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The P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton



Soon after arriving at Havana, Barnum made a discovery. The Habaneros, not accustomed to the high prices which opera tickets command in the States, had determined that they would force Barnum to lower the admission fee. This the manager refused to do, and it soon became evident that although they attended the concerts, they were not disposed to show the singer the least favor. It was, therefore, with much inward trepidation that Barnum watched the curtain rise on the first concert. The following account of that concert is taken from the New York Tribune:

"Jenny Lind soon appeared, led on by Signor Belletti. Some three or four hundred persons clapped their hands at her appearance, but this token of approbation was instantly silenced by at least two thousand five hundred decided hisses. Thus having settled the matter that there should be no forestalling of public opinion, and that it applause was given to Jenny Lind in that house it should first be incontestably earned, the most solemn silence prevailed. I have heard the Swedish Nightingale often in Europe as well as in America, and have ever noticed a distinct tremulousness attending her first appearance in any city. Indeed this feeling was plainly manifested in her countenance as she neared the foot-lights; but when she witnessed the kind of reception in store for her--so different from anything she had reason to expect--her countenance changed in an instant to a haughty self-possession, her eyes flashed defiance, and, becoming immovable as a statue, she stood there perfectly calm and beautiful. She was satisfied that she now had an ordeal to pass and a victory to gain worthy of her powers. In a moment her eye scanned the immense audience, the music began and then followed--how can I describe it?--such heavenly strains as I verily believe mortal never breathed except Jenny Lind, and mortal never heard except from her lips. Some of the oldest Castilians kept a frown upon their brow and a curling sneer upon their lips; their ladies, however, and most of the audience began to look surprised. The gushing melody flowed on, increasing in beauty and glory. The caballeros, the senoras and senoritas began to look at each other; nearly all, however, kept their teeth clenched and their lips closed, evidently determined to resist to the last. The torrent flowed deeper and faster, the lark flew higher and higher, the melody grew richer and grander; still every lip was compressed. By and by, as the rich notes came dashing in rivers upon our enraptured ears, one poor critic involuntarily whispered a 'brava.' This outbursting of the soul was instantly hissed down. The stream of harmony rolled on till, at the close, it made a clean sweep of every obstacle, and carried all before it. Not a vestige of opposition remained, but such a tremendous shout of applause as went up I never before heard.

"The triumph was most complete. And how was Jenny Lind affected? She who stood a few moments previous like adamant, now trembled like a reed in the wind before the storm of enthusiasm which her own simple notes had produced. Tremblingly, slowly, and almost bowing her face to the ground, she withdrew. The roar and applause of victory increased. 'Encore! encore! encore!' came from every lip. She again appeared, and courtesying low, again withdrew; but again, again and again did they call her out and at every appearance the thunders of applause rang louder and louder. Thus five times was Jenny Lind called out to receive their unanimous and deafening plaudits."

With tears of joy rolling down his cheeks, Barnum rushed behind the scenes, and met her as she was withdrawing after the fifth encore.

"God bless you, Jenny," he cried, "you've settled them!"

"Are you satisfied?" said the singer, throwing her arms around his neck and weeping for joy. This was the first she had known of the opposition, all hint of it having been kept from her by Mr. Barnum, but she fully sympathized with him in his determination not to lower the prices.

The papers continued to cry out for a reduction, and this caused many people to stay away from the concerts, expecting Barnum to yield. But when, after three concerts, it was announced that the next one, devoted to charity, was also to be Miss Lind's farewell, they became very much excited. Committees waited on them to request more concerts, which resulted only in refusals: some of the leading Dons offered to guarantee them $25,000, for three concerts, but Barnum assured them that there was not money enough in the Island of Cuba to induce him to consent.

The proceeds of the fourth concert were distributed between two hospitals and a convent, besides giving $500 to Barnum's old protege Vivalla, the little Italian plate-dancer, whom they had met in Havana. The poor fellow's fortunes were at a very low ebb, having lost the use of his left side from paralysis. He supported himself by exhibiting a performing dog, which turned a spinning wheel and did several other tricks. Miss Lind had heard of his case and was very anxious that part of the benefit money should be given him.

The morning after the concert the bell rang and Barnum found, on going to the door, a procession of children from the convent which had received a large sum of money from Miss Lind. The children were attended by ten or twelve priests in rich vestments. They had come to see the songstress and to thank her in person. But Jenny shrank from appearing before such a stately deputation: "Tell them I cannot see them," she exclaimed. "They have nothing to thank me for. If I have done good it was no more than my duty." And the grand procession with its wreaths and banners, were obliged to depart.

The same day, Vivalla called and brought her a basket of fruit. With tears of joy, he called down every blessing on the head of the benevolent lady. "I shall go back to Italy! I shall see my brothers and sisters again!" he cried. Miss Lind had gone for a drive, but Barnum promised to give her the fruit and the message. As he was passing out the door he hesitated end said: "Mr. Barnum, I should like so much to have the good lady see my dog turn a wheel. It is very nice; he can spin very good; shall I bring the dog and the wheel for her? She is such a good lady, I wish to please her very much." Mr. Barnum told the grateful fellow that Miss Lind had refused to see the priests from the convent that morning, because she never received thanks for favors, and that he was quite welcome to the money.

