An interesting divergence of opinions of the origins of the performer Che Mah Che Sang (1838-1926). One source says he was originally from a farm in Ningpo, China; another says that he was actually a “London Jew”. Ordinarily, I would go with the version that seems to reveal a subterfuge, for a subterfuge it usually was in sideshow p.r. But in this case, the “story” sort of hangs together.
Che Mah was said to reject offers to be exhibited until quite late in life (his forties), preferring to work the family farm to the extent that he could (he was only 28 inches tall). Finally, P.T. Barnum’s offer went high enough and Che Mah began working for him in 1881, during a period when Barnum’s other famous little people had retired or passed on. He was with the Barnum show for over a decade, later working for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and various sideshows and dime museums (including Kohl and Middleton’s) through 1905. He took his considerable savings, found himself a wife and returned to farming in Indiana (in his seventies). Who starts a farm in his old age? Someone who doesn’t mind it; that’s why I think his public origin story rings true. And yet, where is he buried? Crown Hill Jewish Cemetary, Konox County, Indiana.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.