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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."
THE GREAT MODEL OF NIAGARA FALLS, WITH REAL WATER!
A single barrel of water answered the purpose of this model for an entire season; for the falls flowed into a reservoir behind the scenes, and the water was continually re-supplied to the cataract by means of a small pump.
Many visitors who could not afford to travel to Niagara, were doubtless induced to visit the "model with real water," and if they found it rather "small potatoes," they had the whole Museum to fall back upon for 25 cents, and no fault was found.
One day I was peremptorily summoned to appear before the Board of Croton Water Commissioners the next morning at ten o'clock. I was punctual.
"Sir," said the President, "you pay only $25 per annum for the Croton water at the Museum. That is simply intended to supply the ordinary purposes of your establishment. We cannot furnish water for your Niagara Falls without large extra compensation."
Begging "his honor" not to believe all he read in the papers, nor to be too literal in the interpretation of my large show bills, I explained the operation of the great cataract, and offered to pay a dollar a drop for all the water I used for Niagara Falls exceeding one barrel per month, provided my pump continued in good order! I was permitted to retire, amid a hearty burst of laughter from the Commissioners, in which his honor the President condescended to join.
On one occasion, Louis Gaylord Clark, Esq., the witty and popular editor of the "Knickerbocker," called to view my Museum. I had never had the pleasure of seeing him before, and he introduced himself. I was extremely anxious that my establishment should receive a "first-rate notice" in his popular magazine, and therefore accompanied him through the entire Museum, taking especial pains to point out all objects of interest. We passed the entrance of the hall containing Niagara Falls just as the visitors had entered it from the performances in the Lecture Room, and hearing the pump at work, I was aware that the great cataract was at that moment in full operation.
I desired to avoid that exhibition, feeling confident that if Mr. Clark should see the model Niagara, he would be so much disgusted with the entire show that he would "blow it up" in his "Knickerbocker," or (what I always consider much the worse for me) pass it by in silent contempt. Seeing him approach the entrance, I endeavored to call his attention to some object of interest in the other hall, but I was too late. He had noticed a concourse of visitors in the "Falls Room," and his curiosity to know what was going on was excited.
"Hold on, Barnum," said Clark; "let us see what you have here."
"It is only a model of Niagara Falls," I replied.
"Oh, ah, yes, yes, I remember now. I have noticed your advertisements and splendid posters announcing Niagara Falls with real water. I have some curiosity to see the cataract in operation," said Clark, at the same time mounting upon a chair in order to obtain a full view over the heads of the visitors.
I felt considerably sheepish as I saw this movement, and listened to the working of the old pump, whose creakings seemed to me to be worse than ever. I held my breath, expecting to hear the sagacious editor pronounce this the silliest humbug that he ever saw. I was presently, however, as much surprised as delighted to hear him say:
"Well, Barnum, I declare that is quite a new idea. I never saw the like before."
I revived in a moment; and thinking that if Louis Gaylord Clark could see any thing attractive in the old model, he must be particularly green, I determined to do all in my power to assist his verdancy. "Yes," I replied, "it is quite a new idea."
"I declare I never saw any thing of the kind before in all my life," exclaimed Clark with much enthusiasm.
"I flatter myself it is, in point of originality and ingenuity, considerably ahead of any invention of modern times," I replied with a feeling of exultation, as I saw that I had caught the great critic, and was sure of a puff of the best sort.
"Original!" exclaimed the editor. "Yes, it is certainly original. I never dreamed of such a thing; I never saw any thing of the kind before since I was born and I hope with all my heart I never shall again!"
It is needless to say that I was completely taken in, and felt that any ordinary keyhole was considerably larger than would be necessary for me to crawl through.
We then passed to the upper stories of the Museum, and finally to the roof, where I had advertised an "aerial garden," which consisted of two tubs, each containing a stunted and faded cedar, and ten or twelve pots of wilted flowers, backed up by a dozen small tables and a few chairs for the accommodation of such partakers of ice-cream as could appreciate the beauties of ever-verdant nature, as shown forth in the tubs and pots aforesaid.
The "Knickerbocker" appeared, and I felt happy to see that while it spoke of the assiduity in business manifested by the new proprietor of the Museum, and a prognostication that he would soon render his establishment highly popular, the editor had kindly refrained from making any allusion to "THE CATARACT OF NIAGARA WITH REAL WATER!"