The population of New York, the city’s most prominent newspaper opined in February 1863, could be divided into two groups: the lucky few who witnessed the wedding festivities of Charles Stratton … and everyone else.
Stratton, then 25 years old and 35 inches tall, was one of the biggest stars of the mid-19th century. Performing in P.T. Barnum’s shows under the name Gen. Tom Thumb, Stratton enthralled audiences in America and Europe — he appeared before a delighted Queen Victoria — with his song and dance routines and impersonations.
Stratton’s wedding to his slightly smaller co-star, Lavinia Warren, was the event of the season. The city’s elite filled the pews of the magnificent Grace Church. Outside, thousands filled Broadway or perched on rooftops, hoping for a glimpse of the happy couple.
When the newlyweds moved to the Metropolitan Hotel for the reception, the “breath-expurgating, crinoline-crushing, bunion-pinching mass,” as the New York Times put it, followed — in part because Barnum had sold 5,000 tickets to the event.
At the hotel, the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Stratton greeted guests from atop a piano, surrounded by a motherlode of silver wedding gifts, including a ruby-inlaid miniature horse and chariot specially made by Tiffany’s.
Today, the Library preserves a little slice of that glittering history. In the 1950s, the Manuscript Division acquired a piece of the wedding cake served at the Metropolitan as part of the papers of actress Minnie Maddern Fiske and her husband, Harrison Grey Fiske, the editor of a prominent theater publication.
Stratton died in 1883, and Lavinia eventually married the equally diminutive Count Primo Magri, who was indeed Italian but not actually nobility. In 1905, Lavinia sent a letter to the Fiskes, accompanied by the slice of cake, hoping they could give her career a boost. “The public are under the impression that I am not living,” she wrote.
Lavinia kept working into her 70s, even appearing with Magri in a silent film, “The Lilliputian’s Courtship,” in 1915. Four years later, she died and was buried beside Stratton beneath a headstone that read simply, “His Wife.”
A century later, that small piece of cake, now dark and moldy, reminds of a bright, glamourous day in the lives of two remarkable people and their city.
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