Miniature black beaver top hat, worn by entertainer Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883). Stratton, who was a little person, appeared under the stage name General Tom Thumb while working for Phineas T. Barnum's museum, circus, and other attractions. Stratton likely lived with the condition known today as pituitary dwarfism and may have never exceeded three feet, four inches in height. However, he lived a full and successful life despite facing prejudice and attempts to exploit him for his physical difference.
Barnum first contracted with Stratton's parents to take him on tour when he was only five years old, and continued to employ him throughout his life. On stage, Stratton would impersonate famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte and fictional mythological characters like Tom Thumb and Cupid, but also earned renown as an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian. Stratton was a popular entertainer and became wealthy and famous, meeting royalty, politicians, and other celebrities while on national and international tours. A testament to his fame, his 1863 marriage to fellow little person Lavinia Warren was widely covered in American newspapers and periodicals, and the reception drew a crowd of 10,000 attendees at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City.
This hat was purportedly worn by Stratton while performing at Mishler's Academy of Music in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he presented it to John Christian Neidley, a stage manager. Neidley's grandson offered the hat to the museum.
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