Reminisce: Massive deal, little folks in Lima
Entertainer Charles W. Nestel, wrote the Lima Gazette in late August 1878, “weighs 53 pounds and stands 27 inches in his boots, which, incidentally, are number 6, baby-size.”
Nestel, “known to our readers as ‘Commodore Foote'”, added the Gazette, is “the smallest specimen of adult humanity we know of …”
His sister Eliza was shorter, “three inches shorter than him and weighs about ten pounds less,” according to the Gazette.
“Both are physically perfect, sane, well educated, read and write about half a dozen languages, and are fully informed about past events and the history of the world,” wrote the Gazette.
Charles and Eliza, known as the “Fairy Queen,” were from Fort Wayne and entertained audiences in the United States and Europe on various shows for nearly half a century.
Charles died on April 17, 1937 at the age of 88. Eliza died eight days later.
“Old age and loneliness… took the last of the famous dwarfs who toured the Americas half a century ago as the American Lilliputian Opera Company. Eliza Nestel, 80, died last night. Her brother Charles, 88, died nine days ago. They were the last survivors of the famous Lilliputian troop and had achieved enough fame themselves to win a personal audience with Queen Victoria and President Abraham Lincoln, ”reported United Press International on April 26, 1937.
The news service reported that “old age and general weakness” caused Charles’ death.
“He was quietly buried in a small coffin. Eliza, who could not walk, was carried to the funeral, ”the story says. “She ran her fingers over his face and was carried home. She was already vulnerable to health and couldn’t stand the sadness and loneliness of her brother’s death. ”A week later, she was buried next to him in a purpose-built double vault in Lindenwood Cemetery, Fort Wayne.
Charles and Eliza were the children of the German immigrant Daniel Nestel, who came to America in 1840 with eight cents in his pocket and made most of the way from New York City to Fort Wayne, where he became a successful blacksmith.
In 1844 he married Henrietta Goebel, who also came from Germany. The couple had six children, including Charles, born September 14, 1848, and Eliza, born March 29, 1857.
“The parents and all of their children except Charley and Eliza were of common stature, especially the father was a little tall,” wrote the Fort Wayne Sentinel in a September 1912 story.
“Although both were slightly smaller than is common in infants, neither of them attracted special attention until they were teenagers because of their small size,” noted the Sentinel. “Then it became a common remark in the joint schools they attended and among their acquaintances. They were little people among little people long before they came into the time of the young man and woman. “
In 1861, the Nestels caught the attention of a Baltimore actor known as Col. William Ellinger.
“The result was that he hired Charles for a show season and then Eliza. The former went to Baltimore and, after taking dance and singing lessons, accompanied Col. Ellinger’s show troupe during public entertainment, ”wrote the Fort Wayne newspaper.
Charles performed in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York in 1862, noted the Sentinel, and added that when Eliza later joined Charles, “her triumphant pleasure tour began under the names of Commodore Foote and the Fairy Queen.” Her father traveled as a chaperone.
In February 1864, Ellinger’s troupe performed in Washington, DC
“The renowned Com. Foote and sister, Miss Eliza Foot, better known as the Fairy Queen, accompanied by her father, Mr. Dan’l Nestel, a very dignified gentleman from Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with Col. Small and Col. Ellinger, the gentleman up Request from the President and his family to take responsibility for the famous little people visited Mr. Lincoln yesterday afternoon and was honored with a private reception at the Presidential Mansion, ”reported the Washington Evening Star on February 20, 1864. Never was in Washington perhaps more curiosity and amusement than the arrival of these little people at the Odd Fellows Hall. “
Ellinger took the show to the United States as well as parts of Canada and Mexico.
“With them they had their own little pony and their carriage, and they were greeted by crowds everywhere – the guests of distinguished people everywhere,” according to the Sentinel.
They also performed in Lima and other areas in the 1870s, following in the footsteps of such little entertainers as Tom Thumb, his wife Mercy Lavinia, and their sister Minnie Warren, who performed in Lima in 1869 and 1875.
“Their unique and extraordinarily enchanting performances and exhibitions enchant and delight every viewer,” enthused an advertisement in April 1869 in the Lima Weekly Gazette.
The Nestels also enchanted the local audience.
“Come over. Foote and Sister – these, the smallest living people, not dwarfs but fully developed, arrived in our town this morning and are giving entertainment this afternoon and evening, ”wrote the Democrat of Allen County in May 1870 to the press wherever they were, and we doubt that the town hall will be overcrowded with our citizens for both receptions. Your performances are unique and entertaining and worth double the entrance fee … “
In June 1893, as the country’s appetite for such shows waned, Charles performed on a very different stage in Lima.
“Commodore Foote and his brother, Mrs. OW Nestel, make gold wire jewelry in Bell’s shop window in the north,” read an advertisement in the Lima Times-Democrat. “The Commodore is the smallest perfect man in the world. He has crossed the ocean 26 times and appeared before Queen Victoria and the royal family upon request.
“The last theater engagement of Commodore Nestel and the Fairy Queen was in Philadelphia. That was four or five years ago. This really ended their professional careers even though they performed publicly at some of the resorts, ”noted the Sentinel in the 1912 story, adding that they“ are now leading a secluded life in their pleasant home in this town, months in a row ” . in one of the country’s summer or winter vacation spots. “
The siblings took to the stage in their Fort Wayne home among memorabilia of their careers – an autographed picture of Queen Victoria and a collection of autographs from more than 500 distinguished personalities including Presidents US Grant, Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland.
When old age overtook the Nestels, they moved in with a janitor in Fort Wayne.
“Both were weakly blind and crippled for several years” before their death in 1937, United Press International reported.
Entertainer Charles W. Nestel, left, and his height, Eliza, were from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and performed as “Commodore Foote” and “Fairy Queen”. They are shown here in the 1880s, about a decade after their appearance in Lima.
A leaflet promotes Tom Thumb’s appearance in Lima in 1869. Thumb, his wife Mercy Lavinia, and their sister Minnie Warren also performed in Lima in 1875.
A letter from Tom Foote’s agent is writing to reserve a Thompson Hall in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Charles Nestel, Eliza Nestel, and their sister Charlotte Brooks can be seen in this 1910 photograph after they retired from performing.
Contact Greg Hoersten at [email protected]