Mattie Lee Price "The Forgotten Georgia Wonder"
A family discovers the true identity of their mysterious matriarch, who was once a featured performer in the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Once the family was able to track down the correct name of their famous relative, they found an abundance of news clips that traced the career of Mattie Lee Price from her beginnings as one of the “magnetic girls” at the age of fourteen, until her death. More
She was a family legend, a nameless woman who had performed in the Barnum & Bailey Circus in London, England. She died young, leaving her children orphans to be taken in as boarders by the Rifle family in Lena, Wisconsin before 1900. There was no bible, no record, no remnant of this circus star. They said she was an acrobat, a rider of white horses, and an American Indian who had run away from the reservation as a child to join the circus.
The true story broke in 2012. She was not an acrobat, a rider of white horses, or Indian. She was the second of the Georgia Wonder girls who came onto the entertainment scene in the early 1880’s. After witnessing Lula Hurst on stage, she was immediately able to duplicate her extraordinary feats of strength.
Her name was Mattie Lee Price. She gave her first appearance at age 14 in front of the most influential men of Cartersville, Georgia. Since Lula Hurst was making a fortune giving her strong woman act, the wealthy men decided to form a stock company that night. They promised Mattie’s father $200 a week in a year long contract, arranged a wardrobe for the girl, and put her on stage at the Stilesboro Academy that very week.
Mattie’s father and the company men started the girl’s tour immediately. Ninety-pound Mattie Lee Price could lift 2 or 3 large men in a chair and twist hickory sticks right out of the hands of the several men that held it. Audiences were astounded, and newspapers reported her abilities to be beyond human strength. They thought she must be electric or perhaps she accomplished the feats through animal magnetism.
A problem arose when a lawsuit was filed against the gentlemen of the stock company. Mattie’s contract was immediately sold to a theater man from Cincinnati. Embarrassed, the members of the company returned home unheralded. Mattie’s name was never again printed in the Cartersville newspaper, in all likelihood to save the pride of the investors.
And thus, Mattie Lee Price was forgotten in Cartersville even though she became a very famous Georgia Magnetic/Electric Girl in entertainment circles. She performed in dime museums and opera houses during the winter months and traveled with circuses from April to October. She seemingly worked every single day, often in twelve-hour stretches. In 1893, just after the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Harry Houdini and his brother were on the same venue with Mattie at the Kohl and Middleton dime museum. In his memoirs he wrote of her saying that she was quite possibly the best of The Georgia Wonder girls.
The story of Mattie Lee Price weaves through a great variety of places in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and England. She was billed as a sideshow act in The Robinson Show, The Great Wallace Show and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. She was a center ring act in The Walter L. Main Circus and even got her own circus poster. Her friends were bearded ladies, dog faced boys, armless wonders, midgets, and giants. The world of dime museums and circuses in the period between 1884 and 1899 was colorful, alive, and amazing.
Mattie died far from home in a foreign land. Her grave has no marker with her name on it. And, while the majority of pre-vaudeville freaks and entertainers have been sadly forgotten, Mattie Lee Price and her extraordinary life are remembered here.
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