanship, presented by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt; a pair of silver cups and saucers lined with gold, by Mrs. William Bassett; a silver miniature tea set, by Mrs. James Gordon Bennett; a set of charms in gold, presented to the bride by August Belmont; a necklace of Tuscan gold, by Mrs. Belmont; coral leaf brooch and earrings with diamond center, by Mrs. Astor; a set of silver goblets and salver, by Mrs. Livingston; a diamond ring, by Commodore Nutt; a black fan, composed entirely of feathers, the handle of gold, by Mrs. Ashwell; coral and diamond set, by Mrs. Clark; dressing case, by H.A. Spalding; a set of coffee spoons, silver, lined with gold, by Mrs. Quackenboss; a set of salt cellars and teaspoons, by Mrs. C.A. Phelps; dressing case, by Mrs. S.H. Hurd; bronze clock and vases, by Mrs. Howland; malachite stand, by Mrs. Thorne; gold and pearl card receiver, by Mrs. Stuart; dinner set of porcelain and gold, numbering one hundred and twenty-seven pieces, by Mrs. E. N. Roosevelt; dining silver plated chafing dishes and covers, fourteen in number, by Mrs. Greeley; dessert service, Sevres porcelain, harlequin pattern, eighty-four pieces, Mr. and Mrs. Lenox; book case, papier mache, inlaid with gold, silver, and pearl, Mrs. S. Draper; a set of Chinese fire screens, by Mrs. Lincoln.


"At ten o'clock in the evening, the New-York Excelsior band serenaded the bridal party at the Metropolitan. The street in front of this hotel was so densely crowded with people that stages and other vehicles were brought to a standstill, or obliged to turn off through other streets in order to pursue their way. After the band had played several airs, Mr. and Mrs. Stratton appeared upon the balcony, and were greeted with cheers."

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The day after our wedding, we set out on our bridal tour, stopping first at Philadelphia and then at Washington, where we were invited to the White House. "The Washington Star" gives the following account of it:


"Last evening, at eight o'clock the little couple visited, by invitation, at the White House, and were introduced to the President, Mrs. Lincoln, Secretaries Chase, Stanton, Welles, Blair, and Usher, and Senator Wilson, Generals Butler and Clay, Hon. J. J. Crittendon, and many other gentlemen of distinction, nearly all of whom were accompanied by their families. The President, in the course of the evening, remarked to General Thumb that he had thrown him completely in the shade; that he, the General, was now the great center of attraction. Refreshments were served to the guests of the President and Mrs. Lincoln, which the little folks appeared to relish as much as any person present. At half past nine they left the White House and repaired to Willard's, where they received the members of the Press and a few select friends."


Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln received us cordially. When Mr. Lincoln stooped his towering form to greet us, there was a peculiarly quizzical expression in his eye, which almost made me laugh outright. Knowing his predilection for story telling, I imagined he was about to utter something of a humorous nature; but he only said, with a genial smile, "Mrs. Stratton, I wish you much happiness in your union." After receiving the congratulations of all present, the President took our hands and led us to the sofa, lifting the General up and placing him at his left hand, while Mrs. Lincoln did the same service for me, placing me at her right. We were thus seated between them.


"Tad," the favorite son, stood beside his mother and gazed at me for a few moments, then, looking at his father, said half audibly. "Mother, isn't it funny that father is so tall, and Mr. and Mrs. Stratton are so little?" The President, overhearing the remark, replied, "My boy, it is because Dame Nature sometimes delights in doing funny things. You need not seek for any other reason; for here you have the short and the long of it," pointing to the General and himself. This created quite a laugh. A few minutes afterward "Tad" again whispered to his mother, "Mother, if you were a little woman like Mrs. Stratton, you would look just like her."


"Mr. Stanton," said the President, "is General Tom Thumb's name upon our army list?" -- " No," said Mr. Stanton, then, turning to the General he inquired. "Where did you receive your title?" "From Queen Victoria."' replied the General (this is a fact not generally known). " Why, how was that?" asked Mr. Lincoln." When I appeared before the Queen at Buckingham Palace," said the General, "there were present besides the Queen, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal" (since Empress of Germany; they were children then), "the Queen Dowager, the Duke of Wellington, and a number of nobility. Mr. Barnum had introduced me as Tom Thumb. The Duke of Wellington remarked to one of the nobility, 'Their Royal Highnesses are head and shoulders taller than Tom Thumb,' Her Majesty heard it, and turning to the old Duke said, 'General Tom Thumb.' The Duke bowed, and with a military salute to me, repeated, 'General Tom Thumb.' and everybody bowed. After that I was always called by the title, and English soldiers always present arms as I pass."


"You have never been called upon to do active duty in the field?" said Mr. Stanton.


"Oh," quickly responded the President, "his duty now will always be required in the matrimonial field. He will serve with the home guard."


The next morning we received from the President a pass allowing us to cross the "Long Bridge," and a permit to visit the Army Camp on Arlington Heights. About one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers were concentrated there. Regiments were arriving and departing almost hourly. My brother Benjamin's regiment, the Fortieth Massachusetts, had fortunately arrived from the front the evening before, so we had a happy meeting with him; he was granted a furlough for a few days that he might accompany us north. As we rode through the vast camp, we were greeted with cheers, throwing up of caps, and shouts from all sides, such as, "General, I saw you last down in Maine!" -- " I saw you in Boston!" -- "I saw you in Pennsylvania!" -- "I saw you in old New York!" -- "Three cheers for General Tom Thumb and his little wife!" etc. It seemed a joy to them to see a face which recalled to their minds memories of happy days at home. It was a grand but a sad sight to me. I reflected how many of those brave fellows would perhaps never again see home, wives, or children, but their bodies now so full of life be lying inanimate on the battle field.


