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

Called "the greatest showman on earth", P.T. Barnum is known for his meteoric rise in the entertainment industry as well as his complex legacy as co-founder of the iconic Barnum and Bailey three-ring circus. Born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethane, Connecticut in 1810 to farmer Philo and Irene Barnum, he discovered at an early age that hard physical labor was not life for him. At age 15 he found a less demanding job as a grocery clerk, and it was during this time that young Barnum learned how to pull off small-scale lottery schemes, a talent he had picked up from his grandfather, to eventually earn enough money. Open your own fruit and candy store before you turn a year old.

However, he knew there were real opportunities to be found in the Big Apple, so he moved to New York City to keep an eye on the entertainment industry. Human curiosities, also known as the less merciful term "freak show", were a huge attraction in this era, and Barnum thought he would only meet the man on display. Joyce Heath was a slave woman owned by sideshow promoter RW Lindsay, who tried to convince Barnum that she was 161 and the nursing maid belonged to none other than President George Washington. Apparently, Barnum did not believe this, but he thought that the spectacle of his extremely aged appearance might still be valuable, so he hired him for his performance in 1835. Unfortunately, the exhibition took a toll on her health, and she died within years. Profiting from the poor woman didn't end there, Barnum actually charged the public 50 cents for the surgeon to see her autopsy (which proved she was really only about 80).

After Heath's death, Barnum began his first major venture with Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theatre, later renamed Barnum's American Museum. It featured more traditional musical acts and human curiosities with an animal menagerie, although some of their so-called "alien animals" were nothing more than skeletons and corpses sewn together.

However, the major attraction of the American Museum was a young dwarf named Charles Stratton, who was adopted by Barnum after his father's death. From the age of only five, Barnum taught the boy to sing and perform, often dressing him up as Napoleon and instructing him to drink alcohol to please the crowd. Despite this unhealthy lifestyle, Stratton became a world-renowned actor, known to the public as Tom Thumb, and performed for everyone from the Queen of England to the Tsar of Russia. President Abraham Lincoln also gave Stratton and his wife a reception at the White House to celebrate their wedding.

Critic P.T. Barnum often points to the inherited exploitation of these so-called human curiosities, while other historians state that many of the people employed by Barnum are unable to find work outside such fascination. Some were paid so well that they were able to retire only after a few years of exhibitions.

Around this time, Barnum became deeply interested in politics. Despite his own acknowledged racism and slave ownership over the years, his time spent with African-American entertainers changed his world view, and he became an abolitionist during the Civil War era. He elected himself as a Republican to the Connecticut Legislature in 1865, where he advocated for the passing of the 13th Amendment, and spent much time lobbying for hospitals to be opened. He also spent his money on public education in natural history.

Barnum's American Museum proved to be a steady success, but he wanted to grow his entertainment empire by moving into music and began managing a popular singer by the name of Jenny Lind, also known as the "Swedish Nightingale". Her performances continued to sell out, and in just two years, Barnum and Lind made more money than they had in their entire lives. However, her luck hit the road when both her home and the American Museum burned down in unrelated fires. He tried to rebuild the museum, but incredibly, it burned down again, and the trade mogul was forced to give up museum life for good.

Most of the men in Barnum's position awaited a leisurely retirement, but he was out of character for the greatest showman. At the age of 60 and only a few years after the fire, he started his new venture, P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth and the Great London Circus, the Sangers Royal British Menagerie, and the Grand International Allied Show United" (say that three times faster). Like his museum, it was filled with animal acts, music, and human curiosities. , but this time, it hit the road (and didn't burn up). Her biggest attraction was undoubtedly Jumbo the Elephant, who brought in millions for the circus but survived only three years under Barnum's control, before That he was struck and killed by Barnum's own train in 1895. R.I.P. Jumbo.

Of course, Barnum's real legacy is James L. Hutchinson and James Bailey, with whom they created the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has been called "the greatest show on earth". This was the birth of the three-ring circus, in which at least three life shows are performed simultaneously. He toured, focusing more on animals and aerobatics (though Tom Thumb made occasional appearances), and Barnum spent several decades of circus success before dying of a stroke on April 7, 1891, at the age of 81. enjoyed. Ever a businessman, he worked until the afternoon of his death. In 1919, the circus expanded to Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, but despite nearly a century of widespread popularity, the greatest show on earth finally closed in 2017 after a long and tumultuous history of animal care disputes .

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