The P.T. Barnum of the
Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton
SUCCESSFUL ADVERTISING--THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RICHES--VISIT
TO IRANISTAN--OVATIONS AT BOSTON, PHILADELPHIA, BALTIMORE AND WASHINGTON--VISIT TO MT.
All of Barnum's inventive powers were called into play
effectually to advertise his song-bird. Biographies of Jenny Lind were circulated.
"Foreign correspondence" raved over her talents, narratives of her benevolence
filled the papers; her pictures and her name were seen everywhere. So when she made her
first appearance, it was before an audience already wrought up to a high pitch of
enthusiasm in her behalf. Never before, or after for that matter, was any singer so lauded
by the press. The following editorial from the New York Herald of September 10th, 1850, is
a fair sample:
"What ancient monarch was he, either in history or in
fable, who offered half his kingdom (the price of box-tickets and choice seats in those
days) for the invention of an original sensation, or the discovery of a fresh pleasure?
That sensation--that pleasure which royal power in the Old World failed to discover--has
been called into existence at a less price, by Mr. Barnum, a plain republican, and is now
about to be enjoyed by the sovereigns of the New World.
"Jenny Lind, the most remarkable phenomenon in the
musical art which has for the last century flashed across the horizon of the Old World, is
now among us, and will make her debut to-morrow night to a house of nearly ten thousand
listeners, yielding in proceeds by auction, a sum of forty or fifty thousand dollars. For
the last ten days our musical reporters have furnished our readers with every matter
connected with her arrival in this metropolis, and the steps adopted by Mr. Barnum in
preparation for her first appearance. The proceedings of yesterday, consisting of the sale
of the remainder of the tickets, and the astonishing, the wonderful sensation produced at
her first rehearsal on the few persons, critics in musical art, who were admitted on the
occasion, will be found elsewhere in our columns.
"We concur in everything that has been said by our
musical reporter, describing her extraordinary genius--her unrivalled combination of power
and art. Nothing has been exaggerated, not an iota. Three years ago, more or less, we
heard Jenny Lind on many occasions, when she made the first great sensation in Europe, by
her debut at the London Opera House. Then she was great in power--in art--in genius; now
she is greater in all. We speak from experience and conviction. Then she astonished, and
pleased, and fascinated the thousands of the British aristocracy; now she will fascinate,
and please, and delight, and almost make mad with musical excitement, the millions of the
American democracy. To-morrow night, this new sensation--this fresh movement--this
excitement excelling all former excitements--will be called into existence, when she pours
out the notes of Casta Diva, and exhibits her astonishing powers--her wonderful
peculiarities, that seem more of heaven than of earth--more of a voice from eternity, than
from the lips of a human being.
"We speak soberly--seriously--calmly. The public
expectation has run very high for the last week--higher than at any former period of our
past musical annals. But high as it has risen, the reality--the fact--the concert--the
voice of Jenny Lind--will far surpass all past expectations. Jenny Lind is a wonder, and a
prodigy in song--and no mistake."
Barnum had not hoped to manage such an enormous enterprise as
this one, without some trouble and anxiety, but he soon discovered that in this case,
realization far exceeded anticipation. He often declared that from the first concert,
September 11th, 1850, until the ninety-third concert, June 9th, 1851, he did not
experience a single waking moment that was free from care.
Miss Lind was utterly unprepared for the enthusiasm of her
American audience, and it is scarcely to be wondered at that she should appear to listen
at first to the dishonorable counsels of some of her friends, who constantly besought her
to break her contract with Barnum, who, they urged, was "coining money out of her
genius," and to take the enterprise into her own hands. But whether Miss Lind
realized that Mr. Barnum's management was largely responsible for her triumph, or whether
she was simply too high-minded to consider such a breach of honor, certain it is that she
continued to stand by her contract. John Jay, her lawyer, took every occasion to
interfere, and Barnum suffered much from his unreasonable intrusions. The following
letter, written to Mr. Joshua Bates of Baring Bros. & Co., London, will show the
difficulties which beset the perplexed manager:
"NEW YORK, October 23, 1850.
