Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the BIOGRAPHICAL Genre (12/04/14)
TITLE: Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump
By Jody Day
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She could not, and would not, live in the shadow of a real life without its many experiences; ups and downs, happiness and tragedy. Her adult life began, at age 16, as a teacher. Her students towered over her, yet she commanded respect, obedience and scholarship. She later shocked her parents when she accepted a contract to perform in a traveling show on a Mississippi steamboat. Her dream to see the world would finally be realized.
Her hopes dashed at the hands of the unscrupulous cousin who ran the show. She and other performers were terribly mistreated and she returned home discouraged, but not defeated. Eventually she garnered the attention of the great P.T. Barnum and soon was his star attraction. Vinnie enjoyed singing for her audience and then greeting guests in the tradition of a refined and cultured lady.
Vinnie married General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), entered into society with the likes of President and Mrs. Lincoln, and received more media coverage than the Civil War. The full life she’d dreamed of, including riches and fame, was not without obstacles. It took a tremendous effort to speak to anyone on the same level, eye to eye. In a day when head size equaled intelligence, Vinnie demonstrated a keen mind, a quick wit, and a compassion for her fellow man.
Her famous life did not fare so well for her best friend and baby sister, Minnie. She brought Minnie along on many of her travels. After Minnie married, Vinnie begged her not to try and bear children, a dangerous thing for a dwarf. Vinnie had made the decision not to risk her life with a pregnancy. Minnie chose to try and start a family, and died in childbirth.
The subject of children illustrates one great deception in her public life. General Tom Thumb and his wife must appear to have children, so Mr. Barnum insisted. Mr. Barnum paid orphanages for the use of babies to be portrayed as the Stratton’s own in nearly every venue both home and abroad. He was paid a pretty price for the photographs of the “little family.”
Vinnie and her husband narrowly escaped “the worst hotel fire in American history”, at Newell House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They could not reach the windows to climb out, but were rescued by a ladder from outside. The ordeal quite possibly caused the stroke that took Tom Thumb’s life six month’s later.
Two years after his death, Vinnie married an Italian dwarf, Count Primo Magri. They operated a famous roadside stand in Vinnie’s home town of Middleborough. At age 73, she appeared along side her husband in a 1915 silent film, The Liliputian’s Courtship. She passed away on November 25, 1919 and was buried next to Charles Stratton. Her simple gravestone read “His Wife.”
Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump defined her size and charted her own course. She met and conquered obstacles on her own terms. She refused to be stereotyped as a freak, curiosity, or less than the woman that she saw herself as being and becoming. She focused on what she could do, not on what she could not do. She embraced and enhanced the possible, never giving a moment’s notice to the impossible. Although a woman of the Victorian era in the United States, her life demonstrates courage and determination.
There was really nothing little about her.
*Information garnered from The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, by Melanie Benjamin, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavinia_Warren
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