The P.T. Barnum of the
Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton
Great Year At the Museum
CAPTURING AND EXHIBITING WHITE WHALES NEWSPAPER COMMENTS--A
TOUCHING OBITUARY--THE GREAT BEHEMOTH--A LONG "LAST WEEK"--COMMODORE NUTT--REAL
LIVE INDIANS ON EXHIBITION.
The year 1861 was notable in the history of the American
Museum. Barnum heard that some fishermen at the mouth of the St. Lawrence river had
captured alive a fine white whale. He was also told that such an animal, if packed in a
box filled with sea-weed and salt water, could be transported over land a considerable
distance without danger to its life or health. He accordingly determined to secure and
place on exhibition in his Museum a couple of live whales. So he built in the basement of
the building a tank of masonry, forty feet long and eighteen feet wide, to contain them.
Then he went to the St. Lawrence river on a whaling expedition. His objective point was
the Isle au Coudres, which was populated by French Canadians. There he engaged a party of
twenty-four fishermen, and instructed them to capture for him, alive and unharmed, a
couple of the white whales which at almost any time were to be seen in the water not far
from the island.
The plan decided upon was to plant in the river a
"kraal," composed of stakes driven down in the form of a V, leaving the broad
end open for the whales to enter. This was done in a shallow place, with the point of the
kraal towards shore; and if by chance one or more whales should enter the trap at high
water, the fishermen were to occupy the entrance with their boats, and keep up a
tremendous splashing and noise till the tide receded, when the frightened whales would
find themselves nearly "high and dry," or with too little water to enable them
to swim, and their capture would be next thing in order. This was to be effected by
securing a slip-noose of stout rope over their tails, and towing them to the sea-weed
lined boxes in which they were to be transported to New York.
Many times fine whales were seen gliding close by the
entrance to the trap, but they did not enter it, and the patience of Barnum and his
fishermen was sorely tried. One day one whale did enter the kraal, and the fishermen
proposed to capture it, but Barnum was determined to have two, and while they waited for
the second one to enter the first one went out again. After several days of waiting,
Barnum was aroused early one morning by the excited and delighted shouts of his men.
Hastily dressing, he found that two whales were in the trap and were sure of being
captured. Leaving the rest of the task to his assistants, he hurried back to New York. At
every station on the route he gave instructions to the telegraph operators to take off all
whaling messages that passed over the wires to New York, and to inform their
fellow-townsmen at what hour the whales would pass through each place.
The result of these arrangements may be imagined; at every
station crowds of people came to the cars to see the whales which were travelling by land
to Barnum's Museum, and those who did not see the monsters with their own eyes, at least
saw some one who had seen them, and thus was secured a tremendous advertisement, seven
hundred miles long, for the American Museum.
Arrived in New York, dispatches continued to come from the
whaling expedition every few hours. These were bulletined in front of the Museum and
copies sent to the papers. The excitement was intense, and, when at last, these marine
monsters arrived and were swimming in the tank that had been prepared for them, anxious
thousands literally rushed to see the strangest curiosities ever exhibited in New York.
Barnum's first whaling expedition was thus a great success.
Unfortunately he did not know how to feed or take care of the animals. A supply of salt
water could not be obtained, so they were put into fresh water artificially salted, and
this did not agree with them. The basement of the Museum building was also poorly
ventilated and the air was unwholesome. As the result of these circumstances the whales
died within a week, although not until they had been seen by thousands of people. Barnum
immediately resolved to try again. In order to secure a better home for his pets, he laid
an iron pipe under the streets of the city, from his Museum clear out into New York bay.
Through this, by means of a steam-engine, he was able to secure a constant supply of
genuine sea-water. In order that the whales should have good air to breathe, he
constructed for them another tank on the second floor of the Museum building. This tank
had a floor of slate, and the sides were made of French plate-glass, in huge pieces six
feet long, five feet wide, and one inch thick. These plates were imported by Barnum
expressly for the purpose. The tank was twenty-four feet square. Two more white whales
were soon caught in the same manner as before, and were conveyed in a ship to Quebec and
thence by rail to New York.
Barnum was always proud of this enterprise, and it yielded
him handsome profits. The second pair of whales, however, soon died. Barnum remarked that
their sudden and immense popularity was too much for them. But a third pair was quickly
secured to take their place. Envious and hostile critics declared that they were not
whales at all, but only porpoises, but this did no harm. Indeed, Barnum might well have
paid them to start these malicious reports, for much good advertising was thereby secured.
