By Laura Abernathy Huffman
Celesta Herrmann weighed only 7 ½ pounds when she was born July 18, 1901 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father, Leopold, was an ironworker and her mother, Frances, did bookkeeping work. She and her brothers and sister grew up at the family home at 444 Dayton Street in the “Over-the-Rhine” neighborhood.
By the time Celesta was five her father had left the iron works and was operating a saloon near the family home. Leopold began taking his cute-as-a-button daughter with the long black curls to the saloon to show her off to his customers.
BIGGEST FREE-LAODER OF THEM ALL
The saloon offered a free lunch spread that was laid out by her mother. Mrs. Herrmann kept it loaded with sausages, Wienerschnitzel, potato salad and other traditional German dishes. Once the men would stop fawning over Celesta she would nibble on the food.
“Everyone loved the free food,” Celesta recalled years later, “but I was the biggest free-loader of them all.”
“Sometimes the men would give me pennies and I’d go next door to the ice cream parlor and buy sweets.” she later recalled. “I ate and ate…by the time I was seven, I was a fatty.”
Celesta Herrmann, at 8-years-old.
As a young girl, Celesta’s schoolmates teased her ruthlessly. She would tearfully run home each day after class to her mother who would soothe her with chocolate cake. On days when the kids were kinder to her and didn’t make her cry, Celesta would still turn on the waterworks once she arrived at home knowing that her mother would comfort her with food.
“I ate one meal a day…from the time I got up in the morning until I went to sleep,” she once told a reporter while reminiscing about her childhood days.
When Celesta was a teenager she stayed home and ate her mother’s scrumptious cooking while her peers went out with the neighborhood boys. It was a depressing cycle of weep, eat, sleep, repeat for the pretty, overweight child. Her parents enrolled her in Cincinnati's private Notre Dame Academy. That improved matters, but not enough to keep Celesta from dropping out of school after ninth grade.
She found work at the Dolly Varden Chocolate factory- manufacturer of chocolate covered cherries. Management found out that Celesta wasn’t 18, the legal age required for work, and fired her. She found work as a porter for a soap manufacturing company. She went to beauty school where she earned her credentials and then she moved to Miami where she weighed 250 pounds when she turned 21.
Celesta moved back to her parents home and the familiarity of her Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Just before Christmas, 1924, she found Frank Geyer, a childhood neighbor. He had grown up and was working as a machinist not far from the Herrmann home. He wooed Celesta over the holidays and married her January 17th, 1925.
MR. & MRS. FRANK GEYER
Frank’s life hadn’t been any easier than Celesta's. His father had died when he was only three-years-old, and his mother died when he was just 18. He had enlisted in the United States Navy in 1916, when he was 24. He served aboard the USS Des Moines near Alexandria, Egypt as a Fireman 3rd Class before being booted from the service for bad conduct in 1918. He kicked around East Saint Louis and Key West before returning to his old neighborhood in Cincinnati. On their wedding day, the groom weighed 130 pounds and his 4’11 bride weighed 290 pounds.
Speaking of their first year of wedded bliss, Celesta later told a newspaper reporter, “Every night I’d make him a fresh pie or cake and he’d eat one piece, so I’d finish it. I gained 100 pounds in a year.”
The couple lived happily in Cincinnati until Frank lost his job. One of Celesta’s older brothers, Albert, had moved to Detroit and opened a print shop. He offered Frank a job, so the couple packed up and moved to the Motor City. After working at Albert’s print shop a little over a year, the business faltered, pushing Frank out of work again. Despite his dishonorable discharge he was able to get work at the Chevrolet plant.
BECOMING DOLLY DIMPLES
In the Spring of 1927 Frank lost that job too- although he hid it from his wife. As the couple were headed to Albert’s house for dinner one evening, Celesta spotted the Happy Land Carnival. She begged Frank to explore the carnival’s lighted midway. As they were strolling along, Celesta spotted the sideshow banner promoting Jolly Pearl, the 700-pound fat lady.
Celesta and Pearl struck up a fast friendship. Pearl offered Celesta a job, and offered Frank one too, after he confessed to losing his job at Chevrolet. They would both earn a salary- and, Jolly Pearl added, “All your meals will be included…all you want to eat all the time.” The Geyer’s joined Happy Land Carnival at their show in Lansing the next week. Celesta chose Dolly Dimples for her stage name. Dolly Dimples and Jolly Pearl continued their friendship until Pearl died in 1929.
Pearl was so heavy at the time of her death that a hearse could not be used- her body was carried away on the back of a truck instead. The image of that weighed heavily on Dolly Dimples.
The show went on and Dolly Dimples, with her husband Frank, continued traveling with carnivals, circuses, and sideshows for another twenty years or more. They saved their money and purchased a home in Orlando, where they wintered each year. Dolly weighed 555 pounds.
Celesta Herrmann Geyer as sideshow fat lady Dolly Dimples.
“It took 12 yards of material to make a dress for me,” she recalled. “I couldn’t even cross my legs then, and I was so helpless. I had a 79-inch bust and a waist seven feet around.”
MRS. CELESTA GEYER
In 1950 Dolly Dimples had a heart attack. Her doctor, not thinking she would make it through the night, had last rites administered for her. The doctor was shocked when she greeted him with a faint smile the next day. He told her, frankly, “diet, or die.”
Dolly, who couldn’t shake the image of Pearl’s body being hauled off on the back of a truck, promised herself that she would not, could not, die until she was small enough to fit into a hearse. She began a diet of 800 calories a day and stuck with it. In the next 14 months Dolly Dimples shed 401 pounds. Her amazing accomplishment was recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Guinness Book of World Records.
As Dolly continued to slim, so did work for her as a sideshow fat lady. She took on a new occupation as a palm reader, as Madam Celest, and her husband Frank operated a tourist camp and art gallery at their home on U.S. 1 in Dania, Florida.
1963 photo of Celesta Herrmann Geyer, former circus fat lady, posing with her former sideshow banner, after losing over 400 pounds.
Celesta kept losing weight until she tipped the scales at 112 pounds- the weight she maintained until her death in 1982, fifteen years after her beloved Frank passed.
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