Barnum Stories

The white whales or the monstrous couple

At his beginning, Barnum traveled extensively across the country and even the world to search for curiosities. One day he  traveled up the St. Lawrence to buy two white whales, sent them 700 miles back to his museum in New York by train, and put them in a tank of fresh water. Needless to say, they died within a few days. He then built a square 7m tank, piped sea water into it and brought in another pair of white whales but they promptly died as well. Not one to surrender to adversity, Barnum acquired yet another two replacements which this time lived long enough to be displayed to the public later, his marine collection was augmented with sharks and porpoises.

The Fejee Mermaid

In yet another blatant fraud, Barnum displayed a “Fejee Mermaid” , a shriveled monster a meter long ingeniously constructed from a fish’s body tacked to the head of a monkey. Barnum started the rumor by having one of his associate posed before the press as an expert from the Lyceum of Natural History in London. He then managed to create such avid curiosity with the public that when the mermaid arrived in New York, his Museum was mobbed by the crowds, his revenue from ticket sales more than doubling.

The Sacred White Elephant of the Orient

Barnum thought he had outpaced his arch-rival Adam Forepaugh by getting a very rare albino elephant from Burma for $75,000. But when he received the animal, it was painted in red and blue. A cunning Forepaugh pointed out his adversary’s empty promises to the public and promptly presented to them a real, brilliant white elephant, one that had been given a liberal coat of whitewash.

The Cardiff Giant

In the later story, Barnum become associated with the famous quote “There’s a sucker born every minute” whereas it was said by one of his unhappy competitor.  In 1869,  George Hull and his cousin, William Newell, managed to draw the attention of the public and the press about a huge giant turned to stone that was accidentally unburried on their land by workers. In reality, it was a carved statue that has been placed and remained one year underground before the hoax was pulled off. The giant was carved as if it had died in great pain, and the final result was an eerie figure, slightly twisted in apparent agony, with his right hand clutching his stomach. All of the details were there; toenails, fingernails, nostrils, sex organs and so forth. Even a needlepoint mallet was used to add authentic-looking skin pores. When the carving was done, sulfuric acid and ink were used to make the figure look aged.

The area was already renowned for its million year-old fossil bones. Thousands came every day from Syracuse to the Newell farm. Newell charged 50 cents to see the giant. Among the visitors were clergymen, college professors and distinguished scientists. Experts were supporting two theories; one side claimed it was a true fossilized human giant and the other side pronounced it an authentic ancient statue. No one suspected that it was a fake. Hull then sold two-thirds of the interest in the giant for $30,000 to a syndicate that moved the giant to an exhibition hall in Syracuse and raised the admission price to a dollar a head. It soon became the major attraction of the country bringing up to 3,000 people a day. When his offer of $50,000 was turned down, instead of giving up or upping his offer, Barnum hired a crew of workers and had quickly carved a giant of his own.

Then Barnum unveiled his giant and proclaimed that Hannum had sold him the original giant and was now displaying a fake. Many newspapers carried Barnum’s version and thousands of people flocked to see Barnum’s giant. During one interview, David Hannum, the head of the syndicate said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”, referring to the thousands of “fools” that paid money to see Barnum’s fake and not his authentic giant. Hannum’s name was lost to history while Barnum was left with the misplaced quote. Eventually Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum but Hull confessed the whole hoax and Barnum could not then be sued for telling the truth as it happened that both giants were fake !.

Jumbo The Greatest Elephant

In 1882 Barnum and his new partner James Anthony Bailey bought “the world’s largest elephant” from London Zoo for $10,000. After three years on the road, the “greatest elephant the civilised world had ever seen” perished during a derailment of circus railway wagons in Ontario, Canada. Barnum and Bailey, never lacking bad taste and cupidity, promptly bought Jumbo’s “widow”, Alice, from London Zoo and exhibited her beside the skeleton and stuffed hide of Jumbo. It must be noticed that Bailey when independent has used the same scam in Australia after having lost his giraffe through negligence during the transport by sea.