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Landon Ward
Landon Ward

The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader: A Treasure Trove of Humor, Wisdom, and Wonder


If you are looking for an entertaining, inspiring, and enlightening read, look no further than The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader. This book is a collection of writings by and about one of the most famous and influential showmen in history, Phineas Taylor Barnum.


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Barnum was a man of many talents and achievements, who rose from humble beginnings to become a millionaire, a philanthropist, a politician, an author, and a publisher. He was also the mastermind behind some of the most spectacular and sensational attractions ever seen, such as the American Museum, the Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Jenny Lind Tour, the Tom Thumb Phenomenon, and the Fiji Mermaid.

In this book, you will find excerpts from Barnum's autobiography, his books on humbugs and money-getting, his articles on various topics, his speeches on temperance and abolition, his letters to friends and family, his advertisements and posters, his reviews and testimonials, and his obituaries and tributes.

You will also find essays by contemporary writers who knew or admired Barnum, such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and many others.

By reading this book, you will not only learn about the life and work of P. T. Barnum, but also about the culture and society of his time, the history and evolution of entertainment, the psychology and sociology of human curiosity, and the art and science of persuasion and publicity.

This book is nothing else like it in the universe, as Barnum himself would say. It is a colossal, comprehensive, and captivating reader that will keep you hooked from the first page to the last. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy today and enter the world of P. T. Barnum, the greatest showman on earth!

The Early Life and Career of P. T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum was born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut, to a poor family of farmers and tailors. He was the oldest of six children and had to work hard from an early age to help support his family. He showed a knack for business and a taste for adventure, as he sold snacks and lottery tickets, traded horses and cattle, ran a general store and a tavern, and published a weekly newspaper.

He also developed a flair for publicity and a penchant for hoaxes, as he staged fake lotteries, advertised nonexistent attractions, and promoted dubious curiosities. One of his first and most notorious hoaxes was Joice Heth, an elderly Black woman whom he claimed was the 161-year-old nurse of George Washington. He exhibited her in various cities and charged admission to see her. When she died in 1836, he even arranged a public autopsy to prove his claim.

In 1834, Barnum moved to New York City with his wife Charity and their four daughters. He soon found his vocation as a showman when he bought Scudder's American Museum in 1841. He renamed it after himself and transformed it into a carnival of wonders, featuring live animals, wax figures, historical relics, scientific instruments, optical illusions, theatrical performances, beauty contests, and human oddities.

Some of his most famous exhibits included General Tom Thumb, a dwarf who charmed audiences with his wit and costumes; Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins who married two sisters and fathered 21 children; Josephine Clofullia, the bearded lady who gave birth to a hairy baby; and the Feejee Mermaid, a grotesque creature made from the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish.

Barnum's museum was a huge success, attracting millions of visitors from all walks of life. It was also a source of controversy, as critics accused him of exploiting his performers, deceiving his customers, and corrupting public morals. Barnum defended himself by arguing that he was providing harmless amusement and education for the masses. He also coined the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute" to describe the gullibility of his patrons.

The Greatest Showman on Earth

Barnum's museum was not enough to satisfy his ambition and curiosity. He wanted to expand his horizons and reach new audiences. He decided to enter the circus business, which was then dominated by European companies. He partnered with James A. Bailey, a veteran circus manager who had acquired several exotic animals from Africa.

In 1871, they launched their first show under the name "P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome". It was a colossal spectacle that combined elements from Barnum's museum with acrobats, clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, horse riders, lion tamers, elephant trainers, and other performers.

and animal rights activists. Barnum and Bailey had to constantly innovate and adapt to keep their show fresh and exciting.

In 1881, they merged their show with another circus owned by the Ringling brothers, creating the "Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth". It was a three-ring circus that could accommodate up to 10,000 spectators and featured over 1,000 performers and animals. It was also the first circus to perform in Europe, where it toured for five years and impressed royalty and commoners alike.

Barnum was the mastermind behind the marketing and publicity of his circus. He used catchy slogans, colorful posters, sensational stories, and elaborate parades to attract attention and generate hype. He also employed agents and spies to scout for new talent and to sabotage his competitors. He spared no expense or effort to make his show the best and the biggest in the world.

The Jenny Lind Tour

One of Barnum's most daring and profitable ventures was the American tour of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who was famous in Europe but unknown in America. Barnum offered her an unprecedented $1,000 a night for 150 nights, plus expenses and a share of the profits. He also agreed to pay her in advance, even before he had heard her sing.

Barnum then launched a massive campaign to create a frenzy of anticipation and curiosity for Lind's arrival. He dubbed her "the Swedish Nightingale" and praised her voice, beauty, and character. He published biographies, portraits, and testimonials of her. He hired reporters, poets, and musicians to write favorable articles and songs about her. He even organized a contest to write the best lyrics for one of her arias.

