Posts Tagged ‘Mathew Brady’

Zip the Pinhead at Coney Island

May 27, 2009

If the year was 1925 instead of 2009 and you were planning a trip to Coney Island, you would be able to see Zip the Pinhead, a P.T. Barnum freak show find who by the 1920s displayed himself at one of the boardwalk sideshows.

Zip_the_pinheadLike other freaks of the time, he was very popular; supposedly Charles Dickens and the Prince of Wales visited him, and he had his portrait done by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. He was also heralded for saving a little girl from drowning off Coney Island.

Despite his appearance, Zip wasn’t microcephalic (the medical term for having a pinhead). Nor was he mentally disabled, according to some accounts. He just happened to be born into a poor New Jersey family and then “discovered” by Barnum, who billed him as a “wild man” from Africa.

Apparently Zip laughed all the way to the bank. On his deathbed in 1926, the 80-something’s last words reportedly were “We fooled ’em for a long time, didn’t we?”

Check out more sideshow freaks and curiosities here.

New York’s “fairy” wedding of the year, 1863

May 6, 2009

General Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, was already an international sensation even before his celebrated New York City marriage. Three-foot tall Tom had toured the world with P.T. Barnum, who taught him how to sing, dance, and perform when he was a kid. 

tomthumbgetsmarriedOn February 10, 1863, Tom, 25, married 20-year-old Lavinia Warren, also part of P.T. Barnum’s traveling sideshow. The wedding took place at Grace Church on Broadway and East 10th Street; the reception held at the Metropolitan Hotel, down Broadway on Prince Street.

laviniawarrenBarnum milked the nuptials as best as he could. He sold tickets to the reception for $75 a head, displayed Lavinia’s hand-made wedding dress in a department store window, and hawked souvenir trinkets.

Thousands of New Yorkers crowded the streets outside the church while Vanderbilts and Astors watched inside. Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, who had a studio nearby, took photos. Newspapers ran stories about the “loving lilliputians” and their “fairy wedding.” 

Tom and Lavinia continued to tour with Barnum. They had no kids (much to Barnum’s chagrin), and the marriage lasted until Tom died of a stroke in 1883.