|Posted by Melissa Houston on August 30, 2012 at 3:35 PM||comments ()|
This week’s picture portrays P.T. Barnum and Commodore Nutt, a little person who gained almost as much fame as General Tom Thumb himself. Born George Washington Morrison Nutt, the Commodore first met Barnum in 1862. At the time Barnum was interested in finding a new act to replace Tom Thumb who had grown older and was not working as much as he once had. Nutt was shorter and younger than Tom Thumb and filled the position perfectly. So much so, that Barnum called on the White House within months of hiring Commodore Nutt and the little performer shook the hand of President Abraham Lincoln.
The "Photo of the Week" highlights pictures from The Barnum Museum’s collection. These pictures are posted on our website at: www.barnummuseumexhibitions.org, along with a brief description of the person, place or thing within the picture. The Photo of the Week can also be found on Facebook.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on April 16, 2012 at 1:35 PM||comments ()|
To General U.S. Grant, twice President of the United States, etc:
Thus starts a letter from PT Barnum to General Grant regarding the purchase and display of General Grant’s personal collection of relics. Written on January 12, 1885 this letter addressed Grant’s recent debt to Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt which threw him into financial “embarrassment” and poverty. Barnum wanted to offer Grant “fine income” off of the display of Grant’s war trophies and international mementos given to him during his time as President and over the course of his trip around the world.
PT Barnum had met Grant on multiple occasions and the two, from Barnum’s autobiography, seemed to enjoy a friendship. Barnum met with him after the Civil War and collected a hat from General Grant to put in his collection of famous individual’s chapeaux which the General had worn during multiple military campaigns. In his defense of the 15th Amendment speech before Congress, Barnum mentions Grant’s resolve during the Civil War. After his letter to Grant concerning his collection, Barnum writes that he visited the General soon afterwards and was “politely received”. And here at the Barnum Museum we have a copy of General Grant’s memoirs signed to Nancy Fish Barnum.
Unfortunately, as payment for his debts, all of Grant’s wealth and property went to Mr. Vanderbilt with the condition that the trophies and relics “should be lodged in some safe public place in Washington, where all could see them” after the General’s death. Barnum of course tried arguing that millions of people would regret that Barnum hadn’t showcased the historical relics in his Museum.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on January 6, 2012 at 1:35 PM||comments ()|
Pa-Ib is perhaps the Museum's oldest resident. Having been donated to the Bridgeport Scientific Society in 1896, the mummy has been on display and a part of scientific inquiry ever since. But she came here as a part of a love story...
In 1894, Mrs. PT Barnum, or rather Nancy Fish Barnum, was traveling for the first time since Phineas Taylor Barnum's death. Her trip to Cairo would hot have been complete without a visit to the pyramids. The Boston Journal reported that: "...She was climbing the Great Pyramid with the assistance of Arab helpers when one of the men slipped and fell. Mrs. Barnum reeled backward and toppled over to what seemed certain death, but a stranger toiling up the pyramid 10 yards below caught the endangered lady in his arms. It was the Bey." (Boston Morning News, August 9, 1895)
A quick and international romance began between Demetri Callian Bey, a man of great wealth from Constantinople, and Nancy Fish Barnum. Some papers reporting on their marriage mentioned Nancy meeting him through the American consul at the same time she received her mummy and that it was "love at first sight". Both individuals being of great wealth, the papers admitted that the marriage must have been for true love - not money.
However, after a trip to the mansion PT Barnum built for Nancy in Bridgeport, it was decided that the couple would move abroad. The reason for the move was explained in the papers like this: "[Bey] was pleased with the place and would have been contented to reside there but for the fact that a bronze statue of heroic size of the late P.T. Barnum is placed in the park directly in front of the house." (Trenton Evening Times, August 8, 1895) A bronze statue was placed at Seaside Park in honor of Barnum after his death, and Marina's front foor opened directly out to that park. Apparently they did not want to live in the shadow of the Great Showman.
Needless to say, Pa-Ib came to the United States with Nancy Fish Barnum after her Cairo love story adventure. When the happy couple moved to Greece, the mummy was donated to the Bridgeport Scientific Society, along with many other PT Barnum artifacts, and housed here at the Barnum Museum. If mummies could talk, I'm sure Pa-Ib would divulge the true details of the widow's Egyptian romance.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on November 11, 2011 at 2:45 PM||comments ()|
"In the summer of 1878 my sister Minnie died at our home in Middleboro... It proved one of the greatest trials of my life to go again before the public without her, but it was the lifework marked out for me and I resumed it just as others resume their regular duties after an overwhelming grief. Even now I do not find it easy to speak of it. All my other sisters and brothers were normal size, and hence she and I were in a measure isolated from them and brought nearer each other." (The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb)
Three small infant gowns are in the Barnum Museum's collection and are attributed to the infant that died just hours after its mother, Minnie Warren, died in childbirth. Minnie had married Edmund Newell, another performer of small stature known for rollerskating on stage. Minnie became pregnant unlike her sister Lavinia who was married to the famous Tom Thumb. Lavinia and Tom were known to pose with babies as a part of their publicity and advertising though they never had a child of their own. These three little gowns are a somber reminder of the challenges life presented to women in the 19th century.
Curatorial Disclaimer: These items were found in a less than ideal state as seen in the photograph above. Since this picture, they have been properly rehoused with new tissue and acid free boxes, as have the other textiles in this picture.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on October 28, 2011 at 10:05 AM||comments ()|
Even when you have inventoried a collection of artifacts, something always surprises you. One of the friendly challenges our director, Kathy Maher, gave me when I embarked upon the inventory was to find something she'd never seen. She had worked extensively with the collection as our curator and director so I thought it was a challenge I would never meet. Until yesterday.
