Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

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

Great Year At the Museum


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 wide.

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:


in capturing and transporting them from that part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence nearest Labrador, the Manager is enabled to offer his visitors


a male and a female. Everybody has heard of WHALES


everybody has read of WHALES in story, song, and history, and everybody


and now they have the opportunity. Barnum has


has built a small ocean in his Museum, filled it from the briny deep, and there


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.


The Colored Steward and German Sailor of the


Who slew three of the piratical prize crew, and rescued themselves and the vessel from their power.



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;


The favorite Juvenile Danseuse, always popular.


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.

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:



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


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,


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


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, native


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


ever seen in America. He is engaged at a cost of many thousand of dollars, and will remain


Also just obtained at great expense, and now to be seen swimming in the large tank in the Aquarial Hall,


beside a great variety of other living Fish, Turtles, &c., &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 too incredulous.

"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 them honor."

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 following:

"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:


"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.

Previous | Contents | Next


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus