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Tom Thumb’s Wedding Cake…Still at the Library, 159 Years Later

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A bride and groom, both dwarves, pose arm in arm for a wedding photo
Charles Stratton (“Gen. Tom Thumb”) weds his co-star, Lavinia Warren, in New York in 1863.

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.

A slice of wedding cake from the ceremony. Manuscript Division.

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.

Cover sheet of music, with a black and white sketch of the small bride and groom
Sheet music for “General Tom Thumb’s Grand Wedding March,” by E. Mack. Prints and Photographs Division.

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Comments (7)

  1. This was a fascinating article. How does the Library preserve something that is perishable? And what kind of cake was it originally, if you know? It looks like chocolate, but that might be the effects of “age.”

  2. This is very neat! Keep the interesting articles coming!

  3. It’s Tiffany (& Co.), not Tiffany’s.

  4. I have some of his cards. They are signed. Are they collectibles? Are they expensive?

    • Hi Myriam,

      Alas, the Library doesn’t appraise items or, being a government agency, offer advice on their market worth. But any auction house or book/memorabilia dealer will have the same or similar items, and you can informally get an idea of what your items might be worth.

      All best,
      Neely

  5. I know the box is superfluous, but I have ancestors named Tinkham who lived in Middleboro MA, going back to the 1600s. E.F. Tinkham must be a relative – I’ll have to track him down.

  6. @Matt. I’ve read that the cake was brandy soaked fruitcake.

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