Monday April 24th, 2017
Nothing is more indicative of the rule of TP45 and his first 100 daze than P.T. Barnum’s “there’s a sucker born every minute”, except P.T. Barnum didn’t actually say it. It was said about him and one of his numerous scams. False news. P.T. Barnum did say “Many people are gullible and we can expect that to continue”.
Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in 1805 in Connecticut. From an early age he was a huckster, hustler and self proclaimed Prince of Humbugs. In 1835 his first major hoax was that a slave he purchased was the 161 year old blind nurse of George Washington. Her name was Joice Heth. When interest started to fall off Barnum spread the rumour that she was a 19th century robot controlled by a ventriloquist. When she died in 1836 people paid $0.50 per person to sit in on her autopsy… the doctor attending revealed she was likely around 80 years old.
P.T. didn’t get into the circus business until he was into his 60’s. Prior to that he was the king of freaks, freak shows and hoaxes. Some of his famous ‘exhibits’ were General Tom Thumb and the FeJee Mermaid. General Tom Thumb was a midget child and the FeJee Mermaid was the upper half of a Monkey sewn to the lower half of a fish.
It wasn’t until 1881 that P.T. Barnum partnered with James Bailey and they went on to make fortunes with the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. He purchased the humungous, nay huge African elephant ‘Jumbo’. Jumbo was his major attraction for many years. There is a Canadian connection to P.T. Barnum and Jumbo, the gargantuan pachyderm was hit by a freight train in St. Thomas Ontario. After Jumbo’s tragic death P.T. continued to make money by having the elephant stuffed and people could pay to see a ‘dead’ elephant.
Shortly after the Brooklyn bridge opened there was a rumour that it wasn’t structurally sound and people avoided using the bridge. The city eventually paid P.T. $5,000 to have his elephants and camels parade over the bridge. This demonstrated the integrity of the bridge but more importantly to P.T. it advertised his circus and filled his pockets.
He wrote his autobiography which was released in 1854 and continued to update it annually until his death. It is reported that he even instructed his widow to write an updated version in the year following his death. The book sold over a million copies throughout its run.