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Fat Men’s Ball
The first annual ball of the Fat Men’s Association of the City of New York was held at Irving Hall December 20, 1869.
Tickets were sold to the public, who watched from galleries above the dance floor, to raise money for the Fat Men’s annual picnic in Norwalk, Connecticut.
The guest of honor was seven year old Thomas Conway (80½ pounds) introduced by the president of the Association John Fiske (358 pounds).
Music was provided by Claudio Grafulla, the March King before Sousa, conducting the Seventh Regiment Band, which was much in demand at the time for social events. The band played The Fat Men’s March, specially composed for the occasion by Grafulla.
Dancing began at 9:30, with the Fat Men and their wives, some of whom were as hefty as their mates, dancing “waltzes, mazourkas, schottiches, reels, and even jigs,” without incident due to “extra propping-up of the floor” according to the Louisville Daily Express, December 21, 1869.
About 11:30 was the grand march which “terminated in the supper room, where the fat men found themselves at home, and joined heartily in their devotions to the voracious deity from whom they derived their inspirations and their fat,” according to the New York Times, December 21, 1869.
After the feast, the dancing resumed, ending at 2 or 3 in the morning. “Altogether it was an elegant affair,” said the Times.
In 1867, Smith Barnum (350 pounds), a cousin of P.T. Barnum, and Sidney Smith (317 pounds), held a picnic of fat men to help a friend whose hotel at Gregory’s Point in Norwalk, Connecticut was not doing well. The picnic was a success and the Fat Men’s Association was founded, with Sidney Smith the first president.
A picnic was held the next year and the year after that invitations were sent to fat men in other towns in Connecticut and also New York City, which founded its own chapter of the Association.
In 1874, Philetus Dorlon (250 pounds), a legendary oysterman in the Fulton Market in New York bought the hotel and renamed the location Dorlon Point.
The New York Fat Men took a steamboat up the Sound to join their Connecticut brethren for the annual picnics. The New York Times covered the 1877 picnic:
Fat Men on a Frolic
A Feast of Fun and Roast Clams
Heavy Weights at Norwalk Point — A Scale That Weighed Nothing Less Than Two Hundred Pounds — The Attack on the Roast — Scenes at the Table — A Solemn Election.
90 men stepped on the scale which wouldn’t register under 200 pounds, the minimum for membership. Two women also qualified.
At the picnic they consumed 110 bushels of clams and oysters, 300 chickens, 400 lobsters, 60 pounds of bluefish, 3 barrels of sweet potatoes, 2 barrels of white potatoes, and 1000 ears of corn. After the picnic, the Fat Men elected officers of the Association.
In 1883, the Times reported a scandal:
War Among the Fat Men
The Connecticut Society Divided by Unholy Strife.
In 1879, Willard Perkins (425 pounds) succeeded Charles Bradley (300 pounds) as president of the Association. In 1881, Perkins moved the picnic along with the president’s chair, to Roton Point, where a hotel offered 10% off. Bradley and his friends refused to go and, lacking a quorum, new officers were not elected and in 1882 no picnic was held.
One of the perks of the president of the Association was a 4 foot 6 inch cane and each president put on it an engraved gold plate. Perkins said that Bradley demanded the cane so he could remove the gold plate he had paid $35 for and replace it with a brass one. Bradley said that when he put on his gold plate, the jeweler told him that all the other plates from other presidents were brass and his was the only gold one.
Five days later, on August 31, 1883, the Times reported the situation resolved. In an article titled Adipose Men at Dinner the subhead was “Bloodshed Narrowly Avoided Owing to Good Counsel and the Day is Passed in Peace.”
Bradley had scheduled the picnic at Dorlon Point. Perkins had intended to come to the picnic to make a speech “and if need be sacrifice for principle’s sake his 425 pounds,” but he was persuaded to instead resign from the Association, and he shipped the cane and the chair to Dorlon Point. The picnic was held and Philetus Dorlon was elected president.
The Connecticut Fat Men’s Association was much diminished by the turn of the century. An October 10, 1899 article in the Los Angeles Herald says that only 12 members were left, down from 200.
The obituary in the New York Times, August 20, 1901 of Erastus H. Lewis, 330 pounds when president of the New Jersey Fat Men’s Association, notes that the Association was then defunct.
Lewis was 440 pounds when he died on August 17 at 57, down from a peak of 520, as noted an article titled Extreme Obesity in the 1901 Journal of the American Medical Association. Lewis, from Jersey City, was buried in a bespoke casket 6’9” long and 3’1” wide. A special hearse large enough to hold it had to be sent from New York City. Former members of the Fat Men’s Association served as pallbearers.
Copyright © 2015 Joseph Mirsky