| "The girl billed as "the smallest and prettiest dwarf ever introduced to the public" by the master showman P.T. Barnum was a tiny child from Kokomo who achieved fame as "Little Queen Mab."
The little queen was Nellie Keeler, who, when hired for Barnum's exhibition in 1879 at age 11, weighed only 11 pounds and stood only 28 inches tall, according to a circus publication.
She was a favorite of the curiosity-seeking Barnum who learned of the child through Charles Philips, editor of The Kokomo Tribune. Philips followed her career in "The Greatest Show on Earth" through the early 1880s.
She aged decidedly from October 1878, when Philips first wrote of the little Kokomoan, until she began work with Barnum just one year later.
In his description in an October story, Philips said, "She is now almost four years old and weighs 14 pounds and two ounces." She gained seven years and lost more than three pounds by the time the Barnum publicity came out the next year.
Philips said in an article, "Readers of The Tribune are aware that Nellie is only aged four years, but when I say the exaggeration of her age is the only prevaricated feature about her, they will know that she is a great show curiosity."
Philips visited her in the fall of 1878 during a four-week trial exhibition with Barnum at the Gilmore Gardens. In writing of the visit, Philips said Nellie enjoyed the best of health and was "loth" to leave the show.
She was exhibited on a platform about three feet high in "a costume of blue cashmere, made after the latest fashion, with short skirt," and , Philips said, she was placed "in a prominent place in the museum by the side of Col. Goshen, a giant who is seven feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 620 pounds. The great contrast between the giant and the dwarf is at once apparent and makes a lasting impression on the minds of the visitors to the great show." "
|"Barnum hired her after the four-week trial period for one of the most lucrative contracts a dwarf had received. While the famous Tom Thumb and Admiral Dot got only $5 and $3 a week respectively for their first year, Nellie and her father, Ezra began under a contract that paid $50 per month for the first three months. Wages went to $75 for the fourth month and to $100 per month for the rest of the season.
Their board and transportation, her dresses and one-half the net proceeds of the sale of her picture also were to go to the Keelers. She was to be exhibited from 12:30 to 2 p.m., 4 to 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m. after each show each day the circus was presented.
The contract also provided that "Should the said Nellie be sick or become peavish and disagreeable to exhibit, this contract shall be declared null and void."
Barnum published an eight-page booklet about the unusual Miss Keeler, referring to her as "a sweet girl with radiant golden hair," "a microscopic bud of humanity," "a little elf," "a fairy beauty," and a "pocket volume of humanity,"
The booklet claimed that after her birth, Nellie was presented to her mother on a tea plate and she could sleep comfortably in the leg of her father's boot. At birth, she weighed 14 ounces.
At the age of 11, her hat barely covered an ordinary teacup, the brochure said, and her tiny feet required shoes only two and one half inches in length. Her hands were 1 1/2 inches long, the circumference of her body was 13 inches and her ankles and wrists were no larger than a man's thumb. Her face was the size of the palm of a normal hand, but her hair was of luxuriant growth, measuring 16 inches in length.
Nellie was the second of four children; the others were healthy, sturdy and normal-sized.
Both of her parents were of more that normal stature. Her father, a native of Franklin County, was 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and weighed 167 pounds. Her mother, Maria, was nearly as tall as her husband and weighed 143 pounds.
Local files trace Nellie's career through the spring of 1882 when she returned to Kokomo for a rest before beginning a summer engagement at Coney Island.
No record has yet been found by Tribune researchers as to Nell's eventual fate, and any information on her later life would be appreciated from those who might know what happened to Kokomo's tiny beauty. "
Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, 26 Oct 1975
|the INDIANA MIDGET|
| Nellie was born in Kokomo, Indiana Apr 6, 1875, the fourth child of Ezra and Maria Keeler. Her older brother was named Edward and her two older sisters were Dora and Elfreda [died 1956].
Barnum secured the contract to exhibit her. For six years, from 1879 - 1885, Nellie appeared with his traveling show and made a lot of money for her family, enabling her father to be the proud owner of his own farm.
By age 12 Nellie had grown so tall, relatively speaking, that she was considered no longer fit for exhbition purposes and was effectively retired. Thus, her entire career began and ended before she became a teenager.
Her obituary, published in the New York Times, stated that for the last 12 years of her life she had become an invalid.
Nellie was only 28 years old when she succumbed to tuberculosis in June of 1903, dying in her home in Indiana.
|Nellie once exhibited with this little fella - Major Tot - in 1882 and was advertised as his betrothed.|
|Even under the aegis of Barnum, Nellie never did become famous because she was eclipsed by Lucia Zarate (above) to whom none could compare due to her sheer littleness. Still, Barnum's people tried to duplicate Lucia's presentation. Note Nellie's similarity in dress style below.|
|(Below) Nellie's Dad, Ezra, travelled with her. He survived his daughter fourteen years.|
|(above) With Dad Ezra Keeler|