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The Life Of P.T. Barnum
Barnum was an extraordinary entrepreneur, an impresario, and a self-made man. He remade himself several times during his long career as a showman. The following is an excerpt from Barnum's first autobiography, published at the height of his antebellum success and fame. Barnum relates how he pulled himself out of financial danger with his purchase of the American Museum and how he achieved his first profits there by exhibiting the Fejee Mermaid and Tom Thumb. Moses Kimball of the Boston Museum was friends with Barnum and helped him obtain the Fejee Mermaid. Barnum was a master of promotion. Notice how he promoted the Fejee Mermaid. When he obtained the services of the five-year-old Charles Stratton, Barnum would use similar approaches in promoting the young man he called "General Tom Thumb."
Passing through the porter's lodge on our way out, under the impression that we had seen all that was interesting, the old porter informed us that the most curious things connected with the Castle were to be seen in his lodge. Feeling for our coin, we bade him produce his relics, and he showed us a lot of trumpery, which, he gravely informed us, belonged to that hero of antiquity, Guy, Earl of Warwick. Among these were his sword, shield, helmet, breast-plate, walking-staff and tilting-pole, each of enormous size -- the horse armor nearly large enough for an elephant, a large pot which would hold seventy gallons, called "Guy's Porridge Pot," his flesh-fork, the size of a farmer's hay-fork, his lady's stirrups, the rib of a mastodon which the porter pretended belonged to the great "Dun Cow," which, according to tradition, haunted a ditch near Coventry, and after doing injury to many persons, was slain by the valiant Guy. The sword weighed nearly 200 pounds, and the armor 400 pounds!
I told the old porter he was entitled to great credit for having concentrated more lies than I had ever before heard in so small a compass. He smiled, and evidently felt gratified by the compliment.
"I suppose," I continued, "that you have told these marvellous stories so often, that you almost believe them yourself?"
"Almost!" replied the porter, with a grin of satisfaction that showed he was "up to snuff" and had really earned two shillings.
The "Warwick races" were then coming off within half a mile of the village. We therefore went down and spent an hour with the multitude.
There was very little betting or excitement regarding the races, and we concluded to take a tour through the "penny shows," the vans of which lined one side of the course for the distance of a quarter of a mile. On applying to enter one van, which had a large pictorial sign of giantesses, white negro, Albino girls, learned pig, big snakes, etc., the keeper exclaimed, "Come, Mister, you is the man what hired Randall, the giant, for 'Merika, and you shows Tom Thumb; now can you think of paying loss than sixpence for going in here?"
The appeal was irresistible; so, satisfying his demands, we entered. Upon coming out, a whole bevy of showmen from that and neighboring vans surrounded me, and began descanting on the merits and demerits of General Tom Thumb.
"Oh," says one, "I knows two dwarfs what is better ten times as Tom Thumb."
"Yes," says another, "there's no use to talk about Tom Thumb while Melia Patton is above the ground."
"Now, I've, seen Tom Thumb," added a third, "and he is a fine little squat, but the only 'vantage he's got is he can chaff so well. He chaffs like a man; but I can learn Dick Swift in two months so that he can chaff Tom Thumb crazy."
"Never mind," added a fourth, "I've got a chap training what you none on you knows, what'll beat all the 'thumbs' on your grapplers."
"No he can't," exclaimed a fifth, "for Tom Thumb has got the name, and you all know the name's every thing. Tom Thumb could n't never shine, even in my van, 'long side of a dozen dwarfs I knows, if this Yankee hadn't bamboozled our Queen -- God bless her -- by getting him afore her half a dozen times."
"Yes, yes -- that 's the ticket," exclaimed another; "our Queen patronizes every thing foreign, and yet she would n't visit my beautiful wax-works to save the crown of Hingland."
"Your beautiful wax-works!" they all exclaimed with a hearty laugh.
"Yes, and who says they haint beautiful?" retorted the other; "they was made by the best Hitalian hartist in this country."
"They was made by Jim Caul, and showed all over the country twenty years ago," rejoined another; "and arter that they laid five years in pawn in old Moll Wiggins's cellar, covered with mould and dust."
"Well, that's a good 'un, that is!" replied the proprietor of the beautiful wax-works, with a look of disdain.
I made a move to depart, when one of the head showmen exclaimed, "Come, Mister, don't be shabby; can you think of going without standing treat all round?"
"Why should I stand treat?" I asked.
"'Cause 'taint every day you can meet such a bloody lot of jolly brother-showmen," replied Mr. Wax-works.
I handed out a crown, and left I them to drink bad luck to the "foreign vagabonds what would bamboozle their Queen with inferior dwarfs, possessing no advantage over the natyves but the power of chaffing."
While in the showmen's vans seeking for acquisitions to my Museum in America, I was struck with the tall appearance of a couple of females who exhibited as the "Canadian giantesses, each seven feet in height." Suspecting that a cheat was hidden under their unfashionably long dresses, which reached to the floor and thus rendered their feet invisible, I attempted to solve the mystery by raising a foot or two of the superfluous covering. The strapping young lady, not relishing such liberties from a stranger, laid me flat upon the floor with a blow from her brawny hand. I was on my feet again in tolerably quick time, but not until I had discovered that she stood upon a pedestal at least eighteen inches high.