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

Increased Popularity of the Museum


The fame of the American Museum rose higher and higher. It is doubtful if any place of entertainment ever attracted such enthusiastic crowds. It was the first place visited by strangers in the city.

The small Lecture Room had been converted into a large and beautiful theatre, and in it many afterward celebrated actors and actresses made their first appearance; Sothern, Barney Williams, and the charming Mary Garmon. On holidays there were lecture performances every hour. The actors kept on their stage clothes from eleven o'clock in the morning until ten at night, their meals were served in the green-room, and the company received extra pay.

The 4th of July, 1842, was a great day in the history of the Museum. Barnum had planned a magnificent display of American flags, as one of the outside attractions, and applied to the vestrymen of St. Paul's Church, opposite the Museum, for permission to attach his flag-rope to a tree in the church-yard. Their reply was an indignant refusal. Returning to the Museum, Barnum directed that his original order concerning the disposition of the flags be carried out to the letter.

The morning dawned, and the crowds on Broadway were admiring the display, when two representatives of the baffled vestry rushed into the office and demanded that the ropes be taken down. "The Church of St. Paul's, where Washington worshiped, attached to a Museum! Sacrilege!"

Barnum assumed a conciliatory tone, reminding them that he always stopped his band playing during their week-day services, and suggesting the fairness of the obligation being made mutual.

"If those flags are not down in ten minutes," cried one of the vestrymen, "I will cut them down."

Then Barnum sprang to his feet and exclaimed loudly enough for the crowd to hear:

"Well, Mister, I should just like to see you dare to cut down the American flag on the Fourth of July; you must be a 'Britisher' to make such a threat as that; but I'll show you a thousand pairs of Yankee hands in two minutes, if you dare to attempt to take down the Stars and Stripes on this great birthday of American freedom!"

"What's that John Bull a-saying?" asked a brawny fellow, placing himself in front of the irate vestryman. "Look here, old fellow," he continued, "if you want to save a whole bone in your body, you had better slope, and never dare to talk again about hauling down the American flag in the city of New York."

Throngs of excited, exasperated men crowded around, and the vestryman, seeing the effect of the ruse, smiled faintly and said, "Oh, of course it is all right," and he and his companion quietly edged out of the crowd.

By one o'clock that day, the Museum was so densely packed that no more visitors could be admitted, and the proprietor saw with despair the crowds being turned away from the door. Rushing down-stairs, he directed the carpenter to cut down the partition and floor in the rear and to put in a temporary flight of stairs. The egress was ready by three o'clock, and people poured out into Ann Street, while the crowd from Broadway poured in. After that, the egress was always ready on holidays. One of Barnum's most amusing reminiscences related to this egress.

"Early in the following March I received notice from some of the Irish population that they meant to visit me in great numbers on 'St. Patrick's day in the morning.' 'All right,' said I to my carpenter, 'get your egress ready for March 17th;' and I added, to my assistant manager: 'If there is much of a crowd, don't let a single person pass out at the front, even if it were St. Patrick himself; put every man out through the egress in the rear.' The day came, and before noon we were caught in the same dilemma as we were on the Fourth of July; the Museum was jammed, and the sale of tickets was stopped. I went to the egress and asked the sentinel how many hundreds had passed out?

" 'Hundreds,' he replied, 'why only three persons have gone out by this way, and they came back, saying that it was a mistake and begging to be let in again.'

" 'What does this mean?' I inquired; 'surely thousands of people have been all over the Museum since they came in.'

" 'Certainly,' was the reply; 'but after they have gone from one saloon to another, and have been on every floor, even to the roof, they come down and travel the same route over again.'

"At this time I espied a tall Irish woman with two good-sized children whom I had happened to notice when they came in early in the morning.

" 'Step this way, madam,' said I, politely; 'you will never be able to get into the street by the front door without crushing these dear children. We have opened a large egress here, and you can thus pass by these rear stairs into Ann Street, and thus avoid all danger.'

" 'Sure,' replied the woman, indignantly, 'an' I'm not going out at all, at all, nor the children either, for we've brought our dinners and we are going to stay all day.'

"Further investigation showed that pretty much all of the visitors had brought their dinners with the evident intention of literally 'making a day of it.' No one expected to go home till night; the building was overcrowded, and hundreds were waiting at the front entrance to get in when they could. In despair, I sauntered upon the stage behind the scenes, biting my lips with vexation, when I happened to see the scene-painter at work, and a happy thought struck me. 'Here,' I exclaimed, 'take a piece of canvas four feet square and paint on it, as soon as you can, in large letters,

{pointing finger} TO THE EGRESS.'

"Seizing his brush, he finished the sign in fifteen minutes, and I directed the carpenter to nail it over the door leading to the back stairs. He did so, and as the crowd, after making the entire tour of the establishment, came pouring down the main stairs from the third-story, they stopped and looked at the new sign, while some of them read audibly: 'To the Aigress.'

" 'The Aigress,' said others, 'sure that's an animal we haven't seen,' and the throng began to pour down the back-stairs only to find that the 'Aigress ' was the elephant, and that the elephant was all out o' doors, or so much of it as began with Ann Street. Meanwhile, I began to accommodate those who had long been waiting with their money at the Broadway entrance."

