OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

November 18, 2004

Magnificent Humbug:
P.T. Barnum

talbert04.jpg (23618 bytes)

by Myron J. Talbert M.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

Background of the Author

Myron J. Talbert was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, from age 1 1/2.  After college graduation from the University of North Dakota, attended  the first two years of Medical school. Then he transferred to Temple Univ. School of Medicine ,graduating in 1946. After Internship at Madison General Hospital, he served 2 years in the army as a 1st Lt. He  returned to Madison where he completed  Surgical Residency in 1953. He practiced in Grand Forks, N.D. From 1956. until retirement in December, 1989, he prcticed general surgery in Redlands, California, , serving as Chief of staff of the Redlands Community Hospital twice, and as Chief of staff at San Bernardino County Hospital. He is a past president of the San Bernardino County Medical Societyand a past President of the Tri County Surgical Society.  He is Board Certified in General Surgery, and a Fellow of the American College of Surgery. He has served on several boards in Redlands, including the Redlands Art Assn (president),   Red Cross, Salvation Army (president), Redlands Community Music Assn (Redlands Bowl). He has been a member of the Noon Kiwanis Club since 1956 and the program chairman for 11 years. His wife, Harriet, and he enjoy their three daughters and their families.


This paper is about the life of Phineus T. Barnum who was born in 1810 and died in 1891. He was a
great showman, politician and Founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He found and exhibited many unusual and interesting “freaks” including midgets, Siamese twins, giants, elephants, some humbugs such as a mermaid manufactured by skillfully sewing together the torso of a monkey to the tail of a fish. He even sponsored a famous vocalist by the name of Jenny Lind. He served in the Connecticut Legislature and was the mayor of Bridgeport Connecticut. Over his lifetime he made millions of dollars yet on two occasions was bankrupt.

Magnificent Humbug: P.T. Barnum

I first became interested in circuses when one came to my hometown, Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was about ten years old at the time and the circus was interested in hiring youngsters to help set up the tents in exchange for a free pass. Although I had my right forearm a in a cast the result of a severe sprain, I volunteered my services and received my pass. I was impressed with the show, especially the “lion tamer” and the trapeze performers so when I read a book recently about, probably, the most famous circus promoter of all time, Phineas T. Barnum called” The Fabulous Showman” by Irving Wallace, my interest was piqued to learn more about him.

Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut on July 5th 1810. His ancestor, Thomas Barnum, had come to America as an indentured servant in the mid17th century. He apparently was an up and coming young man as he was able to buy his freedom by 1673. He then became a landowner and actually was one of the founders of Danbury, Connecticut. PT’s father, Philo, wasn’t as successful. He was a tailor for a time then became a tavern keeper and finally a storekeeper. His first wife died at the age of 26 but he remarried in six months to Irene Taylor who was P.T.’s mother. Her father, Phineas Taylor, for whom he was named, was to become a great influence on his life. He was known as a great practical joker. He played jokes on friends as well as members of the family. P.T. was the brunt of one of the jokes when he was gifted a worthless piece of swampland called Ivy Island by his grandfather. Young Phineas was proud to be a landowner and envisioned it to be a beautiful piece of property. Years later he discovered the hoax and was heart broken although; later on he managed to unload it as collateral on another business venture. He had a knack for turning a bad deal into something of worth.

Another practical joke his grandfather perpetrated occurred when he was on a sloop with several men on a trip from Norwalk to New York. The trip normally took 8 hours but they were becalmed for five days. Among the passengers was a blue nosed redheaded preacher. Obviously they were all in need of a shave when they approached their destination and Phineas was the only one on board with a razor so he suggested they could borrow his razor and shave half their faces then after a couple of drinks do the other half. After the drinks, Phineas shaved the other half of his face then took out his razor strop and commenced sharpening the blade when suddenly the razor slipped out of his hand and flew overboard. Needless to say it was a funny looking group of men who disembarked in New York, the preacher with half his red beard the funniest of all and the most embarrassed.

Barnum’s father Philo, died when Barnum was only 15 which caused him to have go to work at an early age to help support his mother and four siblings. He didn’t like school but had good grades and was very skilled in arithmetic and statistics. He made good use of these skills in many dealings throughout his life.