The illustrious Agassiz was appealed to. He came to see the animals, gave Barnum a
certificate that they were genuine white whales, and this document was published far and
The manner in which the showman advertised his curiosities
may be seen from the following, taken from one of the daily papers of the time:
BARNUM'S AMERICAN MUSEUM. ----After months of unwearied
labor, and spending NEARLY TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS NEARLY TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS NEARLY TEN
in capturing and transporting them from that part of the Gulf
of St. Lawrence nearest Labrador, the Manager is enabled to offer his visitors
TWO LIVING WHALES, TWO LIVING WHALES, TWO LIVING WHALES, TWO
LIVING WHALES, TWO LIVING WHALES, TWO LIVING WHALES,
a male and a female. Everybody has heard of WHALES
IN NURSERY TALES and "SAILOR'S YARNS," IN NURSERY
TALES and "SAILOR'S YARNS,"
everybody has read of WHALES in story, song, and history, and
WANTS TO SEE A WHALE, WANTS TO SEE A WHALE, WANTS TO SEE A
WHALE, WANTS TO SEE A WHALE,
and now they have the opportunity. Barnum has
CAPTURED TWO OF THE LEVIATHANS, CAPTURED TWO OF THE
LEVIATHANS, CAPTURED TWO OF THE LEVIATHANS,
has built a small ocean in his Museum, filled it from the
briny deep, and there
THE TWO LIVING WHALES, THE TWO LIVING WHALES, THE TWO LIVING
WHALES, THE TWO LIVING WHALES,
measuring respectively fifteen and twenty feet in length, may
be seen at all hours sporting in their native element. Who will miss the opportunity of
seeing them? Another may not offer in a lifetime. Embrace this ere it be too late. See Mr.
Barnum's card below.
LAST TWO DAYS OF WILLIAM TILLMAN AND WILLIAM STEDDING,
The Colored Steward and German Sailor of the
SCHOONER S. J. WARING,
Who slew three of the piratical prize crew, and rescued
themselves and the vessel from their power.
WHAT IS IT? OR, MAN MONKEY.
MADAGASCAR ALBINOS, PURE WHITE NEGROES, OR MOORS. SEA LION,
MAMMOTH BEAR SAMSON, with a variety of other living Bears; MONSTER SNAKES, AQUARIA, HAPPY
FAMILY, LIVING SEAL, WAX FIGURES, &c.
In the Lecture-Room, a great Dramatic Novelty is offered,
EMBRACING FARCE, VAUDEVILLE and BURLETTA, with a brilliant
and talented company, including LITTLE LOLA, THE INFANT WONDER,
Mr. and Mrs. C. B. REYNOLDS;
Miss DORA DAWRON, DOUBLE-VOICED SINGER, LA PETITE ADDIE LE
The favorite Juvenile Danseuse, always popular.
MARIE; THE CHILD OF SORROW,
With a laughable farce, every day at 3 and 7 3/4 o'clock.
Admission to all, 25 cents; Children under 10, 15 cents.
A CARD FROM P. T. BARNUM.--LIVING WHALES on exhibition.--Having learned from fishermen and
eminent naturalists, including the written statement of the celebrated Prof. Agassiz, that
the White Whale could be found in that portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence nearest to
Labrador, I made a journey there in June last, accompanied by my agent. I remained there a
fortnight, and made every arrangement for capturing and keeping alive two of these
monsters. This arrangement included the service of thirty-five men, beside my special
agent. I then returned and had erected in the Museum a reservoir fifty feet in length and
twenty-five feet in width, in which was placed sea-water, and arrangements made for a
continual fresh supply. I also made arrangements with steamers and railroads to convey
these leviathans to New York at the fastest possible speed, without regard to the expense.
I am highly gratified in being able to assure the public that
they have arrived safe and well, a MALE and FEMALE, from 15 to 20 feet long, and are now
swimming in the miniature ocean in my Museum, to the delight of visitors. As it is very
doubtful whether these wonderful creatures can be kept alive more than a few days, the
public will see the importance of seizing the first moment to see them.
P. T. BARNUM.
AMERICAN MUSEUM, Thursday, August 8, 1861.
"A real live whale," said an editorial writer in
the New York Tribune of that date, "is as great a curiosity as a live lord or prince,
being much more difficult to catch, and far more wonderful in its appearance and habits.
