John Mertz, The Smallest Pythian

John "Major" Mertz was born in Hungary in 1853. Standing about 46 inches tall, joined the circus when he was 21 and toured with several companies, including the Barnum circus. 

Mariah Nail was born in Mocksville, North Carolina in 1852. Part of a circus crew that Mertz had joined, she became close with Mertz and the two married in 1883 on the stage of the Buckingham Theater in Kentucky.

D. W. Watt, a circus treasurer, said of the couple:

“They never traveled with a show that they did not leave a good name and managers were always anxious to get Major Mertz and his wife as an attraction. They occupied a platform in the sideshow where they sold their pictures to visitors and a crowd of interested spectators could always be seen around their platform.” 

Gathering of the Kings Mountain Pythian Lodge No. 94 in 1921. The Guest of Honor (center) was the smallest Pythian, Major John Mertz, who stood 46 inches tall and weighed 62 pounds. -- Courtesy Kings Mountain Historical Museum

Gathering of the Kings Mountain Pythian Lodge No. 94 in 1921. The Guest of Honor (center) was the smallest Pythian, Major John Mertz, who stood 46 inches tall and weighed 62 pounds.

Courtesy Kings Mountain Historical Museum

After a long career of touring with the circus, the two retired from circus life and moved to Salisbury, where Mertz worked as a store clerk. Mertz became a part of the Pythian Society in his life in Salisbury. From a Charlotte News article in 1901: 

"He and his wife are the smallest citizens in the state, as far as is known. The Major is 46 inches high. His wife comes to his shoulder. He is the smallest Pythian in the world. The Pythians take great pleasure and pride in him, and he is always prominent at Pythian gatherings. He is well known here. He is engaged in business in Salisbury, and is both popular and successful."

See more photos of historic Cleveland County in The Shelby Star's new book, Cleveland County Memories.

Cleveland County Memories: The Early Years Cover
The Shelby Star presents Cleveland County Memories: The Early Years

$44.95

More info