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Tourstub July 15, 2019

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Nice Tours Of The Usa photos

Nice Tours Of The Usa photos

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1869 Dwarfs Wedding at Bristol
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Image by brizzle born and bred
Old postcard dated 1869, marked as Dwarfs Wedding at Bristol.

The world, it seems, remains fascinated with people of short stature. Two-and-a-half million people tuned in to watch the documentary series Seven Dwarves on Channel 4 recently, while Ricky Gervais’ latest sitcom, Life’s Too Short, is also dedicated to the lives of dwarves.

However, the modern-day fascination with “little people” is nothing in comparison to that of the Victorian era, when dwarves toured the world with circuses and people queued for hours to gawp at them.

The most famous of these touring dwarves was probably General Tom Thumb, who achieved immense fame across America and Europe while working for circus pioneer PT Barnum.

But Tom Thumb had a rival in the size stakes – a teenager from Skipton who seemed destined for similar stardom. The two actually met on one occasion and Craven’s own Edwin Calvert was able to prove that he was the smaller – something which delighted locals at the time. They proudly believed him to be the “smallest man in the world”.

Plans were afoot for Calvert to meet Queen Victoria and tour Europe, but his untimely death, at the age of only 17, meant he never emulated the celebrity status enjoyed by his counterpart from the other side of the Atlantic.

Born in 1838 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA, Charles Sherwood Stratton was a relatively large baby, weighing nine pounds eight ounces at birth. He developed and grew normally for the first six months of his life, to a height of 25 inches and a weight of 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Then he stopped growing.

By late 1842, aged four, Stratton had not grown an inch in height or put on a pound in weight from that time. Doctors doubted he would ever grow much taller.

A very distant relative of Stratton, the showman PT Barnum, heard about the boy and contacted his parents. With their permission he trained Stratton as an all-round entertainer. He learned how to sing, dance, mime and impersonate famous people.

Barnum exaggerated the boy’s age, saying the four-year-old was 11, and gave him the stage name General Tom Thumb, claiming he came from London. The name was inspired by the old English folk tale of Tom Thumb.

Aged just five, Stratton made his first tour of the USA, with Barnum. His routine included dressing as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte. Also, like more contemporary comics, he worked as a double act with another performer who acted as a straight man and he would perform musical routines, the most famous being the hornpipe dance and song “Yankee Doodle Dandee”.

He proved so popular, Barnum took Stratton on a tour of Europe, making him a truly international celebrity. During the tour, Stratton performed before Queen Victoria and also met the three-year-old Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII. After a shaky start, the tour was a huge success, with crowds mobbing him wherever he went.

Queen Victoria saw Tom Thumb three times and he met with other European Royalty. As a result, his fame grew and he became a rich man, purchasing a house in the fashionable part of New York, a steam yacht and fine clothes. When Barnum got into financial difficulty it was Stratton who bailed him out and eventually they became business partners.

In 1847 Stratton started to grow for the first time since he was a baby, albeit slowly. In January 1851 Stratton stood exactly two feet five inches tall. On his 18th birthday, he was measured at just over two feet eight inches. By the time Tom Thumb reached the age of 21, he had just about reached his maximum height of three feet three inches. He weighed about 17 pounds.

At this point, the performer undertook the latest of his European tours and on this occasion, his travelling show took him through Craven. While in Skipton he reportedly heard about the local challenger to his crown – Edwin Calvert – and sent for him.

Four years Stratton’s junior, Calvert believed he was smaller than Tom Thumb. As a result, he was known by friends as the Commander-in-Chief – thereby out-ranking the famous General.

If the recorded measurements are correct, when they met Calvert was a good three inches shorter and many pounds lighter than Stratton.

A book, Giants and Dwarfs by Edward J Wood – published just 10 years after the General and Commander-in-Chief met – recorded the event, describing Calvert as “a dwarf of some celebrity at Skipton”.

“He was thirty-six inches in height and weighed only twenty-three-and-a-half pounds. He was a sharp, quick and intelligent youth, and used to visit the most aristocratic families in the neighbourhood.”

It seems that in common with Stratton, Calvert was something of a performer who had learned to mimic, make music and dance.

Wood reported: “He was a clever performer on the violin; he could dance some of the most fashionable ancient and modern dances; and he was a great mimic of birds and other animals.”

Calvert, it seems, fancied the fame and fortune attained by Stratton.

“Arrangements were being made for him to be presented to the Queen; a court dress was being made; and in less than a month he was going to London and then on the Continent for exhibition,” Wood wrote.

When the two dwarves met, it seems they swapped clothes to assess which was truly the smallest.

Wood reported: “Tom Thumb took off his own boots, and the other got into them; he could easily throw them off, as they were too large for him.”

Calvert never travelled to London, met the Queen, or toured Europe. He died just a few months after meeting his rival, on August 7, 1859. His tombstone can still be found in Skipton. It stands against the wall of Christ Church, with an inscription that reads: “In memory of Edwin Calvert, known by the title of the Commander-in-chief, being the smallest and most perfect man in the world, being under 36 inches in height and weighing 23 and one-half pounds.”

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