When Lind arrived in New York in 1850, she was greeted by a crowd of over 30,000 people who cheered and waved flags. She gave her first concert at Castle Garden, a former fort turned into an entertainment venue. She sang with such grace and skill that she won over the audience and the critics. She also donated most of her earnings to various charities, earning the admiration and respect of the public.

The tour was a huge success, breaking box office records and making Barnum a fortune. It also boosted Lind's fame and career, as well as the popularity of opera in America. It was one of Barnum's most brilliant and benevolent schemes.

The Tom Thumb Phenomenon

Another of Barnum's most famous discoveries was Charles Stratton, a boy who suffered from a growth disorder that prevented him from growing taller than 40 inches. Barnum met him when he was four years old and offered him a contract to perform in his museum. He gave him the stage name "General Tom Thumb" and claimed he was 11 years old.

Barnum trained him to sing, dance, act, imitate famous people, and crack jokes. He dressed him in various costumes, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Cupid, and a Scottish Highlander. He also taught him how to smoke cigars, drink wine, and flirt with ladies.

Tom Thumb became an instant sensation, captivating audiences with his charm and talent. He toured with Barnum across America and Europe, where he performed for Queen Victoria and other dignitaries. He also became friends with other celebrities, such as Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln.

Tom Thumb grew up to be a wealthy and successful entertainer. He married another dwarf performer named Lavinia Warren in 1863. Their wedding was a lavish affair that attracted thousands of guests and reporters. They had two children, one of whom died at birth. They continued to perform together until their deaths in 1883 and 1919 respectively.

The Fiji Mermaid and Other Curiosities

Barnum was always on the lookout for new and unusual attractions to add to his museum and circus. He often resorted to fabrication and exaggeration to create or enhance his exhibits. One of his most notorious hoaxes was the Fiji Mermaid, which he claimed was a real mermaid caught near the Fiji Islands.

In reality, it was a grotesque creature made from the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish. It was sewn together by Japanese fishermen who sold it to Dutch merchants who sold it to an American sea captain who sold it to Barnum. Barnum paid $12,000 for it and hired an accomplice to pose as a naturalist who authenticated it.

Barnum then launched a massive publicity campaign to generate interest and curiosity for the mermaid. He published pamphlets, posters, and newspaper articles that described it in detail. He also hired agents to spread rumors and testimonials about it. He even created a fake feud with another showman who claimed to have a rival mermaid.

The mermaid was displayed in a dark room with a curtain and a guard. Only a few people were allowed to see it at a time, and they had to pay an extra fee. The mermaid was so hideous and shocking that many people screamed or fainted when they saw it. Some believed it was real, while others denounced it as a fraud. Either way, it drew huge crowds and made Barnum a lot of money.

Barnum had many other curiosities in his museum and circus, such as the Woolly Horse, the What Is It?, the Cardiff Giant, the Bearded Lady, the Tattooed Man, the Albino Family, the Dog-Faced Boy, the Two-Headed Calf, and the Four-Legged Girl. Some of them were genuine, while others were fake or enhanced. Barnum did not care much about the truth or the ethics of his exhibits, as long as they entertained and amused his customers.

The Philanthropist and Politician

Barnum was not only a showman, but also a philanthropist and a politician. He used his wealth and fame to support various causes and run for office. He believed that he had a social responsibility to improve the world and help others.

The Bridgeport Hospital

One of Barnum's most notable contributions was the founding of the Bridgeport Hospital in 1878. He was inspired by his own experience of being injured in a train accident in 1864 and being treated in a makeshift hospital. He realized that his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, needed a proper hospital to care for its growing population.

He donated $100,000 of his own money and raised another $100,000 from other donors to build the hospital. He also donated land, equipment, furniture, books, and art for the hospital. He became the first president of the hospital and served in that position until his death in 1891.

The hospital was opened in 1884 with 30 beds and 12 staff members. It was the first hospital in Bridgeport and one of the first in Connecticut. It offered free or low-cost medical care to anyone who needed it, regardless of their race, religion, or social status. It also provided training and education for nurses and doctors.

The Thirteenth Amendment

Barnum was also a supporter of the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. He was a member of the Republican Party, which was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery. He voted for Abraham Lincoln in the presidential elections of 1860 and 1864. He also donated money and supplies to the Union Army during the Civil War.

In 1865, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives as a representative of Fairfield. He served for two terms and was involved in several legislative issues. One of his most important roles was to speak in favor of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

He delivered a powerful speech on January 11, 1865, in which he said: "A human soul, 'that God has created and Christ died for,' is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentotit is still an immortal spirit". He argued that slavery was a moral evil and a national disgrace that had to be ended once and for all.

He also appealed to the economic and political interests of his fellow legislators, saying that slavery was a hindrance to the progress and prosperity of the country and that its abolition would strengthen the Union and secure its future. He urged them to vote for the amendment and join the "glorious company of abolition nations".

The amendment was ratified by Connecticut on January 13, 1865, and by enough states to become part of the Constitution on December 6, 1865. It was a historic milestone in the struggle for human rights and dignity in America. Barnum was proud to have been part of it.

