|Posted by Melissa Houston on December 9, 2011 at 8:30 AM||comments ()|
In 1844, PT Barnum set across the 'pond' with Tom Thumb. Their first stop was in Liverpool and then on to London. In London, Barnum desperately wanted an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and set about making all the right connections and entertaining all the right guests. Tom Thumb's performance at Princess's Theatre secured Barnum a fine fortune and a large following, as the London Illustrated News shows below.
Barnum made friends with the American Minister, the Baroness Rothschild, the Master of the Queen's Household, and numerous blood-aristocracy and successfully gained an invitation to perform before the Queen. Barnum was instructed not to coach Tom Thumb on court formalities so that the Queen could interact with him "naturally and without restraint". Barnum was required to follow protocol; however, he did manage personal conversation with Queen Victoria to the chagrin of the Lord in Waiting!
The illustration above shows the humorous incident that closed their first - of three - formal visits to the Queen in 1844. Backing out of the room, as was customary, Barnum chose a pace that required Tom Thumb to turn and run every few moments to catch up. This excited the Queen's "poodle-dog" and caused Tom Thumb to have to square off with the dog using his cane as a sword! A small battle ensued and Queen Victoria was concerned for the well being of Tom Thumb. PT Barnum assured her that the small performer was fine and over the course of his European tours he would continue to visit the Queen.
|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 14, 2011 at 1:05 PM||comments ()|
In late September of 1844, the "Litchfield Enquirer" ran an ad for the American Museum in New York City. PT Barnum's museum was advertised to have "six splendid halls over 100 feet in length, containing upwards of 500,00 curiosities from every portion of the Globe." He specifically advertises "Dwarfs, Giants, Ourang Outangs" and his bi-weekly performances by the "most talented performers". We often wonder what it would have been like to step into his early museum and experience all that Barnum's imagination had to offer.
In our collection we have the 1849 "Sights and Wonders" booklet which is a story of an Uncle's visit to the American Museum with two boys. The language is just fascinating, historically appropriate though scientifically questionable, so read the text below and let your imagination do the work!
"Now, then, for a few minutes to look at the Indian curiosities - weapons of war, clubs, canoes, dagger, &c. - among which is the dagger used by Osceola, the celebrated Seminole chief, in Florida. And here is the coat-of-arms worn by the army of William the Conqueror, upon his invasion of England."
"The next attraction presenting itself to their notice was the camelopard, or giraffe. Uncle Find-out told them that it was a native of Africa; when full grown its height is about twenty-two feet - its skin is a beautiful spotted brown upon a white ground. Its favorite food is the leaf of the acacia and ash tree."
"Uncle Find-out next informed them that the ferocious-looking animal represented below was the sea-lion of the Falkland Islands, and that it was extremely savage in its nature.
"This animal appears to be a seal, is it not, uncle?"
"Yes it is the common seal, or sea-calf, of North America."
"True, I remember the fur of some seals is used for caps, coat-collars, and other purposes."
The brochure finishes up with a glowing review of Mr. PT Barnum himself and all that he has acheived in life thus far. The Uncle reminds the boys of Barnum's virtues in business and his morals in life then closes with:
|Posted by Melissa Houston on October 7, 2011 at 11:40 AM||comments ()|
Jenny Lind celebrated her 191st birthday this week and we should too even though her name is largely unknown in American culture - except for those of us who have shopped for a crib. Yet there is a reason her name graces streets, buildings, hospitals, and schools across the globe.
When Jenny Lind arrived in the United States for her inaugural concert in 1850, she was already a well known operatic star in Europe. What Lind did to perpetuate her name influenced P.T. Barnum, the master advertising himself. At every venue, town, and concert she performed across the world, Jenny Lind would donate part of the evening's proceeds to charities within the host city. She donated to start a music scholarship in Sweden and a children"s hospital in England. In the United States, she donated to help fund the fire department in New York City and churches in Chicago. Her generosity to her host cities garnered her more fame and well wishes than Barnum himself could have drummed up with his broadsides, publications, and newspaper ads.
