Phineas Taylor Barnum; Huckster, Showman, Promoter, Founder, Politician and Philanthropist
“There is a sucker born every minute” is a quote famously attributed to P. T. Barnum.Barnum’s American Museum, opened in 1835 at the cornerBroadway & Ann St in New York City was embellished with hoaxes amid real scientific curiosities.One of the boldest hoaxes was the “Feejee Mermaid”- the head of a monkey attached to the tail of a fish. He claimed 850,000 curiosities in his guide book to the museum published in 1860.After a fire in 1864, the museum re-opened in a new location with fewer curiosities, but burned again in 1868, closing it for good.Two years later, at age 60, Barnum started the circus for which he is, perhaps, most famous today.
Barnum’s most notorious act was the first one he promoted.Joice Heth, a blind and mostly paralyzed African-American woman was purported to be the 161 year old former nurse for George Washington.Upon her death in 1836, Barnum arranged a public autopsy in a New York saloon, where the paying audience finally found out that Heth’s actual age at her death was about 1/2 of the 161 years she was advertised to be.
Referred to as “Shakespeare of Advertising” because of his memorable and novel ideas, Barnum ordered a lighthouse beacon to be placed at the corner of the building at Ann & Broadway which beckoned visitors from afar to his Museum.There were daily hot air balloon launches from the Museum’s gardenrooftop.The museum contained the first aquarium in the US, along with a menagerie of stuffed, painted and live animals, automatons, siamese twins, spellbinding acts, fantastic displays, giant women, exotic displays, and other “spectacular marvels” like the midget “Tom Thumb”.These were so attractive that by 1846, the museum drew 400,000 visitors per year.
Barnum’s personal life was filled with amazing flourishes, too. He built Iranistan as his family residence in 1848 on 17 acres in Bridgeport, CT.Barnum’s inspiration for Iranistan was John Nash’s re-design of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England.Not content with just a dog or a cat, Barnum kept a bull elephant on the grounds, which delighted gawking passers-by. Iranistan burned 1857 during one of the most tumultuous periods in Barnum’s life.
In the early 1850’s, Barnum’s venture with the Jerome Clock Company in an East Bridgeport land development deal almost ruined him.He was tricked into signing multiple cash notes, becoming overextended and was forced to declare bankruptcy.Some reveled at Barnum’s comeuppance.The Chicago Tribune quipped “The deceiver is duped”.But his many friends and supporters stood by him, offering loans, gifts and their sympathy.
During this same time, Barnum was in the midst of promoting concerts and plays. He offered Swedish singer Jenny Lind $1,000 per night for 150 nights if she would come to work for him.She ended up giving 93 performances at Barnum’s outlandish rate before she set out on a tour under her own management. But Barnum had amassed a half million in profits before he had finished managing Lind.He opened the largest theater in New York City at the time, putting on legitimate theater when many New Yorkers considered dramatic plays and musicals morally reprehensible.
By the time he had reached his 50s, Barnum had regained his financial footing and became involved in philanthropic endeavors.He gave 30 acres to the City of Bridgeport for the expansion of Seaside Park in 1865.He gave Tufts University $50,000 for the Barnum Museum of Natural History and he supported the founding ofBridgeport Hospital, and became its first president in 1878.
He originated the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1870 aka “P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth” when he was 60 years old. He took much of the spectacle and glamor of his shuttered museum, and turned it into a traveling show.Barnum made an astute choice to move his circus by train, greatly expanding his geographic reach.
In his fifties and sixties, Barnum was also a successful politician.After changing his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican, he was elected to the Connecticut legislature for 4 terms in beginning in 1865, he capped his elected public service by serving as Bridgeport’s Mayor beginning in 1875.
Peter Evans CT Bridgeport Aug 15, 2021 People
Location: Bridgeport, Connecticut
Peter Evans Aug 15, 2021
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