"JOSHUA BATES, Esq.:
"Dear Sir: I take the liberty to write you a few lines,
merely to say that we are getting along as well as could reasonably be expected. In this
country you are aware that the rapid accumulation of wealth always creates much envy, and
envy soon augments to malice. Such are the elements at work to a limited degree against
myself, and although Miss Lind, Benedict and myself have never, as yet, had the slightest
feelings between us, to my knowledge, except those of friendship, yet I cannot well see
how this can long continue in the face of the fact that, nearly every day they allow
persons (some moving in the first classes of society) to approach them, and spend hours in
traducing me; even her attorney, Mr. John Jay, has been so blind to her interests, as to
aid in poisoning her mind against me, by pouring into her ears the most silly twaddle, all
of which amounts to nothing and less than nothing--such as the regret that I was a
showman, exhibiter of Tom Thumb, etc., etc.
"Without the elements which I possess for business, as
well as my knowledge of human nature, acquired in catering for the public, the result of
her concerts here would not have been pecuniarily one-half as much as the present--and
such men as the Hon. Edward Everett, G. G. Howland, and others, will tell you that there
is no charlatanism or lack of dignity in my management of these concerts. I know as well
as any person, that the merits of Jenny Lind are the best capital to depend upon to secure
public favor, and I have thus far acted on this knowledge. Everything which money and
attention can procure for their comfort, they have, and I am glad to know that they are
satisfied on this score. All I fear is, that these continued backbitings, if listened to
by her, will, by and by, produce a feeling of distrust or regret, which will lead to
"The fact is, her mind ought to be as free as air, and
she herself as free as a bird, and being satisfied of my probity and ability, she should
turn a deaf ear to all envious and malevolent attacks on me. I have hoped that by thus
briefly stating to you the facts in the case, you might be induced for her interests as
well as mine to drop a line of advice to Mr. Benedict and another to Mr. Jay on this
subject. If I am asking or expecting too much, I pray you to not give it a thought, for I
feel myself fully able to carry through my rights alone, although I should deplore nothing
so much as to be obliged to do so in a feeling of unfriendliness. I have risked much money
on the issue of this speculation--it has proved successful. I am full of perplexity and
anxiety, and labor continually for success, and I cannot allow ignorance or envy to rob me
of the fruits of my enterprise.
"Sincerely and gratefully yours,
"P. T. BARNUM."
Miss Lind's benevolence had been so largely extolled that it
was not surprising that she should have been continually beset by applicants for charity.
In almost all cases she gave liberally in sums varying from
$20 to $1,000, and to one Swedish friend, it is said, she actually gave $5,000.
On her return from Boston to New York the whole party stopped
at Iranistan, Mr. Barnum's Bridgeport place. The next morning Miss Lind was escorted over
the grounds, the beauty of which delighted her. "Do you know, Mr. Barnum," she
said, "that if you had not built Iranistan, I should never have come to America for
you?" Mr. Barnum, much surprised, asked her to explain.
"I had received several applications to visit the United
States," she continued, "but I did not much like the appearance of the
applicants, nor did I relish the idea of crossing 3,000 miles of ocean; so I declined them
all. But the first letter which Mr. Wilton, your agent, addressed me, was written upon a
sheet headed with a beautiful engraving of Iranistan. It attracted my attention. I said to
myself, a gentleman who has been so successful in his business as to be able to build and
reside in such a palace cannot be a mere 'adventurer.' So I wrote to your agent, and
consented to an interview, which I should have declined, if I had not seen the picture of
"That, then, fully pays me for building it,"
The night after Miss Lind's arrival in Boston, there was a
display of fireworks, in her honor, in front of the Revere House, which was followed by a
torchlight procession by the Germans of the city. At Philadelphia, they were met by such a
dense throng of people that it was with the greatest difficulty that they pressed through
the crowds to their hotel. Jenny was suffering from a very severe headache and retired at
once to her rooms. Outside, the streets were packed with the thousands that had followed
them to the door, and were now clamoring for Jenny Lind.
Knowing that the noise would seriously disturb the sensitive
songstress, Barnum tried to induce the crowd to disperse; but they declared they would not
until Miss Lind appeared on the balcony. In despair he finally put Jenny's bonnet and
shawl on her companion, Miss Ahmansen, who went out on the balcony and bowed gracefully to
the multitude, who gave three hearty cheers and dispersed.
