On this day in 1863, Charles S. Stratton, better known to the world as General Tom Thumb, married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church. Stratton’s longtime associate P. T. Barnum promoted the event as “The Fairy Wedding,” alluding the diminutive stature of the bride and groom. General Tom Thumb was among the most famous performers in the United States, and had toured throughout the United States and Europe. His marriage to Lavinia Warren, who Barnum billed as the “Queen of Beauty” and the “Smallest Woman in the World,” was the social event of the season, overshadowing for a time even news of the war. In his memoirs, Barnum set the scene as follows:
The day arrived, Tuesday, February 10, 1863. The ceremony was to take place in Grace Church, New York- The Rev. Junius Willey, Rector of St. John’s Church in Bridgeport, assisted by the late Rev. Dr. Taylor, of Grace Church, was to officiate. Tbe organ was played by Morgan. I know not what better I could have done, had the wedding of a prince been in contemplation. The church was comfortably filled by a highly select audience of Iaci.ies and gentlemen, none being admitted except those having cards of invitation. Among tbem were governors of several of the States, to whom I had sent cards, and such of those as could not be present in person were represented by friends, to whom they had given their cards. Members of Congress were present, also generals of the army, and many other prominent public men. Numerous applications were made from wealthy and distinguished persons, for tickets to witness tbe ceremony, and as high as sixty dollars was offered for a single admission. But not a ticket was sold; and Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren were pronounced “man and wife” before witnesses.
The above hand-colored Currier & Ives lithograph depicts the bridal party, which included the dwarf Commodore Nutt and Lavinia’s sister Minnie, encircled by vignettes of their assorted performance routines. The illustration along the bottom shows the miniature carriage that the happy couple took through the cheering crowds to the fashionable Metropolitan Hotel at Broadway in Prince for the reception. During their honeymoon tour, the newlyweds were hosted by President Lincoln at the White House. Grace Greenwood, a visiting journalist, commented that she “noticed the President gazing after them with a smile of quaint humor; but, in his beautiful, sorrows-shadowed eyes, there was something more than amusement–a gentle, human sympathy in the apparent happiness and good-fellowship of this curious wedded pair–come to him out of fairyland.” The Strattons afterward traveled to Europe and eventually embarked on an ambitious three-year tour around the world in 1869. Charles passed away in 1883, but Lavinia remarried and lived long enough to appear in a silent film short, The Lilliputians’ Courtship (1915).
***UPDATE: For those in the New York metropolitan area, I’ll be giving a talk on the life and times of Charles Stratton at the wonderful Observatory in Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 19. Details here.
Sources: The Life of P. T. Barnum (1888); Abraham Lincoln: tributes from his associates, reminiscences of soldiers, statesmen and citizens (1895); A. H. Saxon, ed., The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (1979).