When Miss Lind returned and heard the story, she exclaimed: "Poor man, poor man, do let him come; its all the good creature can do for me;" then with tears rolling down her face--"I like that, I like that; do let him come and bring his dog. It will make him so happy."

"God bless you, it WILL make him happy," said Barnum. "He shall come to-morrow." And he went himself to tell Vivalla that Jenny Lind would see his dog perform, the next day at four precisely.

"I will be punctual," said Vivalla, quite overcome with emotion, "but I was SURE she would like to see my dog perform."

For full half an hour before the time appointed did Jenny Lind sit in her window on the second floor and watch for Vivalla and his dog. A few minutes before the appointed hour, she saw him coming. "Ah, here he comes! here he comes!" she exclaimed in delight, as she ran down stairs and opened the door to admit him. A negro boy was bringing the small spinning-wheel, while Vivalla led the dog. Handing the boy a silver coin, she motioned him away, and taking the wheel in her arms, she said, "This is very kind of you to come with your dog. Follow me. I will carry the wheel up stairs." Her servant offered to take the wheel, but no, she would let no one carry it but herself. She called the whole party to her parlor, and for one full hour did she devote herself to the happy Italian. She went down on her knees to pet the dog and to ask Vivalla all sorts of questions about his performances, his former course of life, his friends in Italy, and his present hopes and determinations. Then she sang and played for him, gave him some refreshments, finally insisted on carrying his wheel to the door, and her servant accompanied Vivalla to his boarding-house.

Poor Vivalla! He was probably never so happy before, but his enjoyment did not exceed that of Miss Lind. A few months later, however, the Havana correspondent of the New York Herald announced the death of Vivalla, and stated that the poor Italian's last words were about Jenny Lind and Mr. Barnum.

In the party which accompanied Barnum to Havana was a man who had formerly kept the Peale Museum in New York, afterwards managing the establishment for Mr. Barnum. At present he was acting as ticket-taker.

He was a curious fellow, at times full of fun and gayety and at other times melancholy to the verge of insanity. Madness ran in his family, and one of his brothers, in a moment of frenzy had blown his brains out. Barnum knew of Bennett's tendency to melancholy and watched him constantly. When they were on board the steamer "Falcon" on their way back to New Orleans, a thrilling incident occurred which Barnum afterwards related in this way:

Mr. James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, and his wife, were also passengers. After permitting one favorable notice in his paper, Bennett had turned around, as usual, and had abused Jenny Lind and bitterly attacked me. I was always glad to get such notices, for they served as inexpensive advertisements to my museum.

"Ticket-taker Bennett, however, took much to heart the attacks of Editor Bennett upon Jenny Lind. When Editor Bennett came on board the 'Falcon,' his violent name-sake said to a by-stander:

" 'I would willingly be drowned if I could see that old scoundrel go to the bottom of the sea.'

"Several of our party overheard the remark and I turned laughingly to Bennett and said: Nonsense; he can't harm any one, and there is an old proverb about the impossibility of drowning those who are born for another fate.'

"That very night, however, as I stood near the cabin door, conversing with my treasurer and other members of my company, Henry Bennett came up to me with a wild air, and hoarsely whispered:

" 'Old Bennett has gone forward alone in the dark--and I am going to throw him overboard!'

"We were all startled, for we knew the man, and he seemed terribly in earnest. Knowing how most effectively to address him at such times, I exclaimed:

" 'Ridiculous! you would not do such a thing.'

" 'I swear I will,' was his savage reply. I expostulated with him, and several of our party joined me.

" 'Nobody will know it,' muttered the maniac, 'and I shall be doing the world a favor.'

"I endeavored to awaken him to a sense of the crime he contemplated, assuring him that it could not possibly benefit any one, and that from the fact of the relations existing between the editor and myself, I should be the first to be accused of his murder. I implored him to go to his stateroom, and he finally did so, accompanied by some of the gentlemen of our party. I took pains to see that he was carefully watched that night, and, indeed, for several days, till he became calm again. He was a large, athletic man, quite able to pick up his name-sake and drop him overboard. The matter was too serious for a joke, and we made little mention of it; but more than one of our party said then, and has said since, what I really believe to be true, that 'James Gordon Bennett would have been drowned that night had it not been for P. T. Barnum.' "

Bennett's end was tragic, as might be expected. Sometime after the Havana journey Barnum sent him to London. He conducted the business successfully, wrote up the accounts to a penny, then handing the papers to a mutual friend with directions to give them to Barnum when he should arrive, he went to his lodgings and committed suicide.

"In New Orleans the wharf was crowded by a great concourse of persons, as the steamer "Falcon" approached. Jenny Lind had enjoyed a month of quiet, and dreaded the excitement which she must now again encounter.

"Mr Barnum, I am sure I can never get through that crowd," she said in despair.

"Leave that to me. Remain quiet for ten minutes, and there shall be no crowd here," replied Barnum.