After a brief visit home. we returned to New York, making our headquarters at the St. Nicholas hotel. It was the great hotel of those days, but would seem strangely behind the times to the present day traveler. Dinners and receptions galore were tendered us. With the latter I got on very well, for I was accustomed to standing by the hour, but the full dress and many course dinners taxed my patience even more than my digestion; and as it was at that time the fashion to eat with gloves on, I found it rather inconvenient, particularly as no gloves that fitted me could be bought but had to be ordered, and wondered sometimes whether the sky would fall if the dealer failed to fill my order on time and I should find myself without any that were clean enough to wear.

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Again the date was set for our departure for Europe. It was to be in October, and in the interim we were persuaded by Mr. Barnum to give a series of levees at Irving Hall. Younger New Yorkers will ask where that was, and will be surprised to be told it was at the corner of Irving Place and Fifteenth-st., and that it was considered at that time the most aristocratic place in the city.


These levees grew irksome to the General, and I was naturally anxious to go to Europe, so our combined entreaties had the desired effect, and Mr. Barnum selected as his agent Sylvester Bleeker to go with us, and arrange an entertainment which was to include General Tom Thumb and myself, together with Commodore Nutt and Minnie Warren. Mr. Bleeker himself appeared on the stage to accentuate the contrast between ourselves and people of normal size. This arrangement was so successful that Mr. Barnum asked that we fill in the time until October by a trip through New England and Canada.

Departed Just in Time

WE left New York for this trip on the last train that quitted the city before the tracks were torn up the first morning of the draft riots.


After a brief tour through Canada and the United States we sailed on October 29, 1864, in the steamship City of Washington for England. Our voyage occupied fourteen days. Our anticipated arrival had been heralded far and wide, and when we stepped ashore at Liverpool we were greeted by several thousand people. Our carriage could make no progress through the throng until a body of police forced a way for us. Indeed, the General was more than once arrested for obstructing travel, but his lawyer convinced the magistrate that as our carriage was a private equipage its owner would not be held responsible for the actions of street gazers.


Sunday was "Mayor's Day," and the city was thronged with sightseers to witness the procession, which is a gorgeous and stately affair conducted with all the pomp and decorum becoming the dignity of the Mayor's official position. Anxious to see the parade, we placed ourselves on the balcony, when to our dismay the waiting crowd, instead of parting to let the procession through, solidified in front of our window, and halted the procession by mere force of their numbers, while they shouted and gazed, not at the procession, but at us.


Going from Liverpool directly to London, we were there summoned to Marlborough House, to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales, like ourselves, a newly married couple. I was married February 10, 1863, and the Prince of Wales on March of the same year. The Prince told us that he had never forgotten his disappointment on learning that General Tom Thumb had visited his mother, Queen Victoria, once when he (the Prince) had gone to bed.

Mrs. Thumb's Patriotism

In December, 1864, we left London for Paris.


The General spoke French readily, but as none of the rest of us did (indeed, I'm such a rampant American, I was never willing to acquire any other than my native language) our intercourse with the people we met was necessarily limited. France was not a Republic then and after being summoned before the Emperor and court our success was assured. The beautiful Eugenie was one to be always remembered, and the Prince Imperial was a manly, handsome boy apparently about nine years old.


On June 2, 1865, we were summoned to appear before Queen Victoria and the royal family at Windsor Castle. We gave an entertainment in the "Rubens Room." Princess Helena, Princess Louise, Princess Beatrice, Prince Leopold, and a number of lords and ladies in waiting were present. At the conclusion of our performance, the Queen signaled for the General and me to approach her. She gently took my hand, and placing it upon her palm, looked at it with a smile, and remarked, "It is smaller than an infant's." Then she questioned me about my home, my parents, and my family, frequently patting my hand as she talked. "I saw your husband many, many years ago," said she. "His name is quite a household word with us." She then reminded the General of the incident of his attacking her King Charles Spaniel. The Princesses gathered around us, and one of them exclaimed, "Oh, look at her dear little feet!"


The Duchess of Argyle took Minnie on her lap, laughingly persisting that so tiny a mite was not too old to sit in her lap, and all present gathered around us, our size breaking down all barriers of court etiquette. After Her Majesty had closed the interview, we were shown about the palace., a privilege we appreciated, as usually when the family is occupying it strangers are excluded.


We visited most of the towns of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, two hundred and eight in number.


A comical episode in Glasgow was a source of merriment to our whole party for many days after. As we were driving to the hall one afternoon we met a funeral. The coffin was placed in the bottom of a peculiar vehicle, and the mourners (presumably) sat on either side facing each other, and if not resting their feet on the coffin must have had some difficulty avoiding it. Looking at them with all the sympathy such an occasion is likely to command, we observed the lugubrious expression on their faces change suddenly as they caught sight of our equipage. From simple surprise, it grew to astonished wonderment, and our surprise was no less when, deserting the coffin, they sprang to the roadway and eagerly followed our carriage until they had seen us leave it and enter the hall.

Touring the Emerald Isle

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IN Ireland we were entertained most delightfully by members of the nobility, who reside in Dublin, and our levees in Rotunda Hall were crowded. We went to Phoenix Park, little dreaming the terrible associations it would later acquire; and took rides in a jaunting car,.


On a later visit to Ireland, with Mr. Stratton only, we visited Blarney Castle, and my husband insisted on being lowered by his feet till he was able to kiss the Blarney Stone, though I stoutly maintained the ceremony was quite superfluous for him. I gazed at the soles of his boots in mortal terror, and was thankful his weight was no greater.


We went the length and breadth of the island, repeating pleasant experiences at every turn. We were there at Christmas, but gave no levee that day, as the people look upon it as a holy day.

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