That One Time Abraham Lincoln Threw a Wedding Reception for Tom Thumb

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It’s a bit unbelievable to think that Barack Obama would hold a White House wedding reception for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but something just like that happened almost 150 years ago when Abraham Lincoln held a White House reception for General Tom Thumb and his wife.

The 2'11" Charles Stratton had toured with P.T. Barnum as “General Tom Thumb” since the age of five, making a name for himself and counting no less than Queen Victoria among his fans (and was once attacked by her poodle). When Barnum came across a similarly small woman named Lavinia Warren and hired her to be part of his traveling crew, Stratton was smitten.

“The Little Queen of Beauty” agreed to marry General Tom Thumb and the world was completely riveted by their so-called “fairy wedding” on February 10, 1863, the social event of the season. Only 2,000 people were lucky enough to receive invitations, but ever the promoter, Barnum held a wedding reception at the Metropolitan Hotel and charged $75 for each of the 5,000 tickets he sold.

But it wasn’t the Strattons’ only reception. They embarked upon a three-year “honeymoon tour,” including a stop at one of the most famous residences in the world: the White House. The guests were a veritable who’s who of D.C. at the time, but there was one notable person missing from the festivities: Lincoln’s son, Robert, who was embarrassed by the triviality of the event. It’s said that when Mary Todd Lincoln asked him to reconsider his attendance at the reception, Robert replied, “No, mother, I do not propose to assist in entertaining Tom Thumb. My notions of duty, perhaps, are somewhat different than yours.”

His younger brother Tad was delighted, however. In her memoirs, Lavinia said she overheard young Tad telling the First Lady, “Mother, if you were a little woman like Mrs. Stratton, you would look just like her!”

Robert may have thought the reception silly, but his father treated it - and the newlyweds - with great dignity. One party-goer recalled, “It was pleasant to see their tall host bend, and bend, to take their little hands in his great palm, holding Madame’s with especial chariness, as though it were a robin’s egg, and he were fearful of breaking it.”

Apparently President and Mrs. Lincoln got the Strattons an “elaborate set of fire screens” as a gift.

The New York Times wrote up an insanely detailed account of the wedding and reception at the Metropolitan, if you care to read it.

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August 13, 2011 - 7:13pm
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