Because he didn’t like manual labor he got a job as a clerk in a store where he learned more about business.

Lotteries were, at that time, the common mode to raise money to build schools and churches and hence were perfectly legal. He learned he could make good money in that business and did just that.

When he was working in a store, it was not uncommon to barter for goods. One day a peddler traded in a wagonload of green bottles of various sizes and shapes and some dirty tin ware. Barnum in return unloaded some almost unsaleable items on him. His employer couldn’t believe such stupidity. He asked him what he was going to do with all the green bottles but Barnum struck upon the idea of having a lottery whereby there was a prize for half the people who bought tickets. Within ten days he had unloaded all the green bottles and tin ware and made some money in the process.

In 1829 when he was only 19 years old he married Charity Hallett. The marriage was apparently a happy one. He was a private type of individual so there isn’t much known about his married life but he spoke glowingly about her in his autobiography. They remained married till her death in 1873. They had four daughters, one died at the age of two. Following Charity’s death he married the daughter of an English friend some 10 months later by the name of Nancy Fish who was twenty four years of age .He was sixty-four. That marriage was very compatible, as she loved, as did he, music and the arts. Barnum’s daughters were all younger than she yet they grew to love her. She traveled with him and shared his interests in contrast with his first wife who dedicated her life to the home and raising the children. They had 17 years together.

At the age of twenty-one he became interested in politics. He had trouble getting his opinions published in the local papers so he started his own in 1831 called the Herald of Freedom. He was against Calvinism and was outspoken about his belief in separating church and state .His newspaper was quite successful and was read in several states. His strong opinions got him into trouble as he was sued for liable on three occasions. For one he just received a fine, another he got off but the other he spent sixty days in jail. While in jail his many friends visited him, put a rug on the floor and helped him run the newspaper from the jail. His circulation was increased as a result. After he served his 60 days he was taken back to Bethel with a marching band and several of his friends then had a banquet for him.

P.T. had several businesses including selling hats, fruit and running lotteries and in 1835 was in business with a John Moody in a grocery store in New York when he began his career in show business.

One of his customers by the name of Bartram told him that he and he and R, W. Lindsay had purchased a slave women by the name of Joice Heth, who was said to be 161 years old and had been the nursemaid to George Washington. They had been exhibiting her in the Masonic Hall in Philadelphia but wanted to sell her as they wished to go back to their home towns and quit show business. They ostensibly had an original bill of sale signed by Washington’s father, Augustine Washington, in his own handwriting to prove the authenticity of the investment. Barnum immediately sensed a possible moneymaker so he took a stagecoach to Philadelphia to see her. He found her lying on a lounge with legs drawn up in a flexed position, blind and toothless and her left arm paralyzed lying across her chest. Her fingernails on her left hand were about 4 inches long extending past her wrist. She was cheerful and bright and able to carry on a conversation in spite of her disabilities. She loved to sing hymns and seemed to have knowledge about the Washington family. The asking price was $3000.00 but with his skilful haggling got the price down to $1000.00. He had only $500.00 but was able to borrow the other $500.00 from a friend after dazzling him with the story of his investment realizing that should his slave die he would be the looser.

Barnum needed a place to show his freak. He selected Niblo’s Garden, a beautiful out door saloon in New York. Niblo, the owner, didn’t want him to use the saloon to display her but he did allow him to lease a large apartment next door. Niblo, himself became interested in the venture so he agreed to provide printing, advertising and a ticket seller in exchange for half of the gross receipts. Barnum then hired an attorney by the name of Levi Lyman who proved to be an excellent promoter. He flooded the newspapers with advertisements and passed out handbills. The venture proved to be a smashing success grossing $1,500 a week which he split with Niblo but still was more money than he had ever made before. When the attendance dropped off he took her to Boston concert hall where he again prospered for several weeks but there didn’t have to split the take with Niblo.

He had competition in Boston from a more famous individual by the name of Johan Maelzel who was displaying his “Terrible Turk.” The Terrible Turk was a larger than life wooden automaton that could play chess. Edgar Allan Poe saw it and described it as having machinery that audibly ground and creaked when the arm moved the chess pieces. The Turk was said to have played and defeated Napoleon, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great and Benjamin Franklin.

