Che Mah the Chinese Dwarf

Courtesy of the collection of Steven Bolin
Like many sideshow performers, Che Mah had an exotic backstory. It was claimed that he was born in Ningpo in 1838 off China’s coast on the island of Choo-Sang and discovered by Barnum on one of his worldwide scouting expeditions. The reality is likely more mundane. After his death the book This Way to the Big Show: The Life of Dexter Fellows made the claim that he was Jewish and from London.1

Regardless of his ethnicity and country of origin, Che Mah was a popular attraction and throughout his career he worked in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Kohl and Middleton dime museum in Chicago and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Unlike many of the more diminutive performers of his day, he married a women far larger than he. His first wife, Louisa Colman was a normal-sized trapeze artist, his second, Norah Cleveland, weighed 200 pounds. Norah and he divorced after 14 years of marriage on the grounds his wife would not provide enough sex.2

Upon retirement, he bought a farm in rural Indiana but working a farm proved to be too difficult. He sold the farm and brought a house in Knox. Che Mah died in 1936 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox, Indiana.

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