Many of the institutions she funded are still in existence today. The Jenny Lind Infirmary for Sick Children in Norwich England, established in 1853, is now a part of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals. "The Jenny" was the second children's hospital in that country! Jenny Lind dontaed $1,500 to a Swedish Lutheran church in Andover, Illinois for the construction of its building which had been halted so the church could act as a hospital for the community during a cholera epidemic. Later meetings at the Jenny Lind Chapel percipitated the forming of Augustana College and the Augsburg College and Seminary.
Jenny Lind's acts of charity prompted P.T. Barnum to take up his choice cause - temperance - in the cities they toured. He gave lectures on the evils of alcohol in Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and New Orleans. Imploring people to sign a temperance pledge with his usual gusto, Barnum secured many new teetotalers across the country. Jenny Lind's generosity, however, secured the health and well being of many social service institutions, winning her a populace that was so enthralled with her that products bearing her name - like the Jenny Lind crib - sold like hot cakes.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on September 16, 2011 at 10:10 AM||comments ()|
There are a number of stories attributed to P.T. Barnum within the popular American culture; things and phrases that we understand but their back stories rest in the shadows of our collective memory. The classic is of course the phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute” which is falsely attributed to Barnum as he would have preferred “there’s a customer born every minute” knowing the public wasn’t below him, stupid and easily duped, but rather laughing along with him as he satisfied their need for an entertaining escape from reality.
But I would like to talk about the egress sign!
In Barnum’s grand American Museum in New York City there were innumerous exhibits on things the general public had never seen or heard of. Displays of taxidermy brought African animals to life with odd names like “ourang-outang” and “hippopotamus”. As a result, you could spend hours exploring each floor of the building learning and seeing things previously left to the imagination.
In 1852, Barnum “received notice from some of the Irish population that they meant to visit [him] in great numbers on St. Patrick’s day in the morning”. (Struggles and Triumphs, pg.139) When Barnum arrived at the Museum a line of impatient customers stood at the entrance but the Museum was already at capacity and no more tickets could be sold. After trying to usher a woman to the exit, he learned that the Irish visitors had planned to make a day of the Museum and had packed lunches.
And here enters the myth and legend of the egress. Barnum called on a scene painter to hastily paint a sign with “To the Egress” and hang it above an exit staircase. Using the fairly uncommon term, Barnum stirred up interest and excitement inspiring people to exit the building in hopes that they were entering a new animal exhibit. If the perturbed visitors wanted to come back in – they had to purchase new tickets!
|Posted by Melissa Houston on August 12, 2011 at 2:55 PM||comments ()|
I had trouble coming up with a title for this blog entry. It could be read: "verifying" history or verifying "history". I have been working on comparing the speech P.T. Barnum gave before the Connecticut legislature in support African-American suffrage as recorded in his autobiography with newspaper articles published about the speech. In truth there is no way to verify an autobiography for it will always contain the point of view of the writer (be it right or wrong). But many would argue that newspapers are much the same!
In any event, it has been interesting to note that the bulk of the text is the same in P.T. Barnum's 1873 autobiography and the Hartford Daily Courant article published May 25th, 1865. Two of the interesting differences have appeared in the texts. The first is the lack of Connecticut towns specifically mentioned in the autobiography version of the speech. Perhaps Barnum was seeking a large audience with his autobiography and so putting in Wallingford and Milford simply doesn't make sense. By the same token, what was said by or about representatives from Connecticut would be very interesting to readers of the Hartford Daily Courant.
The revision of Barnum's statement concerning the North's role in slavery is also very dramatic. To point out one example; he goes from saying "Connecticut was willing to eat her share of Southern dirt" in the article to saying "The North wanted Southern cotton and the South was ready in turn to buy from the North" in his autobiography! Needless to say, P.T. Barnum was not a supporter of slavery and was in fact a vocal advocate for African-American suffrage and rights.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on May 12, 2011 at 10:01 AM||comments ()|
One of my favorite objects in the Museum is a carbon ledger that contains letters PT Barnum wrote as a 'foreign correspondent' while traveling Europe with Tom Thumb. The ledger provides us with Barnum's handwriting, his writing style, his humor, and his mastery of story telling. These letters served as the basis of much of his autobiography but there are interesting differences. In a few of the stories, Barnum crossed out 'they' and inserted 'we' - he wrote himself into history! Ever the showman he knew what would make for entertaining stories and for good business. His autobiographs are so wonderfully informative and amusing they are a good read even today.
-Melissa Houston, Registrar