Maelzel was an interesting individual. He had developed a mechanical wind band and in 1812 had convinced Beethoven to write the symphony, “Wellingtons Victory” for his device.

The Turk was not the product of Maelzel’s work but that of one Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen who was said to have built it for the amusement of Empress Maria Theresa in 1769. The Baron displayed the automaton for years before Maelzel acquired it in 1826. Many observers tried to figure out how it worked but the secret was that of hiding an expert chess player in the works. At least one of them was a bilateral mid thigh amputee who could hide inside it and operate the arm and also be able to move from one compartment to another when the front or back was opened to display the works. Barnum was concerned about this competition so he managed to buy out Maelzel to give his Joice Heth exhibit center stage.

When interest in his slave dwindled he struck upon the idea that he would have a notice in the paper that Joice is really also an automaton made out of whalebone and India rubber and the voice is really a ventriloquist. This was signed by a” visitor”. The result was renewed interest and the money again rolled in. Guess who the “visitor” was.

The Turk ended up in Philadelphia Chinese Museum where it was destroyed by a fire in 1854.

Barnum and his associate, Lyman took to the road with Joice appearing in Hartford, New Haven, Newark and Albany. In Albany there were other exhibits appearing at the same time. One of the exhibits was an Italian juggler who was billed as Signor Antonio. He balanced bayoneted rifles on his nose, walked on stilts and spun plates. Barnum engaged him with a years contract and managed to exhibit him at the Franklin Theater. He advertised extensively and the juggler performed to good audiences. Encouraged by the success of his new venture he turned Joice over to Lyman to concentrate on Signor Vivalla, which was the new name given him by Barnum. The success was short lived and the attendance dropped off. One night during the performance someone hissed in the audience. Barnum found the hisser to try to silence him and discovered he was a juggler by the name of Roberts who proclaimed he could do anything that Vivalla did and better. Actually he was quite talented and could do some things that Vivalla couldn’t. This might discourage most men but Barnum struck on the idea of publishing a reward of $1000.00 for anyone who could match Vivalla’s feats. Barnum borrowed the thousand dollars and challenged Roberts to try. Roberts performed well but was inexperienced in stilt walking and therefore failed to do everything that Vivalla did. Roberts was angry but was placated when Barnum offered him $30.00 a night to repeat the contest each night. The idea was to match the feats for 45 minutes amid cheering and hissing, then fake failure. The matches were advertised in the papers and hand- bills so the nightly take jumped from $75 per night to $593.

Barnum wasn’t the only one at that time perpetrating hoaxes. Two retired businessmen by the name of Lozier and DeVoe in 1824 announced that Manhattan Island was beginning to sag at the Battery due to the new office buildings in the area. He said they had been hired by the mayor to saw off the lower end of Manhattan and to float it past Ellis Island, turn it around and reattach it in a more suitable location. They went so far as to build a huge saw 100 feet long and with teeth three feet deep. They even let contracts to do the work and signed men to row the part around with twenty-four two hundred foot oars. On the date of the event about 1000 people assembled but DeVoe and Lozier were not to be found. I guess lower Manhattan Island is still sinking.

In 1836 Barnum got out of the publishing business. Heth had died but he still had Vivala the juggler. He then had his first experience with a true circus when he joined Aaron Turner with Vivala. Turner had the first full-top canvas circus in America. He stayed with Turner only two years.

In 1841 Barnum had the opportunity to purchase the Scudder Museum located on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in Manhattan. It contained stuffed birds and many scientific artifacts. John Heath, the administrator for the Scudder family dickered with him for a week. The asking price was $15,000 but settled for $12,000. Here is where the Ivy Island property he had received as a hoax from his grandfather proved to be of worth as it was offered and accepted as collateral. Barnum then renamed the Museum the American Museum. It was located near St Paul’s Church and near the daguerreotype establishment owned by Mathew B. Brady who 20 years later took his darkroom on the battlefields of the Civil War. They became close friends. Another nearby neighbor was the young Horace Greeley who also became a close friend and advisor for the rest of his life. He also knew Mark Twain socially.

