Connecticut’s “Greatest Show on Earth”

October 20, 2014 · Collections ·

chs_2009_38_0P.T. (Phineas Taylor) Barnum (1810-1891) proved himself to be worthy of the title “America’s Greatest Showman”. Born in Bethel, Barnum was a jack-of-all-trades from a young age, having worked on his family’s farm, owned a grocery store, and become mayor of Bridgeport, and established his own museum. Barnum produced editorials for a local Danbury newspaper, and soon began printing his own column, (the “The Herald of Freedom”) using his own press and type. At one point, Barnum was charged with libel, and was sentenced to 60 days in the Danbury jail.

Barnum opened both the American Museum and a Hippodrome in 1842 and 1873 (on this date) in New York City respectively, but Barnum’s claim to fame would be his travelling circus show in Bridgeport, which began in 1848. “The Greatest Show on Earth” featured various forms of entertainment, including the attractions “General Tom Thumb” (Charles S. Stratton) and “Commodore” George Nutt. Both men were famous for their height; “Tom Thumb” was 26 inches tall, and “Commodore” was 23 inches tall.

P.T. Barnum’s travels (to Europe and the like) influenced him in various ways, including his Bridgeport residence “Iranistan”, mostly likely named due to its Moorish, Byzantine and Turkish architectural details.

chs_2002_94_1For Barnum’s various contributions to Bridgeport, including building additions to the Fairfield County Historical Society and the Bridgeport Scientific Society (and for his serving as mayor for the town), Bridgeport erected a monument in his likeness in Seaside Park in the early 1900s.

Records for select references, images and documents can be found in our online Research catalogs.

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