After all people are people, and have much the same ways of feeling and doing. But when we
get among the whales, we catch glimpses of a new and neat thing in nose, recall the
narrative of Jonah without throwing a shadow of a doubt upon its authenticity, and
appreciate keenly the difficulties with which mermaid society must have to contend.
"We owe the presence of two whales in our midst to the
enterprise of Mr. P. T. Barnum. He has had them in tow for a long while, but has kept his
secret well, and it was not until his own special whaler telegraphed from Troy that he had
come so far into the bowels of the earth with his submarine charge, and all well, that he
felt warranted in whispering whale to the public. The public was delighted, but not
surprised, because it feels that the genius that is equal to a What Is It is also equal to
the biggest thing, and would experience no unusual thrill of wonder if a real iceberg, or
a section of the identical North Pole, should be announced on the bills of the Museum.
"But flocks of the public sought the Museum yesterday,
and were not disappointed. They saw not, as Polonius, something 'very like a whale,' but
the original animal in its original element. The bears, and the anacondas, the hatchet,
and the seal, sank into merited insignificance, although they will have their day again if
the whales should expire. The transfer of the fish was neatly effected. They travelled the
whole distance in first-class hermetical boxes, filled with water and thickly lined with
seaweed, and were landed, if the expression may be used, in the new and excellent tank
provided for them in the basement of the Museum. This tank is fifty feet deep and
twenty-five in width, has seven feet of sea-water in it, and seems to suit the whales
eminently. Mr. Barnum has fears that the pets will have but a brief, if brilliant, career,
in their new quarters, but we prefer to predict for them a long and happy one.
"These are white whales, and were taken near the
Labrador coast by a crew of thirty-five men. The largest has attained the extreme size
reached by this species, and is about 22 feet long; the other is 18 feet long. Their form
and motion are graceful, and their silver backs and bellies show brightly through the
water. A long-continued intimacy has endeared them to each other, and they go about quite
like a pair of whispering lovers, blowing off their mutual admiration in a very emphatic
manner. Just at present they are principally engaged in throwing their eyes around the
premises, and pay small attention to visitors, upon whom, indeed, the narrative of Jonah
has a strong hold. And yet neither of these whales could make a single mouthful of a man
of ordinary size. Even if one of them should succeed in swallowing a man, he could just
stand up with the whale, and make it, at least, as uncomfortable as himself.
"Here is a real 'sensation.' We do not believe the
enterprise of Mr. Barnum will stop at white whales. It will embrace sperm whales and
mermaids, and all strange things that swim or fly or crawl, until the Museum will become
one vast microcosm of the animal creation. A quarter seems positively contemptible weighed
against such a treat."
And this was the public tribute, from the same pen, to the
first of the cetaceans that died through too much publicity:
"The community was shocked to hear of the death of one
of Barnum's whales yesterday morning. Death apparently loves a shining mark. It seems but
yesterday--in fact it was the day before--we gazed upon the youthful form, instinct with
life, and looking forward to a useful and pleasant career. The whale shared not the
forebodings of its friends. Mr. Barnum was possessed with a strange presentiment of
calamity, and summoned the public to either a house of mourning or a house of joy, he knew
not which, but at all events to be quick. At daybreak, we believe, the great natural
curiosity passed away.
"The blow is a severe one. To Mr. Barnum it must be a
shocking reminder of the emptiness of all human plans. Enterprise, liberal expenditure,
courage--what are they all before the fell destroyer? Even whales have their time to sink
and rise no more. To the dear companion of all the joys and sorrows of the troubled life
of the deceased the bereavement must be sore indeed. Delicacy forbids that we should lay
bare such sorrows. No twenty-five cent ticket should admit to them, including the
lecture-room. Such as witnessed the tender endearments between these white whales, and saw
how they had hearts that beat as one, and how they were not happy when they were not
pretty near each other in the tank, may, perhaps, realize the anguish of their separation.
We are not surprised to learn, indeed, that the affliction has borne so heavily upon the
survivor that there may be tidings at any moment of the flight of its spirit also. May
both whales meet again in the open seas of immortality! The loss of the public is great,
although not irreparable. The world moves on, and many natural curiosities remain to fill
up the gaps caused by death. Mr. Barnum's spirit, although saddened, is not broken. He
sees the objects of his care and best management snatched from him, and yet he announces
that he will immediately send on for two more whales of the same sort. We shall soon
forget the lost whales in contemplation of the new. Such is life, it is well known.