Shortly after he bought the museum a panhandler asked him for money. He gave him a quarter and then hired him to take five bricks and deposit them at four corners near the museum. He was to take the other brick to each location replace it then carry the other brick to the next location and repeat the process till a crowd began to gather. He was given a ticket to the museum, which he was to present at the door, go through the museum, then go out and repeat the process. Soon the crowd was buying tickets to see what it was all about.

Barnum improved the museum adding various freaks such as an eight-foot giant and fat people weighing five to seven hundred pounds. He brought in Indians who would perform ceremonies and dances. He found and displayed a model of Niagara Falls with real water. He was quite successful so he added a beautiful lecture hall and presented plays all of which were fit to be seen by all ages. He presented Shakespearian plays but cleaned them up so as to be acceptable to even children. The “Drunkard” began its long run there and Uncle Tom’s Cabin was also presented.

Early in his life Barnum enjoyed cigars and wine but eventually became a teetotaler. When asked the secret of his success he said “ advertising”. It is like learning, “a little is a dangerous thing” and added that the only liquid a man can safely use to excess is printers- ink.

The American Museum prospered making Barnum over $100,000.00 a year and was able to pay off the indebt ness quickly. It prospered till July 1865 when it burned to the ground at a loss of $400,000.00. It was not adequately insured. Barnum had a second Museum but it too burned in 1868.

Barnum learned early that people don’t mind being the brunt of a hoax and actually will pay again to find out how it was done.

In 1843, while attending a celebration of Bunker Hill where Noah Webster was speaking, He noticed a tent near the lecture hall that contained 15 half starved buffalo calves that had been driven by an expert rider and lasso artist from the west. He paid $700 and made a contract with the owner to display them as a “Grand Buffalo Hunt” but he could see that the buffalo were not very wild so he advertised the hunt to be shown free of charge in Hoboken, New Jersey. He then negotiated to rent the ferryboats and the food and drink concessions for the day. The result was that twenty-four-thousand people paid twelve and a half cents round trip and had a delightful day eating and drinking and watching the cowboy lasso an apathetic buffalo. There was much amusement about how they had been humbugged but they didn’t mind. On the other hand Barnum made a good profit on the money he made from the boat-rides and concessions.

In 1842 Barnum heard about, what was to be, his most famous exhibit when visiting his brother in Bridgeport. His name was Charles S. Stratton then only five years old. When he was born he weighed a hefty nine pounds two ounces and at six months was fifteen pounds. and was two feet one inch tall. At five years he was unchanged but was perfectly proportioned and thus a true midget the problem being a pituitary disorder. Barnum gave him the title of General Tom Thumb after the legendary sir Tom Thumb of King Arthur’s knights and fitted him with a uniform. He was advertised as an eleven year old because that would be more unusual for his size. Young Tom was smart and able to learn a humorous monolog for his show, which lent more credence to his advertised age.

Barnum displayed his protégé with the giants and fat people at the American Museum with great success. Then decided to go to England. There he presented him at the Princess Theater to full houses. From there he went to the Egyptian hall in the center of London and while there received an invitation to Buckingham Palace to be presented to Queen Victoria. That was to be the first of three audiences with the Queen. When the queen asked him to sing he sang Yankee Doodle which was received with shocked amusement since the Revolutionary war was not in the too distant past (1844).

The show then went to Paris. While there he managed to get an invitation to the Tuileries where he met the King and Queen of France, Louis-Philippe. Barnum had a special carriage built for Tom drawn by four Shetland ponies and because of their visit to the King and Queen was given permission to ride with royalty in the Longechamps day parade.

Barnum had a close relationship with Tom Thumb as an equal partner for more than thirty years but still wanted another midget. In 1861 he found an eighteen year old who was twenty-nine inches tall and weighed twenty-four pounds by the name of George Washington Morrison McNutt and immediately Barnum latched on to him. At that time Tom was getting pudgy at fifty- two pounds and had grown ten inches in height and sported a mustache so the new midget was an instant attraction. Barnum fitted him out in a naval uniform and named him” Commodore Nutt”. It wasn’t long before he was invited by President Lincoln to visit the White House.

