18 Jackson Street
Middleboro, MA 02346
Once upon a time in the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts lived two very important and famous ‘Little People’ named General Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton) and Mrs. Tom Thumb (Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump). I always thought that the story of General Tom and Mrs. Thumb was a fairy tale until I visited the Middleborough Public Library in the spring; here I saw a portrait of both Tom and Levinia Thumb and I realized they were no fairy tale at all and really lived in Middleboro. Joanne, the librarian told my friends and I that the General and Mrs. Tom Thumb lived in a mansion in Middleboro and that the Middleborough Historical Museum which is within walking distance from the Library has a Tom Thumb Museum that has one of the largest collections of fine memorabilia of the ‘Little Couple’ and their family.
Wednesday my friends and I visited the Tom Thumb Museum at the Middleborough Historical Museum to see the Tom Thumb exhibit and to do a wheelchair accessibility review. We knew that the Museum had steps leading to the entry door so we brought my EZ Access Suitcase Ramp so I could get inside.
The Tom Thumb Museum is part of the Middleborough Historical Museum. It is only open from July to September on Wednesday from 10-3 or by special appointment. The cost to enter is $5 for adults and disabled are Free! There is a handicap parking space in the parking lot next to the Museum. The Tom Thumb Museum isn’t wheelchair accessible for it has steps leading to the main entry door and steps leading to the porch in the rear of the building. I was determined to see the exhibit so I did manage to get in the rear door with my portable ramp and much help from Ric and Josh, my friends.
Once inside I found most of the Tom Thumb Museum wheelchair accessible. There are a few small rooms off to the side that had doorways too small to fit my wheelchair but I could easily look in to see all that was displayed. Gladys, a very nice woman from the Middleborough Historical Society took us on a tour and told us much of the history of General and Mrs. Tom Thumb and their family.
My friends and I were quite impressed with the wonderful collection of memorabilia that they have on display. They have many pieces of their clothing, little shoes and boots and much more in nice glass displays that were easy for me to see. There are also pieces of Tom and Levinia’s furniture on display as well as beautiful portraits and old photographs of the Tom Thumb family and friends. It is really something that I think many would love to see.
Gladys told us that General Tom Thumb’s real name was Charles Sherwood Stratton and he was born in Bridgeport Connecticut. When he was only 4 yrs old P.T. Barnum of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus approached him to ask him to perform in the Circus. P.T. Barnum was quite impressed with Tom’s perfect little body and had Tom change his name. They became very good friends. Tom never grew taller than 36”. Tom traveled all over the world with the P.T. Barnum show and he became very famous very quickly. Tom performed three times for Queen Victoria of England and was admired by British Royalty. Tom was a very rich man by the age of 24.
P.T. Barnum introduced Tom to Levinia Warren another ‘Little Person” who PT Barnum hired to perform. Levinia was born in Middleboro and became a school teacher and was only 33” tall. Her real name was Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump. P.T. Barnum had her change her name for he didn’t think anyone would come to see someone named ‘Bump’ so she did. General Tom Thumb and Levinia fell in love and were married in 1867 at Gray’s Church in NYC. More than 12,000 people attended their wedding reception. Commodore Nutt was a ‘Little Person’ who was Tom’s best man and Minnie Warren (Huldah Pierce Bump) who was Levinia’s sister was her maid of honor. Minnie was only 27” tall.
President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln later gave Tom and Levinia a nice wedding reception at the White House!! A Silver Coach was given to Tom and Levinia for a wedding gift from Tiffany & Co of NYC. This is on display in a glass case in Middleboro Museum.
After Tom and Levinia married they built a mansion in Middleboro on Plymouth Street. The inside of the mansion was scaled down and the furniture was diminutive in size. They lived in this house when they were not away performing. It was later sold in 1919 and remodeled and still stands in Middleboro today. They had Carriages and Coaches that were diminutive in size and they used to ride around town that were pulled by Shetland Ponies. Two of their best known Carriages are now located at the PT Barnum Museum in Bridgeport Connecticut. Another Carriage they owned is on display at the Ford Museum in Michigan.
Minnie, Lavinia’s beloved sister fell in love and became pregnant. Minnie gave birth to a normal size 6 pound baby and she and her baby both died during childbirth. Minnie and her baby are buried together in a cemetery in Middleboro. Tom and Levinia were very sad for they could never have children. Tom Thumb died at the young age of 40 and is buried in Westport Connecticut. Tom and Levinia had used up most of the money they earned for they were so accustomed to living such a great lifestyle. After Tom’s death Levinia later remarried Count Primo Magri from Italy and they opened a very famous roadside stand in Middleboro. Levinia died at the age of 78 which is very old for a ‘Little Person’. She is buried in Bridgeport Connecticut next to Tom.
