Friday, May 22, 2009

Charles Decker — Mystery Solved!

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2009 at 9:06 PM

1733/1242787795-charlesdecker2.jpg Yesterday I posted an old photograph of Charles Decker, who billed himself in the 1800s as "The Smallest Person in the World." Here's another one I found recently. Somewhere I had seen a photograph of the little fellow labeled "Memphis" and I wondered if he was from our city.

Well, it only took reader Phoebe Neal a few hours to send me several fascinating old newspaper articles on Decker, which confirmed that he was indeed a Memphian.

Several of the articles (which I have posted below) are lists of famous "society" people staying at various hotels throughout the South. But one is a much longer article from the July 25, 1883, issue of the Galveston Daily News, which tells us quite a bit about Decker:

"Among the notable visitors here is an individual for whom is claimed the distinction of being the smallest human adult in existence. His name is C.R. Decker, and since the death of his illustrious contemporary, General Tom Thumb, he enjoys a clear title as to lilliputian laurels, with only Barnum's manikins, the wild men of Borneo, as possible rivals.

"General Decker is a native of Pontotoc, Mississippi, where he was born in 1855. At the age of six he ceased growing larger, and has remained of stereotyped stature to the present day. His height is two feet seven inches; weight, forty-five pounds. Although of late a comparative stranger to the amusement world, this diminutive creature is not altogether unknown to the people of the Southwest. In his earlier days, he traveled at various times with prominent theatrical troupes, and everywhere elicited the curiosity and admiration of the young folks.

"Personally, General Decker is a dapper little gentleman — bright, genial, and intelligent always. He bestows every kindness and attention upon his aged mother, who resides at Memphis, and out of his earnings supports her with gracious liberality. ..."

Another article, this one from an 1884 edition of the Cleveland Herald, notes that Decker "was brought up in Memphis. Mr. Decker being Southern born and bred, is an exceedingly companionable and courteous little gentleman. In his parts, Mr. Decker stands without a peer, and is the possessor of much dramatic ability. In addition to his other accomplishments he is a fine musician, having received a thorough training in that line at St. Louis and Philadelphia. Among other responsibilities, Mr. Decker is drum major and director of the band. Although five inches shorter than was General Tom Thumb, he has never exhibited himself except in the 'legitimate," having a disregard for the 'sideshow business,' as he terms it."

A rather fascinating little gentleman, I think we can agree. Special thanks to Phoebe Neal for sharing this information with us! Click on any of the articles below to see a larger version.






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