Diminutive Circus Duo Retired to Salisbury

John and Mariah Nail Mertz, circa 1883. Image from the Davie County Public Library.On August 16, 1883, circus performers John Mertz and Mariah Elizabeth Nail were married on the stage of the Buckingham Theater in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to one story, the justice of the peace asked if they were old enough to wed because they were so small, with Mariah standing at 36 inches and John only about 10 inches taller. At the time they married, they were both around 30-years-old.

Nail was born in Mocksville in 1852. Her husband, Mertz, also known as “Major,” was born in Austria or Hungary around 1853. At age 21 he joined the circus, where he met Nail. After a long career of touring with several circuses, the pair retired from circus life sometime around 1911 and made their home in Salisbury. Mertz worked in Salisbury as a store clerk at T. F. Kluttz & Co., among other job.

The couple quickly became famous in Salisbury and has continued to live on in the community’s memory. Nail passed away at age 69 in 1922. Mertz died in 1938 at age 85. They are both buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

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