P.T. Barnum co-authored a series of children's books on his circus, museum, and menagerie in 1888. These books can be found to cover just one of those topics or any number of combinations. This particular book caught my attention as I was preparing a loan. Struck by its wonderful condition I opened the cover and there was Barnum's signature.
The reason this signature is special, attention worthy, and challenge winning, is that it shows P.T. Barnum donating to the Fairfield County Historical Society BEFORE he commissioned the building of The Barnum Museum which was to house the Historical Society! This book is an original part of the Museum's collection - it has been here 118 years!
It is a wonderful historical document - depicting Barnum's circus as it was in 1888 including the lithograph below of the circus at its winter quarters here in Bridgeport. And it is also a beautiful reminder of P.T. Barnum's constant interest in and support of the city of Bridgeport.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on October 21, 2011 at 3:20 PM||comments ()|
Tom Thumb received the royal treatment when he visited London and performed before Queen Victoria. In fact, a carriage was "manufactured by order of the Queen Victoria, of England, and presented by her Majesty to the little General", according to a biography of Tom Thumb published in 1849 after his European tour. Not only was it elaborately decorated and furnished, but the Queen presented him with ponies and two boys to serve as his Coachman and Footman!
The Barnum Museum has two of Tom Thumb's many carriages in its Collection. One of which was on display in the first floor gallery where the windows were blown out by the tornado and where the debris that was brought in with the wind acted like fine sandpaper across every surface. While some of the damage seen in the "before" photograph below is previous to the tornado, any painted surface suffered hydrothermal shock - a drastic change in temperature and humidity that greatly affects surfaces likely to retain moisture. Paint literately fell off surfaces on the carriage to the display platform below.
This carriage has been a focus of Chris Augerson, a carriage conservator who worked on the gilded carriages of Louis XIV at Versailles in Paris. His work has been painstaking. A basic tenet of conservation is that every treatment must be reversible. So, for example, the carriage's wheels were coated with a thin layer of varnish before infill painting was done. In the future, as the science of artifact conservation changes, the paint can be removed without injury to the carriage itself if necessary. The beautiful result can be seen below! The textiles on the carriage including the red velvet interior and burgundy coachman's seat are still awaiting treatment.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on September 9, 2011 at 11:05 AM||comments ()|
Requests come in to the Barnum Museum from across the world and each time the inquiry teaches me something new about the collections. Recently we had a request to loan specific items concerning Tom Thumb. While in the midst of inventorying the entire collection in 2009 we had the tornado and so the Tom Thumb collection was never inventoried. Rather, it hasn’t been inventoried since 1989. The boxes looked hardly touched and thankfully much of the 1989 inventory still corresponded with the objects’ locations.
The request was for images and textiles for a small case display. In a case there is often a prevailing theme or lesson that draws the visitor through the story being told in the larger exhibition. So the items should build on each other or at least relate. I wasn’t sure what I would find that could connect the artifacts other than they all related to Tom Thumb and that, though interesting, is not very exciting.
As I went through the documentary artifacts – objects such as photographs and letters – I noticed that we have a very interesting receipt for clothing items from a naval and military tailor. Knowing that the Currier and Ives print of Tom Thumb in costumes included a picture of Thumb as Napoleon, I sought out other artifacts that could build on this one receipt. Amongst the treasures in the collection I found a beautiful brown velvet suit, tickets to a Tom Thumb performance, a tin type of Tom Thumb at a young age in his Napoleon costume, and a rather large collection of boots.
With this set of artifacts a snapshot is taken of Tom Thumb working through the Napoleon character he played throughout his career at The American Museum and on his world tours. We know from other past inquiries he played Napoleon as far from the United States as Australia. Hopefully this small grouping will serve to fill in the details of the large Tom Thumb story and paint a unique picture in the visitors’ mind.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on July 29, 2011 at 10:00 AM||comments ()|
One of the challenges of trying to manage the Collections here at the Museum is that we have so many artifacts with such varied points of origin. Had you visited pre-tornado you would have seen a case on the first floor that exhibited some of the original collection of the Barnum Institute including a whistling swan, Roman dagger, and Aztec pottery. These items are now off exhibit and need to be boxed with like items. However, we already have fourteen boxes and three shelves filled!
So to integrate them we needed to purchase more archival materials. We realized it would be more cost effective to make the acid-free, buffered artifact trays by hand than purchase them pre-made and have them shipped. Thus began one of my favorite projects - hand making storage solutions for historical artifacts! With the help of my intern we have made enough trays to satisfy the needs of the original Barnum Institute artifacts and have materials to house other collections as they continue to come off exhibit.
If you are interested in our pursuit to properly care for the treasures in our Collection please consider sponsoring a box through our Museum Store located on this website!
|Posted by Melissa Houston on March 31, 2011 at 8:51 AM||comments ()|
One of the greatest challenges in moving objects is making sure that they are properly recorded along the way so we don't "loose" any in the shuffle. The basement shelves were once the home of the majority of our onsite collection. But after the tornado, items susceptible to water damage could no longer be housed there. Each time an item is moved we make sure to record its location so when we reopen each item can be accurately located and properly displayed.
Yesterday we moved the china to the new storage room that is located safely outside of the original 1893 building. Large tables, surrounded by the framed objects that were also recently moved, now hold the china as we await new shelving specifically for the delicate pieces. We have some of PT Barnum's own china place settings with gilded initials and painted coat of arms as well as very early American items like pewter plates and wooden kegs. The dishes, silverware, glasses, and goblets provide a unique look at the ebbs and flows of American history here at The Barnum Museum.
-Melissa Houston, Registrar