P. T. Barnum
by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction, 424 pages
Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump stood at just two feet and eight inches tall, however she was a woman with a large personality. Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it. As a young child, Vinnie was sheltered and her family wanted her close at home. Vinnie had other bold thoughts when a man desired her to perform upon his river boat. Vinnie was shown as a ‘freak’ show alongside a giant woman, sword swallowing man, and other unique individuals. She realized that she didn’t want to lower her standards and be taken advantage of, so Vinnie wrote letters to the famous P. T. Barnum asking to be in his show. When P. T. Barnum and Vinnie met it was as though they were old friends who soon became successful business partners together. Vinnie married the famous Charles Stratton, better known as Tom Thumb who also performed for P. T. Barnum. The wedding was a national sensation and all the elite individuals attended with 2,000 guests. Throughout Vinnie’s life she traveled the world, met royalty and presidents, visited the White House, encountered first hand experiences during the Civil War, and always held her head high and acted like a lady. Along the journey, P. T. Barnum often asked Vinnie to perform actions that she wasn’t happy about, such as pretending she had a baby to please the public. Numerous foster babies were used until P. T. Barnum announced that the baby ‘died’. Between chapters there are intermissions that provide short newspaper and magazine clippings about current events during that time period, such as Civil War issues, the first telegraph, electricity, and scandalous gossip. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb was written from Vinnie’s strong voice, but it’s not an actual autobiography. The author used references that Vinnie herself wrote. I thought this book was an enjoyable read with humorous and painful moments about a larger than life woman.
Here is a photo engraving at Mr. & Mrs. Charles Stratton’s wedding day on February 10, 1863. The best man was ‘Commodore Nutt’ who also performed and Vinnie’s maid of honor was her smaller sister, Minnie. The average height man is P.T. Barnum.