General Tom and Mrs. Tom Thumb were highly respected for their great musical performances in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This was showbusiness and great entertainment for all. They were very famous “Little People” who traveled all around the world. Gladys told us that traveling was often difficult for Tom and Levinia.
After hearing much of the story of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb, my friends and I realized that Tom and Levinia dealt with many accessibility issues like the disabled too for it was often difficult for “Little People” to travel around. The “Little People” probably experienced stares from the public because they looked different. I often feel people stare at me because I look different in a wheelchair.
Our tour of Tom Thumb Museum was over so my friends helped me get back outside using my portable ramp. We then went to look at the other Exhibits the Middleborough Historical Museum has in the back of this property. The terrain is only grass and dirt and my friends found it very hard to push my manual wheelchair. My Power wheelchair would have been much better on this terrain but it is broken.
There is a Blacksmith Shop out back that is wheelchair accessible for there is a sloped cement way leading into this Shop. It was probably for the carriages that had to wheel in to the shop. Tom Thumb used to have his carriage worked on and gilded at the Blacksmith Shop.
There is a Law Office that is not wheelchair accessible for it has steps leading to the main entry door. Ric went inside and told me that it was the office of Judge Wilkes Wood and his desk is in there as well as a portrait of him and another one of his wife Lucy Nichols Cushing Wood. In the rear of the Law Office is another room that was Library and is a Memorial to Lawrence B. Romaine. Ric said there are a few old books on the shelves too.
The West Side Whistle House is a Firehouse on the grounds that is also wheelchair accessible for it has a cement slope leading inside. This was needed to drive the Fire Trucks inside. Inside the Firehouse is a bookcase that is enclosed in glass that holds old Fire Equipment on display. There are two old Fire Trucks in here as well. One is a much older model than the other. Then my friends pushed my wheelchair thru the rough terrain and we headed back home.
As we were leaving, Nancy, a very nice woman from Middleborough Historical Society came out to speak with my mom and us. She told us that I was the ONLY PERSON IN A WHEELCHAIR EVER TO VISIT THE TOM THUMB MUSEUM. She said she would love to get a portable ramp for the Museum to make it wheelchair accessible and for the elderly who have a hard time with the steps in the front. She also said she would love to get a permanent wheelchair accessible ramp built.
She told us that the Middleborough Historical Society is a private non profit organization and they do not have much funds to make the needed changes. This Historical Society only has 140 members and the members who do the tours at the museum are volunteers and they get few visitors a year. Middleboro has 18,000 residents. Nancy said that the Museum does not get many visitors and most just come to see the Tom Thumb Collection.
We asked if the Middleborough Historical Society could apply for a Grant from the Town, the State or the Federal Government to make this place wheelchair accessible. Nancy explained in order to qualify for a Federal Grant the Museum would need to be open at least 90 days per year. The Museum can’t be open 90 days per year for there are not enough volunteers and there is no heat in the museum in the cold months. Nancy mentioned that possibly they could apply for an Accessibility Grant to make it fully accessible. We told her that we would speak with our Middleboro State Representative and State Senator to ask if they could help to get a Grant for the Middleborough Historical Museum to make it wheelchair accessible.
I give the Middleborough Historical Museum and the Tom Thumb Museum ONE STAR for wheelchair accessibility. In order to earn the other Four Stars they would need to purchase a portable ramp and threshold ramp OR construct a permanent accessible ramp leading into the rear entry, place a cement walkway leading from the front to the rear entry ramp, install a railing on the right side of the front steps so disabled persons who can walk can hold on to railing, place a cement walkway leading to the three Exhibits in the back and place a wheelchair accessible ramp to the entry of The Law Office. I give Nancy and Gladys of the Middleborough Historical Society FIVE STARS for dedication, sensitivity and caring.
If the Middleborough Historical Museum is unable to obtain an Accessibility Grant from the Town, State or Federal Government to make it wheelchair accessible, then I would suggest that they ask for local Volunteers and Businesses to build an accessible ramp or have some Fundraisers to get the money to make it accessible or maybe temporarily LOAN this wonderful and unique collection of Tom Thumb and their family’s memorabilia to a nearby Historical Museum that has many visitors and is wheelchair accessible to earn the funds to make the Museum in Middleboro fully accessible.
This collection is truly a TREASURE and I find it SAD that it is stuck in this little inaccessible Historical Museum that is only open for three hours on Wednesdays and only during the summer. I’m sure people from all around the Country would love to see this wonderful collection of memorabilia of Tom Thumb and his family! I sure did enjoy seeing it!