About a year later Barnum found another attractive, intelligent Midget who was a schoolteacher by the name of Lavinia Warren Bump. She was twenty years old, thirty- two inches tall and weighed twenty-nine pounds. She immediately had two suitors but Tom was the more famous and, although, was a bit pompous ended up the winner and they were married on February 10, 1863. About two thousand famous and near famous attended. Some offered up to sixty five dollars for a chance to attend but they were refused as it was by invitation only.

They didn’t have any children. Tom was a spendthrift and on his death twenty years later left her with only his name. He was only forty- five years old and died of a stroke. Lavinia lived to be seventy-eight.

In 1846 Barnum bought seventeen acres of land in Bridgeport, Connecticut and built a beautiful mansion similar to the design of a pavilion built in Brighton, England by George the fourth. He called it” Iranistan”. It had an oriental feel and was quite opulent. Shortly after it was built he purchased about one hundred acres of land across the river known as East Bridgeport.

Barnum was very interested in Bridgeport. He donated land for a city park on the edge of Long Island sound and made a generous donation to the public library. He later was the mayor of the city.

. About that time he had purchased some elephants and he figured he could publicize his museums by hitching an elephant to a plow and plow a section of land near the railroad track. He obtained a train schedule and timed it when a passenger train would pass. He estimated that he plowed it about sixty times, thus gaining considerable publicity from the performance.

Among Barnum’s many freaks was the bearded lady. Her beard started to grow at the age of eight. She actually was married and had two children. Barnum gained much publicity when a disgruntled customer sued for fraud. He ended up losing his twenty-five cents cost of the ticket and the case was thrown out of court. There is, however, some doubt as to who actually instigated the suit, the publicity was significant.

The Feejee mermaid was another freak that he obtained from Moses Kimball, the proprietor of the Boston Museum. It had originated in Calcutta where a sea captain obtained it from Japanese sailors. It was made up of a baboon torso that was joined expertly to the lower half of a fish. I can’t imagine how it smelled. Years later while visiting in Holland he saw other specimens that had been obtained in Japan similar to the Feejee mermaid.

Another of Barnum’s famous freaks was the Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. They were born of Chinese parents near Bangkok. They were joined in the lower chest by a fleshy band in the front, at first only four inches long but eventually as they grew it extended to five and a half inches and they were able to face forward more. They could even swim and while swimming one day a sailing master by the name of Coffin saw them and signed them to a contract to display them. Together with a merchant by the name of Hunter they went to England where they made a fortune. They then retired but the Civil war took their money and slaves forcing them to go back into show business so they asked Barnum to take them on. He showed them in the American Museum where they regained their fortune.

The personalities of the twins were quite different. Eng was quiet and studious while Chang liked wine and women. They didn’t like each other and often argued, even coming to blows. They married at the age of forty-two to sisters and between them they had twenty one children.

It is interesting that Eng did not feel the effect of Changs drinking nor did the illness of one appear to affect the other yet when Chang died, Eng died within a few hours. An autopsy was done which showed that they shared a liver and some major vessels.

In 1849 Barnum was known world wide for his promotion of freaks with sometimes crude and ostentatious advertising but he always had loved music and wished to be recognized as an impresario as well. Shortly after Barnum and Tom Thumb left London the city was taken by storm by Jenny Lind., the Swedish Nightingale. Although he had not met her he decided that he could afford to risk fifty thousand dollars to bring her to the United States. Besides she might be a moneymaker for him as well as bringing him prestige. Barnum then engaged an Englishman by the name of John Wilton who was managing an orchestra that was touring the U.S. to offer a contract to Lind. The offer was $1,000 a night for up to 150 performances or a percentage of the box-office plus payment for her staff. The offer happened to come to her as she was recovering from a lost romance so she signed with the stipulation that she could quit after one hundred performances and that she could sing for charity whenever she pleased. The contract had some changes later. She had several Swedish charities to whom she gave many thousands of dollars regularly. Julius Benedict, her accompanist, and Signor Giovanni Belletti, a well known baritone with whom she sang duets were to be included in the contract.

Jenny Lind was not especially beautiful but when she sang she seemed to take on beauty.

Here is where Barnum displayed his expertise in advertising. Before she came to America he had daily articles in the various papers extolling her voice, beauty and the success of her performances so that when she arrived in New York by ship there were estimated twenty to thirty thousand cheering people on the dock.