"The decease may be attributed in a great measure to
bear. It is true that there might have been something injurious to the health of the fish
in a long overland journey. 'A fish out of water' is a case that tries the utmost skill of
the faculty. If a man were confined in the most comfortable of water-tight boxes and
carried, under the care of a special agent, hundreds of miles beneath the water, we should
not be startled to hear that his constitution was much shattered at the end of the
journey. And yet we are more encouraged to think that the whale owed his death to other
causes than the overland transportation, because the sea lion does so well, and the fishes
in the aquaria appear to be so hearty and contented. To bear, then, we must attribute our
loss. This animal abounded in the basement where the tank is, and whether through jealousy
of the fame of the new-comers, or through some settled antipathy between flesh and fish,
or simply through his natural beastliness, he communicated effluvia to the atmosphere that
were perfectly unendurable by whale, which promptly expired from want of good breath.
"This agent of destruction will be removed from the
premises before the next whales arrive, and suitable measures will be taken to guard
against such a mournful catastrophe. There is a whale in Boston whose health is so good
that it never requires medical attendance.
"The deceased was about sixty years of age. It bore an
excellent character. Its patience and sweet disposition under the most trying
circumstances will long be remembered. The remains, weighing not less than twenty-six
hundred pounds, will be suitably disposed off. While the public mourns it may also console
itself with the reflection that there are plenty more where it came from, and that the
energy of Barnum is not to be abated by any of the common disasters of life, and may
hopefully anticipate a speedy announcement of an entirely new whale. Vale! Vale!"
The tank in the basement of the Museum was now devoted to a
yet more interesting exhibition. On August 12, 1861, Barnum placed in it the first live
hippopotamus that had ever been seen in America. The brute was advertised most extensively
and ingeniously as "the great behemoth of the Scriptures," and thousands of
scientific men, biblical students, clergymen and others, besides the great host of the
common people, flocked to see it. There was fully as much excitement in New York over this
wonder in the animal creation as there was in London when the first hippopotamus was
placed in the Regent's Park "Zoo."
Barnum began by advertising that the animal was on exhibition
for a short time only. Then he announced the "last week" of the novel show.
Then, "by special request," another week was added. And thus the "last week
of the hippopotamus" was prolonged through many months. The following is a fair
sample of the advertisements with which the daily papers literally teemed:
BARNUM'S MUSEUM ----SECOND WEEK OF THAT WONDERFUL LIVING
FROM THE RIVER NILE IN EGYPT THE GREAT BEHEMOTH OF THE
SCRIPTURES AND THE MARVEL OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM.
The history of this animal is full of interest, and to every
class, especially the educated and intelligent, but above all to the biblical student, who
has read with interest the glowing description of
THE GREAT BEHEMOTH
in the Book of Job. He is strictly an
living in the water and out of it; under the water, or on the
top of it, floats on its surface with perfect ease, or beneath the surface, midway between
the top and the bottom. In their natural state these animals are wild and ferocious;
though on the land, they are not very formidable, but when pursued they fly to the rivers,
DESCEND TO THE BOTTOM AND WALK ACROSS,
frequently appearing on the opposite side without the least
indication of their course on the surface of the stream. If exasperated by assaults, in
the water they are the most
their gigantic proportions and herculean strength, giving
them power over every opposing force, frequently destroying whole boat-loads of men and
their boats, crushing with their huge jaws everything that comes in their way. In the
Museum the specimen here exhibited has an
ARTIFICIAL OCEAN OR RIVER,
where he is to be seen in all his natural peculiarities,
floating on, and swiming beneath the surface, walking on the bottom several feet beneath,
exhibiting, in short, all the peculiarities of his nature; and to perfect the scene,
ARABIAN KEEPER, SALAAMA,
who is himself a curiosity as a specimen of that historic
tribe of men, who exhibits all the stolidity and Arabian dignity of that Oriental race;
the only man who can control or exhibit his hippopotamiship, is in constant attendance.
They are both to be seen at all hours, DAY and EVENING.
This is the
FIRST AND ONLY REAL HIPPOPOTAMUS
ever seen in America. He is engaged at a cost of many
thousand of dollars, and will remain
A SHORT TIME ONLY. A SHORT TIME ONLY.
