1 Jan:
Inside Barnum’s Museum

Happy New Year! Our first episode of 2024 recalls Today In History in 1842 – the day P.T. Barnum opened his ‘American Museum’ in New York, replete with a flea circus, ‘Siamese’ twins, and a ‘mermaid’ skeleton.

The ‘museum’ merged authentic specimens with audacious hoaxes, blurring the line between reality and fiction, exploiting many of its star performers, and bewitching the public. It followed on from the ‘Greatest Showman’s earlier triumph: exhibiting an elderly enslaved woman, Joyce Heth, who claimed to be 161 years old and George Washington’s nurse. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider how Barnum’s dubious morality squared with his desire to pursue respectability; discover what happened to his captive whales when the building caught fire; and reveal which exhibit Barnum brought before Queen Victoria…

Further Reading: 

• ‘Circus sensation: PT Barnum’s greatest wheezes’ (History Extra, 2017): https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/circus-sensation-pt-barnums-greatest-wheezes/

• ‘150 Years Ago, a Fire in P.T. Barnum’s Museum Boiled Two Whales Alive’ (Smithsonian Magazine, 2015): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/pt-barnums-bizarre-museum-burned-ground-1865-180955955/

• ‘The Dark Side of P.T. Barnum’ (BuzzFeed, 2022):