Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Smallest Of All Persons Mentioned In The Records Of Littleness by Gaby Wood

This brief little book with the very long title tells the story of the brief and very tragic life of Caroline Crachami, the famous “Sicilian Fairy,” a dainty dwarf only one foot ten and a half inches tall who died in 1824 while being exhibited in London.

Her life began in Palermo, she was born the day after the Battle of Waterloo. A rather unlikely story claimed that Caroline’s diminutive size was the result of the then commonly held belief in “maternal impressions” which meant that any fright or horrific sight experienced by an expectant woman could result in a deformity to her child. In Caroline’s case it was said an escaped monkey had crawled between her mother’s legs as she lay sleeping and when Mrs. Crachami reached down in her sleep to scratch her private parts the monkey bit her. Her child was born shortly after weighing only a pound. The Crachamis later emigrated to Ireland where Caroline’s father found work as a musician at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. But dainty Caroline proved sickly. A Dr. Gilligan diagnosed consumption and persuaded her parents to allow him to take their daughter to London, the climate there would be better for her, he explained, and, in the interests of science, he convinced the concerned parents to allow him to briefly exhibit their remarkable offspring.

If the Crachamis equated brevity with ease, they were sadly mistaken. Caroline’s time as one of the most popular human oddities being exhibited in London was brief only because exhaustion combined with tuberculosis soon sapped her life away. While on display in Mayfair she sometimes received as many as 200 visitors a day who, for the cost of an extra shilling, were allowed to handle this living doll. She was even taken to Carlton House for an audience with King George IV. After an exhausting day on display Caroline expired, supposedly at the age of nine, though modern science estimates her age was more likely closer to three.

Dr. Gilligan sold her body to the Royal College of Surgeons and the devastated Mr. Crachami, who had read about his daughter’s death in a newspaper, arrived just in time to walk in as she was being dissected. Today her skeleton, like an ivory bead and filigree sculpture, is displayed in the Hunterian Museum alongside the seven foot ten inch skeleton of “The Irish Giant” Charles Byrne, along with a glass case containing wax casts of her three inch foot, her arm, and her death mask, as well as a pair of her beribboned ballet slippers, a thimble, silk sock, and ruby ring. 

 This slim volume presents the meager facts that are known about the life of Caroline Crachami and makes intriguing reading.

No comments: