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Remembering a Munchkin

Deceased Mayfield native went from circus work to Hollywood

April 22, 2012
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

While Cynthia Marguerite Nickloy - a 35-inch tall woman who starred under the big top and in movies - may have died 50 years ago, but she has not been forgotten.

On April 14, relatives of Nickloy gathered by her grave at a part of Prospect Hill Cemetery in Gloversville to see the grave of "Princess Marguerite."

Barbie Lockwood, a great-niece of Nickloy's, saw her ancestor's relatively new pink headstone for the first time April 14.

Article Photos

From left, Tammy Kennedy of Ephratah,
Barbie Lockwood and her husband, Robert Lockwood, of Johnstown look on as
Fulton County Historian Peter Betz shows them historical documents about the life of Cynthia Nickloy as they stand near her grave marker located in the Potter’s Field at the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Gloversville on April 14.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

She actually had very little information on her great-aunt when she started finding out more about her during a family history project.

She first saw a photo of her diminutive aunt about five years ago.

"My mother said 'That's your great aunt," Lockwood said.

Nickloy was born in Mayfield on Aug. 12, 1902. She remained there until she was about 15 before moving to Northville for a couple years.

Her father introduced her to the Palmer Brothers Circus at 17. Over the next several years, Nickloy progressed through the circus ranks in the United States and signed as an attraction with the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus under the name of "Princess Marguerite."

Nickloy remained with the circus for several years until Hollywood started making a series of what directors called "little people" movies in the 1930s. She played the leading role in "The Terror of Tiny Town," as well as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and as one of the Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz" starring Judy Garland.

In an interview with The Leader-Herald in 1958, Nickloy recounted meeting Garland at a party in Hollywood.

"I know you. You're the famous Princess Marguerite," Nickloy recalled Garland saying to her.

After "The Wizard of Oz," Nickloy returned to her widowed mother's home in Red Bunch. But, on that trip back from California, Nickloy was in an accident in which her bus collided with a gasoline truck, and she was hospitalized for six weeks with a dislocated hip and shoulder and other injuries.

She was able to attend the gala opening night at the Glove Theatre for "The Wizard of Oz," where she told a crowd she made $55 per week in Hollywood. She also said she married twice and lost one child. One of the marriages was to a man taller than 6 feet. She said she had a romance with fellow "Oz" Munchkin Elmer Spangler, but wasn't interested in settling down.

She also never made it back to Hollywood.

She later lived on West Main Street extension in Mayfield and was a member of the Mayfield Methodist Episcopal Church, dying a single person at age 58 on April 29, 1961.

She was buried in a section of Prospect Hill Cemetery. She and her family did not have a lot of money at her death, so she was not given much of a marker.

Nickloy's story was brought to the public's attention again in 2005, when the Mayfield Historical Society worked to get the marker that is currently on her grave.

Betz pointed out that part of the continued interest in Nickloy's story may be due to the fact she was born obviously different, in a time when people with what were called "defects" where normally hidden away somewhere.

"She had a positive attitude," he said. 'She was happy to go out into the world and make something of herself."

Nickloy herself made light of her short stature in an interview with The Morning Herald in 1914, when she was quoted as saying, "I was brought and raised [in Mayfield], but I wasn't raised high enough."

Betz also noted that she had talent.

"I couldn't dance a step whether I was short or tall," he said with a laugh.

In an article in The Leader-Herald in 1958, Nickloy reminisced about her years in show business. She danced for Queen Elizabeth and King George while crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1939.

It was actually a broken leg she suffered while dancing in a club in New York?City that ended her career in 1946.

She also described the "one-arm act" she did with the circus. Under the big top, 50 feet up in the air with no net below, she would secure one arm to a tightrope, then she would flip continuously across the wire until reaching the other side.

"I would throw my body over my arm," she explained.

All those years later, she still had her sense of humor as well.

"I was only 25 pounds then. Today I couldn't do it to save my soul. I can't climb - Now I weight 65 pounds."

Nickloy certainly isn't forgotten at the Glove Performing?Arts Center. The museum at the theater includes information about "Mayfield's Munchkin."

Richard?Samrov, the executive director of the center, said for a city such as Gloversville, Nickloy was quite a movie star. While other local people may have gotten parts in movies at the time, he said, Nickloy was in "The Wizard of Oz" - a classic which the center will stage a version of in July.

"She is the one who stands out for being in a major motion picture," Samrov said.

Lockwood was grateful to find out what she could about her great-aunt. It will fill in part of the family story for future generations, she said.



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