Rivals In Love: Commodore Nutt vs. General Tom Thumb
Trigger warning: The cuteness factor is off the charts in this tale
At its peak during the 1800s, P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York was raking in $3,000 per day. Such was the general public’s fascination with human oddities and strange exhibits at the time (and even today). Part showman-part fraudster, Barnum was always looking for the next big attraction to draw in crowds at his house of sideshows, special people and exhibits. As friends who had made a fortune together, Tom Thumb and Barnum had parted ways while Thumb sought new ventures out west. Barnum needed a replacement.
Born George Washington Morrison Nutt to a farming family in New Hampshire, Nutt was spotted working in a circus when Barnum offered him a huge $10,000 per year contract to appear at his New York museum. Standing a little over two feet tall, and unlike his predecessor Thumb, who was a peaceful man – Nutt was the polar opposite. With a temper as short as his stature, Nutt immediately saw Thumb, who had come to visit Barnum, as his competition. When Thumb was present, Nutt strutted the walk like he was a rooster of the coop. It would only get worse when a lovely little lady showed up in Barnum’s employ.
Lavinia Warren was a pretty young lady who had once been a school teacher. Standing a bit over two feet tall, it must have been an interesting sight in the classroom – all of her little students being taller than she was. Her little sister Minnie was even more tiny. The girls had been born to a family of regular-sized folks.
Like Thumb, George Nutt was to travel the world and become very rich and while meeting interesting and powerful people along the way. At a meeting with Abraham Lincoln in the White House, and upon his departure, Abe offered the little Commodore some advice:
“Commodore, when you are at sea with your fleet and the battle is turning against you and when it is certain you will become a prisoner – I would say that you should just wade ashore” (Lincoln assumed Nutt’s tiny ship would not be in very deep waters). To which Nutt replied with his quick-wit while staring up at the tall man: “Mr. President, that’s easy for you to say”.
Tom Thumb had been hit by a thunderbolt from the blue. He had just arrived at Barnum’s and met Lavinia Warren. The General immediately went to Barnum’s office for love and marriage advice. Barnum asked him to calm down and take his time. He then set up a long weekend hook-up at his home in Connecticut, but he made the mistake of inviting Lavinia in the presence of Nutt, who was also in love with her. Nutt asked if he could come visit also and Barnum obliged, but only after Nutt’s Friday night scheduled appearance in New York City.
Even before love complicated the two men’s lives, Nutt had often started squabbles with Thumb, and on one occasion even taking the older man down to the floor for some ground-and-pound. Nutt was a scrappy lil gent, so when Barnum and wife turned in early that night, leaving Thumb and Lavinia to talk in the living room, Nutt finally showed up banging on the door and yelling from outside. Once inside however, Nutt went banging on Barnum’s door, “Mr. Barnum, does Thumb board here!?” Only to be told that Tom and Lavinia were now engaged to be married. “My fruit is now plucked!” cried the little Commodore. But alas, he swallowed his pride and relented, becoming Tom’s best man. Lavinia’s sister Minnie was maid of honor.
Of course, Barnum made spectacle and attraction out of the nuptials. He sold $75 tickets to the reception of 5,000 people at the New York Metropolitan Hotel. All kinds of celebrities and dignitaries attended. The Lincolns sent the couple some exotic Chinese fire screens. Tom and Lavinia stood on a piano and greeted the guests as they arrived. The Commodore died unmarried in his thirties – a love unrequited. When Thumb died at age 45 of a stroke, over 10,000 people in Bridgeport attended his funeral. The mob consisted of mostly women and young girls.
A strange thing has been going on for the past 150 years. Parents have been staging Tom Thumb Weddings with their children posing as bride and groom, in full regalia and with no half-measures taken whatsoever. It’s a very strange phenomenon.
Very Special People by Frederick Drimmer