P.T. Barnum: Circus Magnate And Entertainer Extraordinaire, Reality & Myths

P.T. Barnum: Circus Magnate And Entertainer Extraordinaire, Truth & Myths

People | April 7, 2021

Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum (July 5, 1810–April 7, 1891). (Harvard Library/Wikimedia Commons)

Referred to as “The Best Showman on Earth,” P.T. Barnum is understood for his meteoric rise within the leisure trade in addition to his difficult legacy as co-founder of the long-lasting Barnum and Bailey three-ring circus. Born as Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethen, Connecticut in 1810 to farmers Philo and Irene Barnum, he found at an early age that arduous handbook labor was not the life for him. He discovered a much less demanding job as a grocery clerk at age 15, and it was throughout this time that younger Barnum discovered how you can pull off small-scale lottery schemes, a expertise he seemingly picked up from his grandfather, ultimately making sufficient cash to open his personal fruit and sweet retailer earlier than the age of 20.

Nonetheless, he knew the true alternatives had been to be discovered within the Massive Apple, so he moved to New York Metropolis with a watch on the leisure trade. Human curiosities, additionally recognized by the much less kindly time period “freak shows,” had been an enormous draw on this period, and Barnum thought he’d met simply the individual to show. Joice Heth was an enslaved lady owned by sideshow promoter R.W. Lindsay, who tried to persuade Barnum she was 161 years outdated and the nursing maid to none apart from President George Washington. Clearly, Barnum did not consider that, however he thought the spectacle of her extraordinarily aged look could possibly be helpful nonetheless, so he rented her for his show in 1835. Sadly, the exhibition took its toll on her well being, and she or he died inside the yr. Not completed benefiting from the poor lady, Barnum really charged the general public 50 cents a chunk to observe the surgeon carry out her post-mortem (which proved that she really was solely about 80 years outdated).

Poster promoting Joice Heth. (Somers Historic Society/Wikimedia Commons)

After Heth’s demise, Barnum embarked upon his first main enterprise with Barnum’s Grand Scientific and Musical Theater, later renamed Barnum’s American Museum. It featured human curiosities alongside extra conventional musical acts and an animal menagerie, though a few of his so-called “unique animals” had been nothing greater than an assortment of skeletons and corpses sewn collectively.

The most important attraction of the American Museum, nonetheless, was a younger dwarf named Charles Stratton, who Barnum adopted after his father died. From the age of solely 5, Barnum taught the boy to sing and carry out, typically dressing him up as Napoleon and instructing him to drink wine to amuse the gang. Regardless of this unhealthy life-style, Stratton went on to change into a world well-known actor, recognized by the general public as Tom Thumb, and carried out for everybody from Queen of England to the Tsar of Russia. President Abraham Lincoln even threw Stratton and his wife a reception on the White Home to have fun their marriage ceremony.

Critics of P.T. Barnum typically level out the inherit exploitation of those so-called human curiosities, whereas different historians observe that most of the individuals employed by Barnum would not have been capable of finding work outdoors of all these sights. Some had been so nicely paid that they had been capable of retire after only some years of exhibitions.

Tom Thumb and Spouse. The marriage couple as they appeared on the February 21, 1863 cowl of Harper’s Weekly journal. (Matthew Brady/Wikimedia Commons)

Round this time, Barnum turned deeply serious about politics. Regardless of his own admitted racism and slave ownership in years previous, his time spent with African-American entertainers reshaped his world view, and he turned an abolitionist in the course of the period of the Civil Battle. He bought himself elected as a Republican to the Connecticut Legislature in 1865, the place he advocated for the passage of the 13th Amendment, and spent a whole lot of time lobbying to open hospitals. He additionally spent his personal cash on public schooling in pure historical past.

Barnum’s American Museum proved a gradual success, however he wished to develop his leisure empire by branching additional into music and started managing a preferred singer by the identify of Jenny Lind, also referred to as the “Swedish Nightingale.” Her performances continuously offered out, and in solely two years, Barnum and Lind made more cash than they’d of their total lives put collectively. Nonetheless, his good luck hit a bump within the street when each his residence and the American Museum burned down in unrelated fires. He tried to rebuild the Museum, however unbelievably, it burned down again, and the enterprise mogul was compelled to surrender the museum life for good.

Poster of Jumbo the Elephant. (Unknown creator/Wikimedia Commons)

Most males in Barnum’s place would have regarded ahead to a leisurely retirement, however that was out of character for the Best Showman. On the age of 60 and solely a few years after the fires, he was up and operating together with his new enterprise, P.T. Barnum’s Best Present on Earth and the Nice London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie, and the Grand Worldwide Allied Reveals United” (say that 3 times quick). Very like his museum, it was full of animal acts, music, and human curiosities, however this time, it went on the street (and did not burn down). His biggest attraction was undoubtedly Jumbo the Elephant, who introduced in thousands and thousands for the circus however solely lived a brief three years below Barnum’s management earlier than he was hit and killed by Barnum’s personal practice in 1895. R.I.P. Jumbo.

After all, Barnum’s actual legacy lies in his partnership with James L. Hutchinson and James Bailey, with whom he created the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, presupposed to be “the Best Present on Earth.” It was the start of the three-ring circus, wherein not less than three lives exhibits are carried out concurrently. They toured, focusing extra on animals and aerobatics (though Tom Thumb did often make appearances as nicely), and Barnum loved a number of a long time of circus success earlier than dying of a stroke on the age of 81 on April 7, 1891. Ever the businessman, he labored till the very afternoon of his demise. In 1919, the circus expanded into the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus, however regardless of almost a century of large recognition, the Best Present on Earth lastly closed down in 2017 after a protracted and sordid historical past of animal care controversies.

Tags: 1800s | circus | famous people

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