Taking his daughter on his arm, she drew her vail over her face and they descended the gangway.

"That's Barnum, I know him," called out several persons at the top of their voices.

"Open the way, if you please for Mr. Barnum and Miss Lind!" cried Le Grand Smith over the railing of the ship, the deck of which he had just reached from the wharf.

"Don't crowd her, if you please, gentlemen," said Barnum, and so pushing and squeezing they reached the carriage and drove to Miss Lind's apartments. A few minutes later Jenny and her companion came quietly in a carriage and were in the house before the ruse was discovered. In answer to the calls of the crowd she appeared on the balcony, and bowed to the throng, which gave her three cheers and dispersed.

A very funny incident occurred in New Orleans. Next to the theatre where the concerts were given, was an exhibition in the large open lots of mammoth hogs, grizzly bears and other animals.

A gentleman had a son about twelve years old, who had a wonderful ear for music. He could whistle or sing any tune after hearing it once. His father did not know nor care for a single note, but so anxious was he to please his son, that he paid thirty dollars for two tickets to the concert.

"I liked the music better than I expected," said he the next day, "but my son was in raptures. He was so perfectly enchanted that he scarcely spoke the whole evening, and I would on no account disturb his delightful reveries. When the concert was finished we came out of the theatre. Not a word was spoken. I knew that my musical prodigy was happy among the clouds, and I said nothing. I could not help envying him his love of music, and considered my thirty dollars as nothing, compared to the bliss which it secured to him. Indeed, I was seriously thinking of taking him to the next concert, when he spoke. We were just passing the numerous shows upon the vacant lots. One of the signs attracted him, and he said, 'Father, let us go in and see the big hog!' The little scamp! I could have horse-whipped him!' said the father, who loving a joke, could not help laughing at the ludicrous incident.

The party took passage to Cairo, Illinois, in the beautiful river steamer "Magnolia." They had made arrangements with the captain to delay in Natchez and in Memphis where concerts were given.

The time on board the steamer was pleasantly spent in reading and watching the scenery. One day they had a musicale in the ladies' cabin for the gratification of the passengers, at which Miss Lind volunteered to sing. Barnum amused the passengers with his inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and stories, and the tricks of legerdemain, which he had learned and used in the South under rather different circumstances. Among other tricks, he made a silver piece disappear so mysteriously that the negro barber who witnessed the feat, came to the conclusion that the great man must be in league with the devil. "The next morning," says Mr. Barnum, "I seated myself in the barber's chair and the darkey began to talk:

" 'Beg pardon, Mr. Barnum, but I have heard a great deal about you, and I saw more than I wanted to see last night. Is it true that you have sold yourself to the devil, so that you can do what you've a mind to?'

" 'Oh, yes," was my reply, 'that is the bargain between us.'

" 'How long did you agree for?' was the question next in order.

" 'Only nine years,' said I. 'I have had three of them already. Before the other six are out, I shall find a way to nonplus the old gentleman, and I have told him so to his face.'

"At this avowal, a larger space of white than usual was seen in the darkey's eyes, and he inquired, 'Is it by this bargain that you get so much money?'

" 'Certainly. No matter who has money, nor where he keeps it, in his box or till, or anywhere about him, I have only to speak the words and it comes.'

"The shaving was completed in silence, but thought had been busy in the barber's mind, and he embraced the speediest opportunity to transfer his bag of coin to the iron safe in charge of the clerk.

The movement did not escape me, and immediately a joke was afoot. I had barely time to make two or three details of arrangement with the clerk, and resume my seat in the cabin, ere the barber sought a second interview, bent on testing the alleged powers of Beelzebub's colleague.

" 'Beg pardon, Mr. Barnum, but where is my money? Can you get it?'

" 'I do not want your money,' was the quiet answer. 'It is safe.'

" 'Yes, I know it is safe--ha! ha!--it is in the iron safe in the clerk's office--safe enough from you?'

" 'It is not in the iron safe!' said I. This was said so quietly, yet positively, that the colored gentleman ran to the office, and inquired if all was safe. 'All right,' said the clerk. 'Open, and let me see,' replied the barber. The safe was unlocked and lo! the money was gone!

"In mystified terror the loser applied to me for relief. 'You will find the bag in your drawer,' said I, and there it was found!

"His curiosity was still great. 'Please do another trick,' said he.

" 'Very well,' I replied, 'stand perfectly still.'

"He did so, and I commenced muttering some mysterious words, as if performing an incantation.

" 'What are you doing?' said the barber.

" 'I am changing you into a black cat,' I replied, 'but don't be afraid; I will change you back again, if I don't forget the words to do it with.'

"This was too much for the terrified darkey; with an awful screech he rushed to the side of the boat resolved to drown rather than undergo such a transformation.

"He was captured and brought back to me, when I dispelled his fright by explaining the way in which I had tricked him. Relieved and reassured, he clapped his hands and executed an impromtu jig, exclaiming, 'Ha! ha! when I get back to New Orleans won't I come de Barnum ober dem niggers!' "

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