“Mutual Admiration”

April 15, 1882

Thomas Nast

“Mutual Admiration”

Arts and Entertainment;

Barnum, P. T.;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Barnum to Jumbo. "You are a humbug after my own heart. You have even beat me in advertising."

This Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast celebrates showman P. T. Barnum's purchase of Jumbo the elephant from a London Zoo as mutually beneficial to man and beast.

Phineas Taylor ("P. T.") Barnum was an audacious circus pioneer and show-business impresario.  He began his entertainment career in the 1830s by showcasing Joice Heth, who claimed to be the 161-year-old nurse of George Washington.  He briefly operated a small circus until it went bankrupt.  In 1841, he opened Barnum's American Museum in New York, which is considered to be the nation's first public museum of real importance.

Barnum attracted customers by using various methods of creative advertising, such as hiring a man to lay a path of stray bricks for inquisitive folks to follow to his museum.  His formula for financial success was to spend great sums of money to acquire an ever-changing display of strange exhibits for which the public would eagerly pay a small amount to see again and again.  Some of his better known humbugs included the Feejee Mermaid—bits of dried skin, hair, and scales passed off as a preserved sea nymph—and the Woolly Horse—a real horse with curly hair. Publicized as a horse "with his head where his tail should be," the animal was merely reversed in its stall.

In 1842, Barnum met Charles Stratton, a ten-year-old boy who was only two-feet tall. Barnum re-christened him "General Tom Thumb" and paid him to entertain the public by singing, dancing, and chatting. Quickly becoming popular in America, General Thumb and Barnum toured England, where the dwarf enchanted Queen Victoria and the Baroness Rothschild.  

In 1850 Barnum mortgaged everything he owned to bring soprano Jenny Lind to America. His ingenious advance work generated so much anticipation for the Swedish Nightingale that 20,000 people greeted her arrival in New York. Jenny Lind memorabilia proliferated, from gloves and bonnets to furniture and pianos. The sensational 93-concert tour is credited with making it desirable for principal European musicians to perform in the United States. 

In April 1871, Barnum premiered his traveling circus, soon known as "P. T. Barnum’s New and Greatest Show on Earth."  It became the first two-ring, then three-ring, circus in the world, transported by up to 70 railroad freight cars.  In 1880, it merged with its chief competitor, James Bailey's "Great London Circus" to become "The Barnum and Bailey Circus."  Barnum’s role in the new enterprise was greatly diminished, contributing little more than his name.

That changed in 1882 when Barnum acquired a gigantic elephant named Jumbo from London’s Regent’s Park Zoo for $10,000.  The 20-year-old African elephant weighed about seven tons and stood almost 12-feet high.  The sale prompted protests from Queen Victoria and her subjects, who considered the animal to be a national treasure.  The controversy generated free publicity and helped make Jumbo the main draw for Barnum's circus, viewed by an estimated 20 million people over three years.  This cartoon appeared around the time when Jumbo arrived in the United States.

In September 1885, a train struck and killed Jumbo, who was rumored to have been protecting a baby elephant from the path of the train.  Barnum had Jumbo stuffed so that the elephant could continue touring.  In 1889, Barnum donated Jumbo to Tufts University (Massachusetts), where he was a benefactor and former trustee. 

In 1891, realizing he was near death, Barnum had his own obituary written and printed in the newspaper so that he could read it. He died at his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  In 1975, a fire at Tufts destroyed the remains of Jumbo and other Barnum memorabilia. 

Robert C. Kennedy

“Mutual Admiration”
December 5, 2023

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