Top of page

Going to Extremes: The Greatest Wedding Cake on Earth?

Share this post:

(The following is an article written by Audrey Fischer, managing editor of the Library of Congress Magazine, and featured in the November/December 2015 issue. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

The Library’s food collections include once-edible artifacts.

“General Tom Thumb’s Grand Wedding March," composed by E. Mac, Philadelphia 1863. Prints and Photographs Division.
“General Tom Thumb’s Grand Wedding March,” composed by E. Mac, Philadelphia 1863. Prints and Photographs Division.

On Feb. 10, 1863, an event occurred that caused a media sensation and distracted the war-weary nation from the bloody Civil War. On that day, showman P.T. Barnum hosted the wedding of two performers in his circus—the 2-foot-11-inch Charles Stratton (known professionally as General Tom Thumb) and the similarly sized Lavinia Warren.

The elaborate ceremony at New York’s Grace Episcopal Church was followed by a reception at the Metropolitan Hotel. Perched atop a grand piano, the couple greeted their guests, who included members of New York’s high society. Barnum sold tickets to the reception to the first 5,000 to apply. Tiffany and Co. provided a silver coach for the occasion. President Abraham Lincoln and wife Mary held a special reception for the newlyweds at the White House.

A piece of Tom Thumb's wedding cake, 1863. Minnie Maddern Fiske Papers, Manuscript Division.
A piece of Tom Thumb’s wedding cake, 1863. Minnie Maddern Fiske Papers, Manuscript Division.

A once-edible artifact remains as a reminder of the occasion—a piece of the couple’s wedding cake is preserved in the Library’s Manuscript Division. The item came to the Library of Congress in the 1950s in the papers of actress Minnie Maddern Fiske and her husband, theater manager Harrison Grey Fiske. Tom Thumb’s widow sent the cake to Harrison Fiske in 1905, perhaps hoping that it would lead to stage work or some publicity for her autobiography published the following year. At the time, Fiske was editor of “The New York Dramatic Mirror.”

“The public are under the impression that I am not living,” she noted in her letter to Fiske, which accompanied the slice of cake. In 1885 she married Count Primo Magri—two inches shorter than her first husband. To support their lavish lifestyle, the couple continued to perform into their later years.

Recent “food finds” in the Library’s collections include a hand-made greeting card decorated with rice sent to civil rights activist Rosa Parks by her nephew and a candy conversation heart from the 1920s in the Coolidge-Pollard Families Papers—a collection related to the maternal side of President Calvin Coolidge’s family.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.