Barnum had planned to expend the entire profits of the first year in advertising, but so fast did the money pour in, that he was often embarrassed to devise means to get rid of it, according to his first idea. One of the most expensive advertisements consisted of a large number of oil paintings of every animal in zoology. These paintings were prepared secretly, and were put between the windows of the building at night. The town was paralyzed with astonishment, and the daily receipts took an upward jump of nearly a hundred dollars.

Flower shows, dog shows, poultry and bird shows, with prizes to the best specimens, had long been features of the Museum, and at last Barnum rashly decided on a baby show. There was a prize of one hundred dollars attached, and a committee of ladies were appointed to decide on the best baby. The unsuspecting Barnum stepped into the circle and announced the prize winner, but to his astonishment the verdict did not suit anybody but the mother of one baby. The other ninety-nine indignant mothers "jumped on" to Mr Barnum and the committee, and denounced the whole proceeding as impartial and unjust. Barnum offered to let them select a new committee, and even agreed to give another hundred dollar prize, but the storm raged with unabating fury. There were baby shows after that, but the verdict was delivered in writing, and Mr. Barnum never gave the prize in person.

In June, 1843, a herd of yearling buffaloes was on exhibition in Boston. Barnum bought the lot, brought them to New Jersey, hired the race-course at Hoboken, chartered the ferry-boats for one day, and advertised that a hunter had arrived with a herd of buffaloes, and that august 31st there would be a "Grand Buffalo Hunt" on the Hoboken race-course--all persons to be admitted free of charge.

The appointed day was warm and delightful, and no less than twenty-four thousand people crossed the North River in the ferry-boats to enjoy the cooling breeze and to see the "Grand Buffalo Hunt." The hunter was dressed as an Indian, and mounted on horseback; he proceeded to show how the wild buffalo is captured with a lasso, but unfortunately the yearlings would not run till the crowd gave a great shout, expressive at once of derision and delight at the harmless humbug. This shout started the young animals into a weak gallop and the lasso was duly thrown over the head of the largest calf. The crowd roared with laughter, listened to the balcony band, which was also furnished "free," and then started for New York, little dreaming who was the author of this sensation, or what was its object.

Mr. N. P. Willis, then editor of the Home Journal, wrote an article illustrating the perfect good nature with which the American public submit to a clever humbug. He said that he went to Hoboken to witness the buffalo hunt. It was nearly four o'clock when the boat left the foot of Barclay Street, and it was so densely crowded that many persons were obliged to stand on the railings and hold on to the awning-posts. When they reached the Hoboken side a boat equally crowded was coming out of the slip. The passengers just arriving cried out to those who were coming away, "Is the buffalo hunt over?" To which came the reply, "Yes, and it was the biggest humbug you ever heard of!" Willis added that passengers on the boat with him instantly gave three cheers for the author of the humbug, whoever he might be.

After the public had enjoyed their laugh over the Buffalo hunt, Barnum let it become known that he was the author of the joke. Of course, their cry of "charlatan," "humbug," and "swindler" was louder than ever from that time, but Barnum never objected to being celled names. The more advertising the better.

About this time Barnum engaged a band of Indians from Iowa.

The party comprised large and noble specimens of the untutored savage, as well as several very beautiful squaws, with two or three interesting "papooses." They lived and lodged in a large room on the top floor of the Museum, and cooked their own victuals in their own way. They gave their war-dances on the stage in the Lecture Room with great vigor and enthusiasm, much to the satisfaction of the audiences. But these wild Indians seemed to consider their dances as realities. Hence, when they gave a real war-dance, it was dangerous for any parties, except their manager and interpreter to be on the stage, for the moment they had finished their war-dance, they began to leap and peer about behind the scenes in search of victims for their tomahawks and scalping knives! Indeed, lest in these frenzied moments they might make a dash at the orchestra or the audience, Barnum had a high rope barrier placed between them and the savages on the front of the stage.

Barnum counted one incident in connection with his Indian show as notable, being one of the few occasions when he played the losing card.

"After they had been a week in the Museum," he said, "I proposed a change of performance for the week following by introducing new dances. Among these was the Indian wedding dance. At that time I printed but one set of posters (large bills) per week, so that whatever was announced for Monday was repeated every day and evening during that week. Before the wedding dance came off on Monday afternoon, I was informed that I was to provide a large, new, red woolen blanket, at a cost of ten dollars, for the bridegroom to present to the father of the bride. I ordered the purchase to be made, but was considerably taken aback when I was informed that I must have another new blanket for the evening, inasmuch as the savage old Indian chief, father-in-law to the bridegroom, would not consent to his daughter's being approached with the wedding dance unless he had his blanket present,

"I undertook to explain to the chief, through the interpreter, that this was only a 'make believe' wedding; but the old savage shrugged his shoulders, and gave such a terrific 'Ugh!' that I was glad to make my peace by ordering another blanket. As we gave two performances per day, I was out of pocket $120 for twelve 'wedding blankets' that week."

One of the beautiful squaws named Do-humme died in the Museum. She had been a great favorite with many ladies. Do-humme was buried on the border of Sylvan Water, at Greenwood Cemetery, where a small monument erected by her friends, designates her last resting-place. The poor Indians were very sorrowful for many days, and desired to get back again to their Western wilds. The father and the betrothed of Do-humme cooked various dishes of food and placed them upon the roof of the Museum, where they believed the spirit of their departed friend came daily for its supply; and these dishes were renewed every morning during the stay of the Indians at the Museum.

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