Also just obtained at great expense, and now to be seen
swimming in the large tank in the Aquarial Hall,
A LIVING SHARK,
beside a great variety of other living Fish, Turtles,
WHAT IS IT? OR, MAN MONKEY. SEA LION, MAMMOTH BEAR SAMSON,
MONSTER SNAKES, AQUARIA, HAPPY FAMILY, LIVING SEAL, &c.
The Lecture-Room Entertainments embrace PETITE DRAMA,
VAUDEVILLE, BURLETTA and FARCE. By a company of rare musical and dramatic talent. Miss
DAWRON, DOUBLE-VOICED VOCALIST, Mlle. MATILDA E. TOEDT,
The Talented Young Violinist, &c.
Admission to all, 25 cents; Children under 10, 15 cents.
Nor did the monster fail to receive much other notice in the
press. Said one writer: "Nothing discomfitted by the sudden death that overtook the
gentle and loving whales, Mr. Barnum has again invested untold heaps of money in a
tremendous water-monster. The great tank has again a tenant, and the great public have
huge amphibious matter for their wonderment. The new curiosity comes to us staggering
under the unwieldy name of Hippo-potamus. He is a comely gentleman, fair and beauteous to
look upon; and the strange loveliness of his countenance cannot fail to captivate the
crowd. His youth, too, gives him a special claim to the consideration of the ladies, for
he is a little darling of only three years--a very baby of a hippopotamus in fact, who,
only a few months ago, daily sucked his few gallons of lacteal nourishment from the fond
bosom of mamma Hippo, at the bottom of some murmuring Egyptian river. The young gentleman
is about as heavy as an ox, and gives you the idea that he is the result of the
amalgamation of a horse, a cow, two pigs, a seal, a dozen India-rubber blankets, and an
old-fashioned horse-hide covered trunk. Big as he is, unwieldy as he is, strange, uncouth,
and monstrous as he is, he appears after all to be most mild and even-tempered. In truth,
he is no more vicious than a good-natured muley cow; and if by chance he should hurt
anybody, he would have to achieve it much in the same manner that such a cow would, by
running against him, or rolling over upon him. So that the red-breeched individual, who so
valiantly gets over the railing and stands by the side of young Hippo, doesn't, after all,
do a deed of such superhuman daring, for all he does it with such an air of reckless
sacrifice of self for the public good. The hippopotamus is certainly one of the most
interesting and attractive of all the strange creatures ever yet caught by Mr. Barnum, and
offered for the delectation of the paying public. He is well worth a visit, and an hour's
inspection. He receives daily, from 9 A.M. to some time after dark."
Having now a good supply of salt water Barnum greatly
enlarged his aquarium, which was the first show of the kind ever seen in America. He
exhibited in it living sharks, porpoises, sea-horses and many rare fishes. For several
seasons he kept a boat cruising the ocean in search of marine novelties. In this way he
secured many of the beautiful angel fishes and others that never had been seen in New York
before. He also purchased the Aquarial Gardens in Boston, and removed the entire
collection to his Museum.
The story of another of Barnum's greatest hits must be told
in his own words: "In December, 1861," he related, "I was visited at the
Museum by a most remarkable dwarf, who was a sharp, intelligent little fellow, with a deal
of drollery and wit. He had a splendid head, was perfectly formed, and was very
attractive, and, in short, for a 'showman,' he was a perfect treasure. His name, he told
me, was George Washington Morrison Nutt, and his father was Major Rodnia Nutt, a
substantial farmer, of Manchester, New Hampshire. I was not long in dispatching an
efficient agent to Manchester, and in overcoming the competition with other showmen who
were equally eager to secure this extraordinary pigmy. The terms upon which I engaged him
for three years were so large that he was christened the $30,000 Nutt; I, in the meantime,
conferring upon him the title of Commodore. As soon as I engaged him, placards, posters
and the columns of the newspapers proclaimed the presence of 'Commodore Nutt' at the
Museum. I also procured for the Commodore a pair of Shetland ponies, miniature coachman
and footman, in livery, gold-mounted harness, and an elegant little carriage, which, when
closed, represented a gigantic English walnut. The little Commodore attracted great
attention, and grew rapidly in public favor. General Tom Thumb was then travelling in the
South and West. For some years he had not been exhibited in New York, and during these
years he had increased considerably in rotundity and had changed much in his general
appearance. It was a singular fact, however, that Commodore Nutt was almost a fac-simile
of General Tom Thumb, as he looked half-a-dozen years before. Consequently, very many of
my patrons, not making allowance for the time which had elapsed since they had last seen
the General, declared that there was no such person as 'Commodore Nutt;' but that I was
exhibiting my old friend Tom Thumb under a new name.
