She was christened Anna Martha Bell, but she was always known as “Mattie.” The baby girl was born 9 July, 1857, in Erie, Miami County, Indiana to a father with the unusual name of Pleasant Lilly Bell (1809-1882). According to his 20 July, 1879, obituary, “Mr. Bell was born in [Vevay,] Switzerland County [Indiana] in 1814, two years before the admission of Indiana to the sisterhood of states. He came to this part of the state [Miami County] when yet a young man and worked on the Wabash & Erie Canal which the state was then constructing. He was a resident of Miami for more than 40 years. His reputation was spotless and he was in high esteem by all who knew him.”
Pleasant was the son of Armiger Lilly Bell (1771-1816) and his wife Sarah Blackford (1779-1848). Armiger Bell was born in Fluvanna, Virginia, 10 January, 1771. He was the third youngest of a dozen children. The Bell family was large, well off, and owned land and slaves. Armiger later sailed down the Ohio River to Kentucky, meeting his future wife Sarah, and married her on 31 March, 1795. The couple settled near Vevey and took up farming in what was then a heavily forested area.
After Armiger’s death on 5 November, 1816, his eldest son James took over the farm, until his mother remarried in 1821 and his new stepfather took over from her son. Her second husband, John White, appears to have been abusive and volatile. Ultimately, he mysteriously vanished while taking a herd of hogs to market. Sarah eventually came to live with her son Pleasant and his family. She died in 1848 and is buried in the Tillett Cemetery.
In the second half of the 19th Century, at the height of the Victorian Age, the union of photography and the supernatural spawned strange and enthralling results.
By Beverly Wilgus and Ann Longmore-Etheridge
Early in the practice of the photography, ghostlike images appeared on daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. The explanation for them was not supernatural: Because of the need for long exposures, in some cases of more than a minute, anything that moved whilst the camera lens was open went either unrecorded or appeared transparent in the final product. In 1856, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), an important figure in photography’s evolution, described in his book The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction the method by which amusing extras could be created in photographs. Brewster advised that sitters should be posed and after the majority of the plate exposure was finished, a new person should move into the scene and stay for the final seconds. This would result in a “spirit” presence.
Whilst Brewster clearly promoted this method for what it was—a trick—others with an interest in the expanding religion of Spiritualism saw ghost images as proof of life after death. It should be noted that the Victorians were not the only folk taken in by the callow exploitation of technology they did not fully understand.
“Some of my best friends have told me that I need not expect to be happy anymore unless I would marry again and have advised me to do so.”
Myersville, July 10th, 1852
I hope you will not think hard of me for thus approaching you so unexpectedly, as my mind has bin [sic] for some time a good deal taken up with you in regard to coming to see you in order to have some private conversations with you, not knowing at all whether my company would be agreeable or not, but take this plan of ascertaining something about the state of your mind.
Dear Emma, you are well acquainted with me and know all about my situation. You know that I have bin unfortunate in the loss of a very dear and kind companion, one in who my whole soul delighted to honor and respect. But she has gone I trust from a world of trouble and sorrow to one of happiness and joy, and I can have no more comfort nor consolation from her anymore, only with a firm hope and expectation of meeting her again in those blissful regions where parting shall be no more. I can do no more than to respect her memory, which I will ever do.
We read in the Bible that it is not good for man to be alone. I have realized that to be a very true saying indeed. I was once as happy as any person could be in the enjoyment in the company of my much-lamented Mary, but how different my case. With all I have I have no enjoyment & some of my best friends have told me that I need not expect to be happy anymore unless I would marry again and have advised me to do so, although I do not wish to do so for some time yet. But I have come to the conclusion to do so providing I can suit myself. I now feel like a lost sheep, lonely and without anyone to cheer me or comfort me, and if it was not for the comforts and the consolations of religion, I would often times have to despair in sorrow. But thanks be to God that he still comforts and consoles me. I find that I can never be happy again in this world without fixing my affection on one again in who I am satisfied will be a kind companion to me, and dear Emeline, you appear to the only one I can have any idea of going to see at the present and of fixing my affection upon.
The subject of this CDV is Eliza Schuyler Kuypers, wife of Ethan Alphonso Allen (8 February, 1818-27 November, 1889). Eliza’s husband was the grandson of the American patriot, farmer, philosopher, deist, and writer Ethan Allen (1737-1789) and his second wife Frances Montressor (1770-1834), through their son Ethan Voltaire Allen (1789-1845) and wife Mary Susanna Johnson (26 Sept., 1797-1 November, 1818).
Eliza, born in 1820, was the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Schuyler (1771-1801) and her husband Rev. Gerardus Arentz Kuypers of Curacao, Dutch West Indies, who had been born on the island in December 1766 and later came to Hackensack, New Jersey, then to Rhinebeck, New York, to minister to the Dutch community there. Eliza’s grandfather was their son, also named Gerardus Arentz Kuypers (1787-1833), who was educated at Hackensack, and then studied theology under his father. He was licensed to preach in 1787 and served as a collegiate pastor in Paramus, New Jersey. In 1780, he moved to New York City to preach in the Dutch language. In 1791, he earned a Master of Arts degree from the College of New Jersey, as well as a Doctor of Divinity from Rutgers in 1810. It is noted that he suffered from asthma but died of “ossification” of the heart 28 June, 1833.
