Sunday, July 4, 2010

Famous Birthday - July 5 - P.T. Barnum

If you have been to see a circus performance, chances are you saw a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Do you know who started that show? It was a man known as Phineas Taylor Barnum, born on July 5, 1810. It was a time before the Civil War. There were no cars, television, radio or any of the other modern forms of entertainment we enjoy today. Sideshows, carnival shows etc were very popular back then. These consisted of the usual suspects such as  the ubiquitous bearded ladies, contortionists, snake wranglers etc. Little people were quite popular next to individuals of very large stature. Also people with birth defects such as microcephalics and macrocephalics. Unfortunately in those days people with such defects had very little say in how their relatives farmed them out. Life was hard and people who ran these sideshows weren’t exactly known for their scruples. The other much loved spectacle one could enjoy at these shows were exhibits of curiosities.  Some were real but many were fake. The Fiji Mermaid is a famous example. P.T. Barnum was quite unapologetic about that. He claimed that he did so not because he wanted to deceive the public but because he felt that this was great advertising and brought people to the show. Of course there also were singers, and performers of small plays, there were acrobats, clowns, dancing bears etc. Barnum was the man who did this better and grander than anyone else. He wasn’t above using elaborate hoaxes to bring attention to his show. But he didn’t start of that way. He started his career as a small business owner in his early twenties and then in the mid 1830's moved to New York City where he went into the entertainment business. In the mid 1860's Barnum embarked on a brief political career. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution over slavery and African-American suffrage, Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, "A human soul is not to be trifled with. It may inhabit the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hotentot - it is still an immortal spirit! (From Wikipedia). After an exciting life filled with adventure, controversy and success Barnum died in his sleep at home on April 7, 1891. You can read a lot more in detail about PT Barnum and his amazing life on Wikipedia and other sites on the Internet. Please make sure to have your parents’ permission before you do so.

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