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Admiral Dot, The El Dorado Elf

Admiral Dot, the El Dorado Elf

Admiral Dot
carte de visite photograph, 4 x 2.5 inches, circa 1871
photographer: E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., 591 Broadway, New York


In 1870, Phineas Taylor Barnum traveled with friends by train across the western United States. In San Francisco, a German named Gabriel Kahn offered the showman his dwarf son, Leopold. Barnum was quite taken with the little fellow, whom he said was "a dwarf more diminutive in stature than General Tom Thumb was when I found him." Barnum promptly signed up Leopold under the new name of Admiral Dot, otherwise known as the the El Dorado Elf because he was such "a valuable nugget".

Later that autumn, after several more excursions (including a buffalo hunt in Kansas organized by General George Custer) Barnum entered into a new partnership and a major business venture:
P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Circus. Barnum considered this project to be the reincarnation of his dear American Museum, but on wheels. Admiral Dot was prominently featured in the museum tent alongside some of Barnum's best known old friends, including the giantess Anna Swan, bearded woman Annie Jones, Zip the "What is It?", and conjoined brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, recently emerged from retirement. This museum tent, seperate from the menagerie and main performance tents, marked the beginning of the sideshow as we know it. Patrons flocked there to see the greatest human curiosities and latest mechanical wonders and waxworks - all for an extra fee.

As early as 1872, Barnum had already coined the phrase "The Greatest Show on Earth", and now referrred to his circus as P. T. Barnum's Great Traveling World's Fair, as is the case on this pitchcard. At the time, Admiral Dot was touted as being sixteen years old, twenty-five inches tall, and a mere nineteen pounds. At least initially, Dot appeared on stage with his mother.

Admiral Dot, the El Dorado Elf
carte de visite photograph, 4 x 2.5 inches, circa 1870
photographer: Brooks' Photograph Rooms, 724 Arch Street, Philadelphia

Admiral Dot's career lasted for approximately the next twenty years, despite the fact that as he aged and grew taller he was soon eclipsed in size by smaller performers such as Major Atom, with whom he occasionally performed. Not one to rest on his laurels, Dot developed a stage persona that at one time saw him billed as "The Smallest Character Actor in the World". During the 1880's, Dot traveled with the Locke & Davis Royal Lilliputian Opera Company, which was populated by other famous little people such as the Magri brothers and and Colonel Speck.

Admiral Dot
carte de visite photograph, 4 x 2.5 inches, circa 1870
photographer: Gihon & Thompson, 812 Arch Street, Philadelphia

By the turn of the century, Leopold Kahn had settled in White Plains, New York, with his twenty-six-inch-tall wife Lottie Swartwood (a fellow performer in the opera company) and their two normal-sized children. Seeking respectability, Dot joined the Elks, sang with the town choir, and opened the Admiral Dot Hotel. The citizens of White Plains named the admiral honorary chief of the fire department, but unkindly referred to his business establishment as the Hotel Pee Wee (which, ironically, burned to the ground in 1911). Admiral Dot died of influenza in his home in White Plains on 28 October 1918, aged 54 years.


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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2004 - 2010