Castle Garden, an abandoned brick fortress in the water just off the battery, was selected to give the first performance. The theater was sold out and the take was over $17,000.

The performances were well received everywhere in America but when she went to Cuba the audience was unhappy to pay the higher price than what they usually were charged for such concerts. When she was introduced, the audience actually hissed. She kept her cool and with flashing eyes proceeded with her performance. When she finished she was given a thunderous applause.

After Jenny Lind’s sixty-first concert her secretary came to Barnum stating that she wished to terminate their contract. By terms of the contract she would have had to pay Barnum $77,000.00 for the deposit he had made to bring her over and was so informed. Furthermore Barnum said that he didn’t believe that the termination was instigated by Lind and told the secretary that he was to bring a note signed by Lind confirming the termination by the next morning. The secretary returned without the note and said it was just a joke. It was doubtful if Jenny even knew about the interchange but apparently her secretary and other attendants kept urging her to get more classy promotion. She completed 93 concerts but according to the contract she would have had to do one hundred. Obviously her secretary and other attendants wanted to get a cut of the profits so they talked her into paying Barnum $7,000 for the seven remaining concerts plus $25,000. Barnum accepted the offer. The result was that her take was much lower than when Barnum was her manager and her last performance in the Castle Garden was to a half house. Never the less they parted on good terms after only about eight months. She then retired to Niagara Falls and married Otto Goldschmidt who was then her accompanist and who had studied with her in Germany previously. Her former accompanist, Benedict was crushed as he was also in love with her.

The concerts had grossed $712,161 dollars, $176,675 for her and $535,486 for Barnum.

Over his lifetime Barnum made millions of dollars but twice he fell on hard times. Once when he advertised that he had money to invest and was himself scammed when his business partner absconded with the business funds and the other when he was offered the chance to join a clock manufacturing company known as the Jerome Clock company

. At the time he was interested in building up the land in East Bridgeport and thought it would be a good business for the community to build a factory in that location. The company appeared to have been successful with good assets but had had a slow year and were in danger of having to lay off employees so he agreed to back the company up to $110,000.

Apparently he wasn’t attentive enough as to the payments on notes and ended up in debt of over half a million dollars some of the indebtedness, actually, having been incurred prior to the agreement. He wisely had turned over his home to his wife previously so he was able to get by. Many friends who heard about his dilemma including Tom Thumb offered to loan him money but he refused. It took him five years to recoup his losses and repay his debts.

In 1865 Barnum again became interested in politics. He had been what he called a Jacksonian Democrat but after he met Lincoln he wanted to be part of abolition so he became a republican and ran for the state of Connecticut legislature and won. While speaking in the legislature one day he was handed a note that said his American Museum had burned to the ground. He didn’t bat an eye and finished his talk.

Barnum lost his opulent Iranistan home to a fire as well. This occurred after the house was put in trust because of the Jerome Clock episode. He hadn’t lived in it for several years. It too was underinsured.

He then built his second home which he called Lindencroft near the site of Iranistan .A third home which he called Waldemere overlooked Long Island Sound was impressive but not to the degree that Iranistan was.. It was lived in for a few years then finally he built a fourth very ordinary house in Bridgeport, which he called Marina. Only a part of Waldemere still exists the others were demolished

In 1867 he ran for U.S. congress but lost. The next year the Temperance Party asked him to run for President but he declined.

Following his bankruptcy, Barnum Traveled the country giving lectures on “the art of money getting” and Temperance but the challenge of promotion and making money was too much so he turned again to showmanship at the age of 60.

In 1870 he met two real circus people by the name of Dan Costello, a former clown, and W.C. Coup a circus manager. Prior to that time aside from two years with the Turner circus he only had exotic animals and vaudeville like acts so he didn’t become a real Circus man till then. They formed the” P.T. Barnum’s museum, Menagerie and Circus”.

Prior to that time circuses had only one ring which was a standard thirteen meters in diameter so that horses could perform in any circus but the audience couldn’t see what was going on so they started the three- ring circus. They also began to travel by train rather than by wagon with all the animals and five hundred personal including performers, seamstresses, cooks and blacksmiths. It took three engines to pull the sixty freight car train. This allowed them to go to larger cities faster and more efficiently.

