“If that be ‘humbug,’ gentlemen, make the most of it.”

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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
There was nary a mention of the war on October 7, 1861, as the inimitable P. T. Barnum announced the opening of the “fall and winter dramatic season” at his American Museum in New York City:

Yesterday afternoon, according to the bills, was the "opening of the Fall and Winter dramatic season, with a full company, and all the accessories for a triumphant dramatic campaign." A large attendance of Mr. Barnum’s lieges gave cheeriness to the occasion, and the production of a dramatic version of Mr. Charles Dickens’ new novel, Great Expectations, rendered it important to the more critical. Previous to the play, Mr. Barnum addressed the audience in the following poetical vein:

"That Prince of Humbugs, BARNUM," so it appears
Some folks have designated me for several years --
Well, I don’t murmur; indeed, when they embellish it,
To tell the truth, my friends, I rather relish it,
Since your true humbug’s he, who, as a "host,"
For the least money entertains you most.

In this sense I’m a "humbug," I succumb!
Who, as a "General" thing, brought out Tom Thumb?
Who introduced (you can’t say there I sinned)
The Swedish Nightingale, sweet Jenny Lind?
Who brought you living whales from Labrador?
The HIPPOPOTAMUS, From Nilus shore!

The BEARDED LADY with her (h)"airs and graces,"
The AZTEC CHILDREN, with their normal faces!
The TWINS OF SIAM, rarest of dualities --
Two ever separate ne’er apart realities
The FAMILY OF ALBINOS; the Giraffe,
The famous BABY SHOW that made you laugh,
The HAPPY FAMILY -- cats, rats, doves, hawks --harmonious,
Their voices blend in tones euphonious.

The great SEA LION, from Pacific’s Coast --
"The Monarch of the Ocean" -- not empty boast.
Old ADAMS’ BEARS, cutest of brute performers,
In modern "peace meetings" models for reformers.
That living miracle -- the LIGHTNING CALCULATOR,
Whose figures confound HERRMANN, the "Prestidigitator."

The GRAND AQUARIA, an official story
Of life beneath the waves in all its glory.
The curious "WHAT IS IT," which you thought spunky,
Won’t call a man, and cannot call a monkey.
These things, and many more time forbids to state,
I first introduced, if I did not originate.

The "World’s Seven Wonders," pooh! let them invite you?
Here "SEVEN" SALOONS all wonder-FULL delight you.
To call this "humbug" admits of no defence,
For all is shown for five and twenty cents.
And now, good friends -- to use less rhyme than reason --
To-day reopens our dramatic season.

Therefore I welcome you! And though we’re certain
To raise "GREAT EXPECTATIONS" with the curtain,
And "play the DICKENS" afternoon and nightly,
I bid you welcome none the less politely.
To these my "quarters," merry and reliable,
That yours are always welcome undeniable;
And, PATRICK HENRY-like, I say I boast of it,
If that be "humbug," gentlemen, "make the most of it."
Descending, not unwillingly from Pegasus, Mr. Barnum addressed a few remarks to his audience in plain prose. The text was simple enough. He congratulated his audience on having Barnum, and felicitated himself on having an audience. He condoled with himself for an unfortunate clock speculation, but felt pleased that the world had thereby snatched from the clockmaker what was meant for mankind. Much that was said was to the point, and although egotistical not improper on such an occasion. Any man who gives as much for twenty-five cents as Mr. Barnum gives may be permitted a slight rein to his fancy. Like an experienced talker he interspersed his speech with several anecdotes of a political and humorous character, and introduced a novel effect. The novel effect referred to consisted in the production of a black cat, which Mr. Barnum averred had been purchased at a cost of twenty-five dollars, from a countryman who declared that it was cherry colored. When the cat had been paid for the countryman admitted that its color was that of the black cherry, whereupon Mr. Barnum found himself incontinently sold. Inasmuch as he regarded it as a good joke, the audience could not in decency do otherwise.
[New York Times, October 9, 1861]


John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
Barnum may have been proud of his humbug, and the public seemed to love him for it. They flocked to his exhibitions, each with his 25 cents in hand, anxious to be amazed and entertained at his extravagant mixture of genuine marvels of nature, and often very crude hoaxes, interspersed with stage presentations ranging from the lowest sideshow “freaks” to serious dramatic and musical performances of true merit.

But, not everyone was by any means enchanted with the great showman’s offerings. On February 9, 1863, the following letter appeared in the New York Herald, inspired by the upcoming marriage of “General” Tom Thumb and his equally diminutive lady, Lavinia Warren.

barnum - Edited.jpg



JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
There's a thread on Lavinia, apparently a lovely person, genuinely warm, kind, charming and generous. Remember being smitten. Her sister was afflicted, too, must have been difficult for them but Lavinia seems to have weathered her fame with great grace.


" Five Mayflower passengers graced her forbearers. Her form of dwarfism, proportional, tends to be a result when a gazillion generations continually marry into the same, darn families. Who did that more than the Warren/Hopkins/Dotys/Cookes/Billingtons... the Mayflower gang? A late French infusion was well, too late. Both Mercy Lavinia and her sister Minnie ( Huldah Pierce.... ) were born with deeply entrenched, American royalty DNA. "

From the thread.
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