*Show Notes for Barnum’s American History Museum*
Barnum museum The Barnum Museum was arguably the wonder of the world in the 1800’s. If you watched /The Greatest Showman/ you can get the filmmaker’s idea of what the Barnum’s American Museum was like. Unfortunately, I feel like they really missed an opportunity, as wonderful as the Greatest Showman was it missed the live whale, the performing grizzly bears, and the Feejee Mermaid so step right up and be amazed we are going back to 1841 to the marvel of the world: Barnum's American Museum
*Barnum’s American Museum: The history of the museum itself*
PT. Barnum’s project before he made a name in the circus was in New York on the Corner of Broadway and Ann street.
In 1841 PT. Barnum bought Scudder's American Museum which began in 1781 and held general curiosities like: stuffed snakes, bison, and a forest scenes. If you listened to my episode on PT. Barnum you know he saw this as a jumping off point. He was also a bit sneak about how he went about getting the museum. Barnum arranged to become the manager of a competing museum called Peale’s Museum under the condition that Peale’s buys Scudder’s. He then went to Scudder’s on his own and negotiated if the deal with Peale’s museum fell through that Scudder’s would sell the museum to Barnum directly. Nice, no. But history does not exist to make us comfortable but to learn from.
The first thing he did to the 5 story building was to change The exterior into a lime lit advertisement (a 5 Story tall advertisement).
*Exhibits at Barnum’s American Museum*
The museum opened on January 1, 1842 as a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theatre, and freak show. If you want to get a small idea of what this was think The World’s Fair in one five story building. Thanks to existing playbills and advertisements here is an incomplete list of the attractions of Barnum’s American Museum
• then were scientific instruments
• Exotic Fossils
• Relics of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812
• Precious stones and coins
• Modern appliances
• Loom powered by dogs
• Watch glass blowers
• Fortune Tellers
• Rifle range
• Feejee Mermaid video tried to be a little scary if you click the link but it is a really good history. (This was a plan. If Barnum put the implausible in his museum it lead people to question if any of his exhibits were real leading to more people coming to the museum to check it out and decide for themselves. P.T. Barnum uses this tactic MANY times in his various careers from museum to politician to the circus.)
• A live Beluga whale in an Aquarium
• Native Americans who performer tradition songs and dances
• The bearded Lady,Josephine Clofullia, whose bears grew in when she was 8 years old
• Adaptations of the bible and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The Natural History part of the museum housed:
• historical paintings
• taxidermy (stuffing dead exotic animals, keep in mind zoos were not in every city this might be the only way to see a lion or elephant)
• wax figures
• and in the theatre Shakespeare and lectures.
One of my favorite stories of the museum was that when Barnum realized people lingered too long at exhibits (making it hard to keep new people coming through) he put up signs saying “This Way To The Egress”. People thinking “egress” was a new and exciting exhibit quickly followed the signs only to find out “egress” was another word for exit.
At the height of its popularity Barnum's American Museum had 15,000 visitors a day paying 25 cents a ticket. That is 15,000 people a day when the population of the United States was under 32 million. Even the Prince of Wales took time from his schedule to visit.
*What Happened to Barnum’s American Museum*
If you have been looking at the dates you might just notice in the dates that all of this takes place during a very tumultuous time in the United States, The Civil War. In November 1844 The war came to Barnum, who was a public abolitionist, when the Confederate Army of Manhattan tried but failed to burn down the museum. As a fan of history and museums I wish I could say much was learned about fire safety in the year but unfortunately The museum burned down in July 13,1865. Barnum tried again opening Barnum's New Museum September 6, 1865 but that also burned March 3, 1868.
Never to be deterred Barnum used the last tragedy to step into politics and the circus industry.
I say a million times history does not exist to make us comfortable. There is a lot about P.T.Barnum and his life that is not comfortable and does not sounds good when we look at it from our time in history. So why would I talk about him? I just had a conversation with my son about this. There are people in history who have imaginations so big they reshape our reality and what is possible. PT. Barnum is on of those people.
Who from history can you think of who’s ideas reshaped our world?
What GIANT idea do you have that you think could make a big change in the world as we know it?
Comment below and I will read my favorites in the next episode.
Thank you so much to listening to I Can’t Believe That Happened a history podcast for kids. Please hit subscribe and share the podcast with friends and teachers. If you would like to do something really nice for the podcast head over to ITunes and leave a review. I Can’t Believe That Happened is a VERY new podcast so be one of the first to write a review. Unless I get sidetracked and we all know that is a VERY big possibility next week I am starting up the history of magic! Let me know if there is anything about the history of magic and magicians you might want me to cover. Remember to head over to the website and look at the show notes. I have a ton of links so you can see the history. Thank you so much and have a great week!
Research (Warning I have CURATED the podcast to be child friendly these articles are not proceed with caution and read first)
Eric D. Lehman in Becoming Tom Thumb .
The Bowery Boys New York City History http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2008/05/new-yorks-first-natural-history-museum.html
Lost Museum Archive https://lostmuseum.cuny.edu/archive/exhibit/baby/