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.
Homer is convinced this man is an ancestor. To her knowledge, her great-grandfather’s photo collection doesn’t contain any non-family pictures. She also knows that height variations—both notably short and notably tall—are part of her father’s family history.
Homer’s great-grandfather arrived in New York from Germany on the SS Hermann June 4, 1866. He bought land in Burnside Township, Mich., in 1872. Homer knows from other images that he isn’t the man in this picture. Six years are missing from Homer’s timeline of her ancestor’s life, and this picture is in that time frame. She wonders if he stopped in Baltimore on his way to Michigan.