"Commodore Nutt enjoyed the joke very much. He would
sometimes half admit the deception, simply to add to the bewilderment of the doubting
portion of my visitors.
"It was evident that here was an opportunity to turn all
doubts into hard cash, by simply bringing the two dwarf Dromios together, and showing them
on the same platform. I therefore induced Tom Thumb to bring his Western engagements to a
close, and to appear for four weeks, beginning with August 11, 1862, in my Museum.
Announcements headed 'The Two Dromios,' and 'Two Smallest Men, and Greatest Curiosities
Living,' as I expected, drew large crowds to see them, and many came especially to solve
their doubts with regard to the genuineness of the 'Nutt.' But here I was considerably
nonplussed, for, astonishing as it may seem, the doubts of many of the visitors were
confirmed! The sharp people who were determined 'not to be humbugged, anyhow,' still
declared that Commodore Nutt was General Tom Thumb, and that the little fellow whom I was
trying to pass off as Tom Thumb, was no more like the General than he was like the man in
the moon. It is very amusing to see how people will sometimes deceive themselves by being
"In 1862 I sent the Commodore to Washington, and,
joining him there, I received an invitation from President Lincoln to call at the White
House with my little friend. Arriving at the appointed hour, I was informed that the
President was in a special Cabinet meeting, but that he had left word if I called to be
shown in to him with the Commodore. These were dark days in the rebellion, and I felt that
my visit, if not ill-timed, must at all events be brief. When we were admitted, Mr.
Lincoln received us cordially, and introduced us to the members of the Cabinet. When Mr.
Chase was introduced as the Secretary of the Treasury, the little Commodore remarked:
" 'I suppose you are the gentleman who is spending so
much of Uncle Sam's money?'
" 'No, indeed,' said the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton,
very promptly; 'I am spending the money.'
" 'Well,' said Commodore Nutt, 'it is in a good cause,
anyhow, and I guess it will come out all right.'
"His apt remark created much amusement. Mr. Lincoln then
bent down his long, lank body, and taking Nutt by the hand, he said:
" 'Commodore, permit me to give you a parting word of
advice. When you are in command of your fleet, if you find yourself in danger of being
taken prisoner, I advise you to wade ashore.'
The Commodore found the laugh was against him, but placing
himself at the side of the President, and gradually raising his eyes up the whole length
of Mr. Lincoln's very long legs, he replied:
" 'I guess, Mr. President, you could do that better than
I could.' "
In no place did extremes ever meet in a more practical sense
than in the American Museum. Commodore Nutt was the shortest of men; and at the same time
the Museum contained the tallest of women. Her name was Anna Swan, and she came from Nova
Scotia. Barnum first heard of her through a Quaker, who was visiting the Museum. This
visitor came to Barnum's office, and told him of a wonderful girl, only seventeen years
old, who lived near him at Pictou. Barnum soon sent an agent up there, who brought the
young lady back to New York. She was an intelligent girl, and, despite her enormous
stature, was decidedly good-looking. For a long time she was a leading attraction at
Barnum's Museum, and afterwards went to England and attracted great attention there.
For many years Barnum had been in the habit of engaging
parties of American Indians from the far West to exhibit at the Museum. He had also sent
several parties of them to Europe, where they were regarded as extraordinary curiosities.
In 1864 ten or twelve chiefs, of as many different tribes,
visited the President of the United States, at Washington. By a pretty liberal outlay of
money, Barnum succeeded in inducing the interpreter to bring them to New York, and to pass
some days at the Museum. Of course, getting these Indians to dance, or to give any
illustration of their games or pastimes, was out of the question. They were real chiefs of
powerful tribes, and would no more have consented to give an exhibition of themselves than
the chief magistrate of our own nation would have done. Their interpreter could not
therefore promise that they would remain at the Museum for any definite time;
"for," said he, "you can only keep them just so long as they suppose all
your patrons come to pay them visits of honor. If they suspected that your Museum was a
place where people paid for entering," he continued, "you could not keep them a
moment after the discovery."
