April 2012 Photo Detective: A Slight Mystery
Uncovering clues in historical photographs.
In the 1860s, circus founder P.T. Barnum hired Charles Sherwood Stratton to be Gen. Tom Thumb, a character inspired by the 17th-century English fairy tale. Crowds visited the Barnum show to catch a glimpse of Tom Thumb and later his wife, Lavinia Warren. Soon, every sideshow and circus copied Barnum’s model by adding “little people” to their acts. Photo studios capitalized on the public’s fascination with sideshows by printing photo cards of the stars, which were widely collected.

This card photograph was found in a group of family images Darlene Homer’s great-grandfather passed down to her. There’s no doubt this man is diminutive in stature. The mystery is whether the portrait shows one of Homer’s relatives or a collectable image.