Eliza was the daughter of his son, Dr. Samuel S. Kuypers (8 March, 1795-10 January, 1870) and Amelia Ann VanZant (1794-1864). Dr. Kuypers was an alumnus of Rutgers and a member of the Medical Society of the County of New York from 1820 until his death.
In the CDV image above, Eliza is most probably wearing mourning after her mother’s death in the penultimate year of the Civil War. Amelia VanZant Kuyper’s demise was announced in the New York Times of 8 January, 1864, as follows: “On Thursday, Jan. 7…in the 70th year of her age. The relatives and friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from her late residence, No. 142 2d-av., on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 3 o’clock p.m. without further invitation.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.
Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as a cautionary tale, not unlike the one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”
The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.
The wedding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren was so popular that children in wedding attire began to reenact the marriage ceremony.
By Beverly Wilgus
The highlight of the 1863 New York City social season was the February 10 “Fairy Wedding” at Grace Episcopal Church of two of P. T. Barnum’s “little people,” Charles Sherwood Stratton and Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump. In the theatrical world, they were known as General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren—he stood 2’10”; she, 2’6″. There were 2,000 invited guests and Barnum also sold tickets to the reception after the wedding for $75 each. Although 15,000 ticket requests came in, only 5,000 were available. One newspaper, the Cleveland Daily Leader, noted that after the particulars were announced by Barnum, “then followed such a universal toadyism…all for the sake of begging, buying, or stealing invitations to the wedding.”
In spite of the event’s commercial nature, Tom and Lavinia’s marriage was a true love match. (Barnum, however, thought Lavinia was too tall for Tom and that her smaller sister Minnie would have been a better choice of a bride.) Lavinia had also been romantically pursued by Thumb’s rival performer, George Washington Morrison Nutt, whose stage name was Commodore Nutt, but Lavinia’s heart belonged to the Little General from the start. After their marriage, the couple lived in domestic harmony for twenty years until Tom’s death on July 15, 1883.
The Leader, which was only one of scores of newspapers around the world that covered Tom and Lavinia’s nuptials, explained to its readers, “Tom Thumb was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1838. He weighed nine pounds and a-half when born, but stopped growing at eighteen months old. Barnum took him in at ten years old and he has been a public character ever since. Miss Lavinia Bump was born in Middleboro, Mass., in 1842. She grew until one year old and then stopped… She and the General met a few months ago at Boston and a ‘mutual understanding’ developed.”
On the day of the wedding, the bride wore “plain white satin, the skirt en traine, being decorated with a flounce of costly point lace, headed by tulle puffings; the berthe to match. Her…hair, slightly waved, was rolled a la Eugenie…. Natural orange blossoms breathed their perfume above her brow and mingled their fragrance with soft sighs of her gentle bosom,” all-but moaned the Leader. Thumb was resplendent in a black dress coat and a vest of white silk, “his appearance that of a little old man in whom the juices of life were yet rich and whose jolly days were not done.”
After the wedding, the couple greeted reception guests from atop a piano amidst a mountain of gifts. At the end of the evening, Thumb ardently and grandiloquently thanked their guests and he and his wife withdrew, shortly thereafter to begin a European honeymoon. From start to finish, stated the Irish Meath People and Cavan and Westmeath Chronicle, Barnum had arranged the Fairy Wedding “with a true eye to business.”
Following the wild popularity of the wedding, a rather strange practice developed and has continued until today. Plays based on the event became popular, with children in wedding attire reenacting the marriage ceremony. My husband and I collect photographs of the original couple but also have a collection of photographs of children engaged in this activity from the 19th Century through 1950. The weddings were indeed so popular during the century after the actual event that there were professional Fairy Wedding planners who advised on the faux nuptials and rented out costumes.
Many Fairy Weddings were staged as fundraisers by churches and schools. For example, Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Telegraph of November 30, 1888, noted that a Tom Thumb Wedding was held on Thanksgiving evening at Wesley Union Church. It included the mock bride and groom, maids of honor and groomsmen, and the bride and groom’s family. “The couples were appropriately and beautifully attired and of such costly material, fitting splendidly the little bodies and producing much excitement even among the men and women,” the newspaper stated. The children performed with “great propriety and dignity, and won high praise.”
In 1893, the Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, Daily News, reported a Tom Thumb Wedding held at the G. A. R. Opera House on May 12. “The youthful participants enacted their parts well and the quaint costumes created no end of amusement for the audience.” And the North Carolina Wilmington Messenger of February 28, 1894, published that “all the little boys and girls who took part in the ‘Tom Thumb Wedding’ at the Grace Church entertainment last night are requested to meet at city hall this afternoon [in their costumes] to be photographed.”
We possess a clipping from 1950 of my husband, Jack, acting as best man in a Tom Thumb Wedding at his family’s church. And if the term “Tom Thumb Wedding” is entered into Google, one will find many posts about churches, schools, and private birthday parties performing these weddings as late as just a few years ago. Ω