On their arrival at the Museum, therefore, Barnum took them
upon the stage and personally introduced them to the public. The Indians liked this
attention from him, as they had been informed that he was the proprietor of the great
establishment in which they were invited and honored guests. His patrons were of course
pleased to see these old chiefs, as they knew they were the "REAL thing," and
several of them were known to the public, either as being friendly or cruel to the whites.
After one or two appearances on the stage, Barnum took them in carriages and visited the
Mayor of New York in the Governor's room at the City Hall. Here the Mayor made them a
speech of welcome, which, being interpreted to the savages, was responded to by a speech
from one of the chiefs, in which he thanked the "Great Father" of the city for
his pleasant words, and for his kindness in pointing out the portraits of his predecessors
hanging on the walls of the Governor's room.
On another occasion Barnum took them by special invitation to
visit one of the large public schools up town. The teachers were pleased to see them, and
arranged an exhibition of special exercises by the scholars, which they thought would be
most likely to gratify their barbaric visitors. At the close of these exercises, one old
chief arose, and simply said: "This is all new to us. We are mere unlearned sons of
the forest, and cannot understand what we have seen and heard."
On other occasions he took them to ride in Central Park, and
through different portions of the city. At every street-corner which they passed they
would express their astonishment to each other, at seeing the long rows of houses which
extended both ways on either side of each cross-street. Of course, after each of these
outside visits Barnum would return with them to the Museum, and secure two or three
appearances upon the stage to receive the people who had there congregated "to do
As they regarded him as their host, they did not hesitate to
trespass upon his hospitality. Whenever their eyes rested upon a glittering shell among
his specimens of conchology, especially if it had several brilliant colors, one would take
off his coat, another his shirt, and insist that he should exchange the shell for the
garment. When he declined the exchange, but on the contrary presented the coveted article,
he soon found he had established a dangerous precedent. Immediately they all commenced to
beg for everything in the vast collection which they happened to take a liking to. This
cost Barnum many valuable specimens, and often "put him to his trumps" for an
excuse to avoid giving them things which he could not part with.
The chief of one of the tribes one day discovered an ancient
shirt of chain-mail which hung in one of the cases of antique armor. He was delighted with
it, and declared he must have it. Barnum tried all sorts of excuses to prevent his getting
it, for it had cost a hundred dollars, and was a great curiosity. But the old man's eyes
glistened, and he would not take "no" for an answer. "The Utes have killed
my little child," he said through the interpreter; and now he must have this steel
shirt to protect himself; and when he returned to the Rocky Mountains he would have his
revenge. Barnum remained inexorable until the chief finally brought a new buckskin Indian
suit, which he insisted upon exchanging. Barnum then felt compelled to accept his
proposal; and never did anyone see a man more delighted than the Indian seemed to be when
he took the mailed shirt into his hands. He fairly jumped up and down with joy. He ran to
his lodging-room, and soon appeared again with the coveted armor upon his body, and
marched down one of the main halls of the Museum, with folded arms, and head erect,
occasionally patting his breast with his right hand, as much as to say, "Now, Mr.
Ute, look sharp, for I will soon be on the war-path!"
Among these Indians were War Bonnet, Lean Bear, and
Hand-in-the-water, chiefs of the Cheyennes; Yellow Buffalo, of the Kiowas; Yellow Bear, of
the same tribe; Jacob, of the Caddos; and White Bull, of the Apaches. The little wiry
chief known as Yellow Bear had killed many whites as they had travelled through the
"far West." He was a sly, treacherous, bloodthirsty savage, who would think no
more of scalping a family of women and children than a butcher would of wringing the neck
of a chicken. But now he was on a mission to the "Great Father" at Washington,
seeking for presents and favors for his tribe, and he pretended to be exceedingly meek and
humble, and continually urged the interpreter to announce him as a "great friend to
the white man." He would fawn about Barnum, and although not speaking or
understanding a word of our language, would try to convince him that he loved him dearly.
