Every Single Human Attraction From P.T. Barnum’s Freak Show
P.T. Barnum started promoting the human novelties he called “freaks” in his traveling show in 1835 and he opened his larger freak show at the American Museum in Manhattan in 1841. After a fire in 1868, Barnum founded P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus. In 1881, the Circus came under the joint management and ownership of Barnum, James Bailey, and James Hutchinson and in 1887, Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show On Earth was formed.
Barnum died in 1891 and the Circus was acquired by the Ringling Brothers in 1907, a venture that led to the formation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Throughout all of these changes one thing remained consistent – the presentation of human attractions or freaks. From the FeeJee Mermaid to General Tom Thumb to Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, Barnum presented intriguing individuals with unique bodies and minds as wild and exotic marvels.
Many of the sideshow performers became quite famous and wealthy, others got by eking out a living while trying to find a home. Barnum’s exploitation of his so-called freaks is not without criticism and his contribution to the imperial culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is clear, but the lives of the freaks themselves make for some fascinating tales.