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Sunday, 4 March 2012

P. T. Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810 – 1891) was a publisher when he became intrigued by Joice Heth, a blind and almost completely paralyzed slave woman, who claimed to be George Washington's nurse and was reputed to be 161 years old. He successfully promoted her in the late 1830s.

Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum 

P. T. Barnum purchased Scudder's American Museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City in 1841 to 1865. He converted It into a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show museum, which offered both strange and educational attractions. It burned to the ground in 1865. At its peak, the museum had as many as 15,000 visitors a day,  but on July 13, 1865 the building burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen.

Barnum's American Museum had crowds that would linger inside too long. To make way for new paying guests, signs saying "This Way to the Egress" were put up. Not knowing Egress was another word for Exit, people followed the signs to what they assumed was a fascinating exhibit but ended up outside.

The Lecture Room of Barnum's American Museum, 1853

In 1850 Barnum brought Jenny Lind, the Swedish singer, to America, paying her an unprecedented $1,000 a night for 150 nights.

In 1871 he established the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, which included the midget ‘Tom Thumb’, a circus, a menagerie, and an exhibition of ‘freaks’, conveyed in 100 railway carriages.

He also brought Jumbo the Elephant and the Siamese twins Chang and Eng to an American public eager for spectacle.


Barnus as been quoted in history as saying "There's a sucker born every minute." However a banker named David Hannum coined the phrase, and there is no record of Barnum saying this.

A liberal Republican, Barnum served in the Connecticut legislature (1865–9) and as mayor of Bridgeport (1875–6).

In his later career as a politician, Barnum sponsored a law banning contraception in Connecticut that remained in effect until 1965.

Barnum suffered a stroke in 1890 during a performance. He quietly passed away at 6:22 pm at Marina, his residence in Bridgeport, Connecticut on April 7, 1891.

Barnum was buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery, Bridgeport, Connecticut, a cemetery he designed.

The Barnum Effect is a common psychological phenomenon where people give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that seem tailored to them but are, in fact, vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. This effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some paranormal beliefs and practices as astrology and fortune telling, This term was coined in 1956 by American psychologist Paul Meehl in his essay Wanted — A Good Cookbook. He relates the vague personality descriptions used in certain "pseudo-successful" psychological tests to those given by P. T. Barnum. 

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