The circus needed a winter quarters so he bought an old building in New York which he called the “Hippotheatron”. He was warned by the fire marshal that it was a fire risk and it wasn’t long before he was proven right. Barnum had five major fires in his life with major losses including many wild animals all of which were underinsured. This didn’t stop him. He was able to put together a new show with many wild animals and horses by the spring of 1873. They moved into the American Institute building and called it” Barnum’s Traveling Worlds Fair”. They then leased property at Fourth and Madison in New York and built a more fire resistant building.

In 1880 Barnum met his match in showmanship when he met James A. Bailey and James Hutchinson the owners of the London Circus who was his major competition. They merged their circuses under the name of “Barnum and Bailey Circus”. The show was presented in the Madison Square garden and traveled extensively. This still exists as what is now Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. “The Greatest Show on Earth“

After the merger Barnum became deathly ill with some abdominal ailment. He nearly died. But gradually regained strength after vacationing in Florida and Europe.

No story about P.T. Barnum would be complete without including “Jumbo”., the huge elephant that he obtained from the Royal Zoological Gardens in London in 1882 at a cost of $10,000. The animal was said to be eleven feet tall at the time but grew to 13 feet and weighed six and a half tons. His daily food intake was two hundred pounds of hay, fifteen loves of bread, oats, biscuits, plus a quart of whiskey and five pails of water. Jumbo had become a favorite of the children of London and attempts were made to prevent the sale to Barnum and subsequent move to America. Barnum actually encouraged the conflict, as it was good publicity but the sale went through. They had quite a time on the ship because of seasickness but they kept him calm with a supply of beer.

When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened they tested it by having Jumbo walk across it from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

In 1885, unfortunately the magnificent animal was struck by a train in St Thomas, Ontario and killed. The skeleton was given to the American museum of Natural History and the skin to the Natural history museum at Tufts University. Barnum had financed the Tufts natural history museum.

The circus thrived but Barnum took more time off with his young Wife. They lived in Waldemere and enjoyed picnics, entertaining and attending concerts and the opera.

There were two exhibits in the last ten years of his life that are worthy of mention; One was Brigham Young with his twenty-one wives and the other was Grizzly Adams who wrestled bears and was actually dying slowly as a result of a fractured skull which exposed his brain . The injury was sustained by one of his bears.

In his late years Henry Bergh, the founder of the SPCA was critical of Barnum for having animals jump through a ring of fire. Barnum jumped through it followed by his entourage thus convincing him of the harmlessness of the act. There is ,no doubt, some reason for the criticism as he lost many animals in the five fires that plagued his career. Many burned alive. They did become good friends however.

In the end of 1890 the great showman began to fail with what was described as brain congestion. He improved briefly but in early 1891 he recognized that he didn’t have long to live. He expressed an interest in what would be said about him in his obituary so the New York Evening Sun obliged and published it for him on March 24,1891 saying “ The great and only Barnum- he wanted to read it so here it is.” He rallied briefly and expired April 8th. I don’t know the contents of the obituary.

He didn’t invent the circus, as some believe. Circuses were in existence in ancient Rome and Greece and even in the United States there were some before the Revolutionary War, but he did have a place in the development of the modern circus with the three rings and the use of the railroad to transport his show from place to place.

Even in death, Barnum continued to make the news. The attendance at the funeral was so great a pickpocket was caught plying his trade and seven weeks after his burial an attempt was made to steal his body which caused his family to hire two guards full time to guard the burial site.


The information for this paper on Phineous T. Barnum was obtained from four books. The first was " The Fabulous Showman by Irving Wallace. The second was by Waldo R. Browne which was put together from a combination of several autobiographies by Barnum extending from 1855 to 1888. The plates for the first were bought and destroyed. In 1869 Barnum published " Struggles and Triumphs" then revised it several times. It is said that he sold a half a million copies during his lifetime although there is none still in print.

The third book by Neil Harris, "Humbug", the art of P.T. Barnum was well written and summarized the events. The fourth book by Catherine And ronik was more for children. "The Prince of Humbugs".

While preparing the paper I was interested to note that Miller High School was presenting a musical about his life recently. There was a TV movie about his life with Burt Lancaster in the lead.

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