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By April 19, 2021 Read More →

Back in Time for Dinner with Mrs. Tom Thumb


Back in Time for Dinner with Lavinia Warren (Mrs. Tom Thumb)

I love looking through old copies of our local newspaper. You never know what you will find and often the advertisements are as interesting as the news articles. One ad that caught my eye was from the October 4, 1875 issue which promoted the performance of General Tom Thumb and his wife. While I knew a bit about Tom Thumb, I was curious to discover more about his wife Lavinia Warren.


Here’s what we know…

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump was born on October 16, 1842, in Middleborough, MA. Though she was an average sized baby at birth, weighingStudio portrait of Lavinia Warren around 6 pounds, after her first birthday her growth rate was minimal. By age 10 she was 24″ tall and weighed 20 pounds. She suffered from a hormone deficiency resulting in what is called proportionate dwarfism. Luckily for Mercy, her family treated her as they did their other children and she developed into a well-spoken, intellectual young lady.

When Mercy finished school at the age of 16, she became a teacher of 4 to 9 year olds. It was common during this time that the oldest student in the school became the teacher the following year but what was uncommon was that Mercy needed to stand on a table to be seen by her students. Despite her height and quiet voice, she was a commanding teacher and never lost control of her class. But teaching wasn’t to be her destiny. One of Mercy’s cousins convinced her to leave the classroom and become a performer on showboat traveling up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. She shortened her full name to just Lavinia Warren and became a talented singer and a “living curiosity.”

The government confiscated the showboat for military use at the beginning of the Civil War and Lavinia was out of work. Hearing of Lavinia’s talent, Phinias Taylor Barnum convinced her to join his troupe at the American Museum in New York City. By then, she weighed 29 pounds and had reached 32″ tall.

Mrs. Tom Thumb

While working for P.T. Barnum, Lavinia met her future husband Charles Stratton. Stratton stage name was Gen. Tom Thumb and he was the star of Barnum’s circus. Unlike Lavinia, Stratton’s stature embarrassed by his family. They sent him from his Bridgeport, CT, home at four years of age to work for P T Barnum. Touring with Barnum from the age of five, Stratton became a talented, singer, actor, dancer and comedian.

Both Lavinia and Charlie earned very good money working for Barnum. After splitting from Barnum, they toured on their own in he 1870s with two other little people, including Lavinia’s younger sister, Minnie. Minnie was with Lavinia and Charlie when they performed in Peterborough in 1875.

Charlie died unexpectedly from a stroke in 1883 at the age of 45. Lavinia passed away in 1919 at 77.

Here’s what I imagined…

Imagine getting the chance to meet Lavinia and to talk to her about her life. Lavinia and Charles might have stopped with their troop at Advertisement for Tom Thumb performance French’s Tavern on Main Street for dinner prior to their evening performances.  Lavinia would be very friendly, definitely the talker in the group, and asks me to join them while they enjoy their coffee and dessert.

She is so open about her life and confesses their lavish lifestyle had left them a bit strapped for cash. They had decided to do another tour, traveling to all 37 states. She invites me to come to their 8 o’clock show at the Town Hall where her group will be performing and talking about their previous world tour adventures. This would be so exciting as most of us in town have never traveled more than a few miles from home.


Here’s what we ate…

Gen. Tom Thumb was known for his appetite! He would have had no trouble finishing all that was served to him and might even have a second dessert. Here are two tavern recipes that Charlie and Lavinia may have enjoyed.

Eggs and Onions with Rice

Indian Pudding with Lemon Sauce

Click for the recipes

Next week we will be Back in Time for Dinner with Eleanor Roosevelt!

 

Lorraine, the Monadnock Center's Resident Culinarian  

Lorraine Walker is the Monadnock Center’s resident culinarian. When she isn’t serving up tasty treats from the Phoenix Mill House hearth, she can be found poring over historic cookbooks and local history documents in the archives.