October 08, 2001

For those interested in the work of P.T. Barnum, and specifically Barnum's American Museum, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you visit the Lost Museum site of CUNY's American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (ASHP/CML). The site is an attempt to recreate the experience of visiting the American Museum, both by offering a navigable tour of their vision of the museum, and by featuring information, articles, and source materials about the museum's most famous exhibits.

The "Past Perspectives" section of the Lost Museum's Archive might be my favorite, with its selection of newspaper articles filled with writing that displays the sheer exuberance and joy of the new nation. I'm linking to this New York Times article article that appeared the day after fire destroyed the museum in 1865. It's a wonderful read as well as a fairly remarkable piece of deadline writing. I've excerpted the headline and numerous subheads (and for my money you can never have too many subheads), but the whole article is definitely worth reading.


Total Destruction of Barnum’s American Museum.

Nine Other Buildings Burned to the Ground.


A History of the Museum and Brief Sketch of its Curiosities.

Scenes Exciting, Serious, and Comic at the Fire.

The Police Prompt and Vigilant---The Firemen Earnest and Active.


Thirty Thousand People in the Streets — Pickpockets in the Crowd — Accidents and Incidents.

The fire which yesterday destroyed BARNUM’S American Museum, while greatly injuring and materially impoverishing its enterprising and public-spirited proprietor, did a damage to this and the adjacent communities, which neither time nor money can replace. Granting the innumerable sensations with which the intelligent public were disgusted and the innocent public deluded, and the ever patent humbuggery with which the adroit manager still deserved and honorable place in the front rank of the rare and curious collections of the world.

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