Miss Lind hated crowds, and always wished her arrival in any
city kept secret, so as to avoid the excitement of a public reception, but Barnum knew
that the success of the enterprise depended in a large measure on this very excitement.
One day Miss Lind remarked to Mr. Barnum, "I have just
heard that you and I are to be married. Now how do you suppose such a report ever
"Probably from the fact that we are 'engaged,' suggested
Barnum, the inveterate punster.
Miss Lind always went to church when she could do so without
attracting too much attention, always inquiring for the Swedish church wherever it could
One Sunday in Baltimore, Miss Caroline Barnum, now Mrs. David
W. Thompson, of New York, went with a friend of hers who resided in the city, into the
choir, where she joined in the singing.
A number of people in the audience had seen her with her
father the day previous and supposed her to be Jenny Lind. Like lightning the news that
Jenny Lind was in the choir, flew through the church, and when Miss Barnum, whose voice
was not at all extraordinary, rose with the rest to sing, the congregation listened
breathlessly. "Heavenly!" "Exquisite!" "Angelic!" sighed the
excited audience. The two young ladies, all unconscious of the furore they had inspired
were utterly astonished when, after church, the crowd pressed round them so closely that
they had the greatest difficulty in reaching their carriage.
The day after their appearance in Washington, President
Fillmore called, and left his card, Miss Lind being out. Jenny was very much flurried when
she returned, and was prepared to call at the White House immediately, as would have been
proper had Mr. Fillmore been the head of any European country. Barnum assured her,
however, that etiquette was not so strict in America, and she postponed her visit until
the next day, when with Benedict, Belletti and Mr. Barnum she spent several delightful
hours in the President's family.
The President, the Cabinet and nearly every member of
Congress attended both concerts. The great Statesman Webster was so pleased with one of
her songs that he drew himself up to his full height and bowed profoundly, to Miss Lind's
great gratification. Of all the distinguished men who called upon her in Washington, none
impressed her like Webster. She walked up and down in great excitement after he had gone,
exclaiming: "Ah! Mr. Barnum, what a man! I have never before seen such a man!"
Miss Lind was escorted through both Houses of Congress and
through the Capitol and grounds, by Hon. C. F. Cleveland, Representative from Connecticut.
She was very much pleased with everything and asked innumerable questions about the
During their stay in Washington, they were invited by Colonel
Washington, then owner of Mt. Vernon, to visit the home and the tomb of the first
The party first visited the tomb and then proceeded to the
house where they were introduced to Mrs. Washington and several other ladies.
Much interest was shown by Miss Lind in examining the various
mementos of the great man, and when before leaving, Mrs. Washington presented her with a
book from the library with Washington's autograph on the title page, she was overwhelmed
Miss Lind had been through so much excitement in the North
that she determined to see no callers during her stay in the South. One young lady, the
daughter of a wealthy planter, was so determined to see her, that she bribed a maid to
lend her her cap and apron, and let her carry in Miss Lind's tea. This incident amused
Barnum immensely, but Miss Lind was much vexed, declaring the young lady's motive to be
curiosity rather than admiration. The voyage from Wilmington to Charleston had been very
rough, the trip requiring over thirty-six hours. When they arrived at last, the vessel had
been given up for lost and the wreck had been telegraphed all over the country. The voyage
to Havana was very much pleasanter, however.
Arriving there, they found the house which Mr. Barnum had
sent a man on to provide for them, anything but comfortable. Miss Lind, especially, was
much displeased, and, hiring a carriage, she drove off, accompanied by an interpreter. She
was gone four hours, to the great alarm of the rest of the party. Returning, she announced
that she had hired a charming house in the suburbs, and invited the whole company to be
her guests during their stay in Havana. It is needless to say they accepted her
There, freed from all care and annoyance and away from the
too zealous counsellors, she spent a delightful month, seeing no callers, coming and going
as she pleased, and romping like a schoolgirl in the great court-yard back of the house.
She used to force Mr. Barnum to play ball with her until he was exhausted and fain to beg
off. Then she would laugh and say: "Oh, Mr. Barnum! you are too fat and lazy; you
cannot stand it to play ball with me."
The celebrated Swedish authoress, Fredericka Bremer, spent a
few days with them in their Havana retreat.
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