In exhibiting these Indian warriors on the stage, Barnum
explained to the large audiences the names and characteristics of each. When he came to
Yellow Bear he would pat him familiarly upon the shoulder, which always caused him to look
up with a pleasant smile, while he softly stroked Barnum's arm with his right hand in the
most loving manner. Knowing that he could not understand a word he said, Barnum pretended
to be complimenting him to the audience, while he was really saying something like the
"This little Indian, ladies and gentlemen, is Yellow
Bear, chief of the Kiowas. He has killed, no doubt, scores of white persons, and he is
probably the meanest black-hearted rascal that lives in the far West." Here Barnum
patted him on the head, and he, supposing he was sounding his praises, would smile, fawn
upon him, and stroke his arm, while he continued: "If the bloodthirsty little villain
understood what I was saying, he would kill me in a moment; but as he thinks I am
complimenting him, I can safely state the truth to you, that he is a lying, thieving,
treacherous, murderous monster. He has tortured to death poor, unprotected women, murdered
their husbands, brained their helpless little ones; and he would gladly do the same to you
or to me, if he thought he could escape punishment. This is but a faint description of the
character of Yellow Bear." Here Barnum gave him another patronizing pat on the head,
and he, with a pleasant smile, bowed to the audience, as much as to say that the words
were quite true, and that he thanked Barnum very much for the high encomiums he had so
generously heaped upon him.
After the Indians had been at the Museum about week they
discovered the real character of the place. They found they were simply on exhibition, and
that people paid a fee for the privilege of coming in and gazing at them. Forthwith there
was an outcry of discontent and anger. Nothing would induce them again to appear upon the
stage. Their dignity had been irretrievably offended, and Barnum was actually fearful lest
they should wreak vengeance upon him with physical violence. It was with a feeling of
great relief that he witnessed their departure for Washington the next day.
In the fall of this year Barnum produced at his Museum a
dramatization of Dickens's "Great Expectations." On the opening night of the
play, before the curtain rose, the great showman himself went upon the stage and made this
poetical address of welcome to the audience:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
"That Prince of Humbugs, Barnum," so it appears
Some folks have designated me for several years.
Well, I don't murmur; indeed, when they embellish it,
To tell the truth, my friends, I rather relish it,
Since your true humbug's be, who as a host,
For the least money entertains you most.
In this sense I'm a "humbug," I succumb!
Who as a "General" thing brought out Tom Thumb?
Who introduced (you can't say there I sinned)
The Swedish Nightingale, sweet Jenny Lind?
Who brought you Living Whales from Labrador?
The Hippopotamus from Nilus's shore,
The Bearded Lady with her (h)airs and graces,
The Aztec Children with their normal faces,
The Twins of Siam--rarest of dualities--
Two ever separate, ne'er apart realities?
The Family of Albinos? the Giraffe?
The famous Baby Show that made you laugh?
The Happy Family--cats, rats, doves, hawks, harmonious?
Their voices blend in tones euphonious.
The great Sea Lion from Pacific's coast,
The "Monarch of the Ocean," no empty boast;
Old Adam's Bears, cutest of brute performers,
In modern "peace meetings" models for reformers.
That living miracle, the Lightning Calculator,
Those figures confound Hermann the "Prestidigitator."
The Grand Aquaria, an official story
Of life beneath the waves ill all its glory;
The curious "What is It?" which you, though spunky,
Won't call a man and cannot call a monkey.
These things and many more time forbids to state,
I first introduced, if I did not originate;
"The World's Seven Wonders," pooh! let them invite you,
Here "seven" saloons all wonder-full delight you.
To call this "humbug" admits of no defence,
For all is shown for five and twenty cents.
And now, good friends, to use less rhyme than reason,
To-day re-opens our dramatic season;
Therefore I welcome you! And though we're certain
To raise "Great Expectations" with the curtain,
And "play the Dickens" afternoon and nightly,
I bid you welcome none the less politely,
To these my "quarters," merry and reliable,
That yours are always welcome 'tis undeniable!
And Patrick Henry like I say, I boast of it,
If that be "humbug," gentlemen, "make the most of it."
The foregoing address may be correctly said to have as much
truth as poetry. It is a graceful summary of the curiosities which Barnum had brought
before the world up to his sixtieth year. It does not include the Sacred White Elephant of
Siam, the mammoth Jumbo and other wonders of nature which he was yet to reveal to
astonished and delighted millions. Nor does it indicate that grand genius of aggregation
by which in later years he surpassed all his previous performances--masterly as they were.
Not till the veteran had reached the age of seventy--the allotted span of life--did he
gather and create "The Greatest Show on Earth."
In connection with the dramatization of Dickens' novel, it
seems surprising that the Great Showman had little intercourse with the Great Novelist. He
was on intimate terms with Thackeray and gave him useful hints for his lecturing tour in
the United States, by which the humorist duly profited. But Dickens, who reached the
popular heart as Barnum did their senses, seems to have held aloof from one whose
knowledge of men rivalled his own.
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