November 18, 2004
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
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. PTs father, Philo, wasnt 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.
Barnums 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 didnt 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 didnt 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
couldnt 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 isnt 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 Charitys 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. Barnums 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
Washingtons 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 Niblos Garden, a beautiful
out door saloon in New York. Niblo, the owner, didnt 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 didnt 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
The Turk was not the product of Maelzels 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
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
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 couldnt. This might discourage most
men but Barnum struck on the idea of publishing a reward of $1000.00 for anyone who could
match Vivallas 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 wasnt 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 Pauls 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
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
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 Toms 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 dont 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 didnt 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 Arthurs
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 wasnt 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
They didnt 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
Among Barnums 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 cant 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 Barnums 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 didnt 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
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
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
After Jenny Linds 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 didnt 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
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 wasnt 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 didnt 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 hadnt 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 didnt become a real Circus
man till then. They formed the P.T. Barnums 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 couldnt 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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 Barnums 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 didnt 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 dont know the contents of the obituary.
He didnt 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
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.