The Temperance Movement

Barnum was also an advocate of the temperance movement, which aimed to reduce or eliminate the consumption of alcohol. He had witnessed the harmful effects of alcohol abuse on his father, who died at age 48 from liver disease. He had also seen how alcohol ruined the lives and careers of many of his performers and friends.

He himself had been a moderate drinker until 1847, when he signed a pledge to abstain from all intoxicating beverages. He became a member of the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal organization that promoted sobriety and morality. He also joined the Washingtonian movement, which used personal testimonies and moral persuasion to convince people to quit drinking.

He became a popular temperance speaker who traveled across the country and abroad to deliver lectures on the evils of alcohol and the benefits of abstinence. He used his skills as a showman and a humorist to captivate and educate his audiences. He also used his influence as a publisher and an author to spread his message through books, pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines.

He wrote several works on temperance, such as The Drunkard's Looking-Glass (1849), The Liquor Traffic: Its Source and Its Remedy (1851), The Liquor Traffic: A Curse to Labor (1872), The Liquor Traffic: A Curse to Capital (1873), The Liquor Traffic: A Curse to Religion (1874), and The Liquor Traffic: A Curse to Humanity (1875).

He also supported various legal measures to regulate or prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol, such as local option laws, prohibition laws, and constitutional amendments. He believed that temperance was not only a personal choice but also a social duty that would improve the health, happiness, and morality of individuals and society.

The Author and Publisher

Barnum was not only a philanthropist and a politician but also an author and a publisher. He wrote and published several books and articles on his life and views. He used his writings as a way to share his experiences, opinions, advice, and wisdom with his readers. He also used them as a way to promote himself and his enterprises.

The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself

One of Barnum's most famous works was his autobiography, which he titled The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself. He first published it in 1855 and revised it several times until his death in 1891. It was one of the best-selling books of its time and has been translated into many languages and reprinted in many editions.

The autobiography is a fascinating and entertaining account of Barnum's life and career, from his childhood in Connecticut to his success as a showman in New York and Europe. It is full of anecdotes, stories, jokes, and insights that reveal Barnum's personality, character, and philosophy. It is also full of exaggerations, embellishments, and omissions that reflect Barnum's penchant for publicity and self-promotion.

The autobiography is not only a memoir but also a manual for aspiring entrepreneurs and entertainers. It offers practical tips and lessons on how to start and run a business, how to attract and please customers, how to advertise and publicize, how to deal with competitors and critics, how to overcome challenges and failures, and how to achieve success and happiness.

The autobiography is also a testament to Barnum's spirit and vision. It shows his passion for entertainment and education, his curiosity and creativity, his optimism and perseverance, his generosity and philanthropy, his patriotism and progressivism, and his humor and humanity. It is a classic of American literature that captures the essence of the American dream.

The Humbugs of the World

Another of Barnum's famous works was his book on humbugs, which he titled The Humbugs of the World. He published it in 1865 as a sequel to his autobiography. It was a humorous and informative expose of various frauds and deceptions that he had encountered or heard of in his travels and research.

and society. It exposes the methods and motives of the humbugs and the gullibility and credulity of their victims. It also offers advice and warnings on how to avoid being duped and how to detect and expose humbugs.

The book is not only an entertaining and enlightening read but also a self-referential and self-critical work. Barnum admits that he himself was a humbug in some respects, as he had used deception and exaggeration to create or enhance some of his attractions. He also acknowledges that he was a victim of humbugs in other respects, as he had been fooled or cheated by some of his associates or rivals.

The book is also a reflection of Barnum's philosophy and morality. He distinguishes between harmless and harmful humbugs, between amusing and annoying humbugs, between innocent and malicious humbugs. He argues that humbugs are inevitable and universal, as they are part of human nature and human history. He also suggests that humbugs are beneficial and useful, as they stimulate curiosity, imagination, and innovation.

The book is a witty and wise exploration of the art and science of humbuggery, as practiced by Barnum himself and by others. It is a valuable source of information and inspiration for anyone who wants to learn more about the world of wonders and illusions.

The Art of Money-Getting

Another of Barnum's famous works was his lecture on money-getting, which he titled The Art of Money-Getting. He first delivered it in 1858 at the Cooper Institute in New York City. He then repeated it in various cities across America and Europe. He also published it as a book in 1880. It was a popular and influential work that sold over 100,000 copies.

The lecture is a practical and motivational guide on how to achieve financial success and happiness. It offers 20 golden rules or principles that Barnum claims to have followed in his own life and career. They are:

  • Don't mistake your vocation

  • Select the right location

  • Avoid debt

  • Persevere

  • Whatever you do, do it with all your might

  • Depend upon your own personal exertions

  • Use the best tools

  • Don't get above your business

  • Learn something useful

  • Let hope predominate but be not too visionary

  • Do not scatter your powers

  • Be systematic

  • Read the newspapers

Beware of \"outside operations\


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