P. T. Barnum was one of America’s most well known showmen and entrepreneurs. He is probably best known for his association with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1881, he merged his show with competitor James Bailey, to form the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, which would later become the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
On Friday, July 19, 1878, P. T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth” visited Sandusky, following a show in Cleveland, Ohio. The Sandusky Register carried a lengthy article on July 20, 1878, which gave details about the event. Railroads brought carloads of people to Sandusky, as did steamboats. The steamship Hayes brought two hundred sixty visitors to Sandusky to see Barnum’s exhibit. The reporter wrote, “There is a magnetic power about the name of Barnum that draws like a gigantic mustard plaster. The simple announcement that his show is coming creates a fever of excitement among the juveniles and stirs up the more sluggish blood of grown persons, for all realize that when Barnum comes they will have an opportunity of witnessing a more imposing street parade, viewing the animal wonders of a more extensive menagerie, and attending a grander arenic display than any other manager can afford delight his patrons with..”
Fred Lawrence, press agent for P. T. Barnum, gave a representative of the Sandusky Register a tour of the stables, museum, and pavilions before the opening of the show. The stables held not only the performing stallions, but also large animals used to transfer the tents, baggage, and chariots between the railroad station and the show grounds. Four hundred persons had their meals in the large canvas dining hall, though The West House did serve one hundred members of the Barnum troops on July 19. The first exhibition tent was the Museum, which contained automatic figures, sea monsters, and preserved snakes and birds. The next tent featured a wide selection of animals, a group larger than any other traveling show in the country.
“Captain Costentenus” was a major attraction in the 1878 “Greatest Show on Earth.” He was a person of Greek heritage who was tattooed from head to foot, as a punishment when he was imprisoned by the Chinese Tartary. Another person who traveled with the Barnum show as an exhibit was Col. Goshen, a giant who stood eight feet tall in his stocking feet. The last tent was the “ring,” where daring equestrian feats were performed by a fearless riders and trained stallions. An estimated twelve thousand people attended the Barnum shows the afternoon and evening of July 19, 1878. The Register reporter stated that “the horses seem almost endowed with human intelligence.” The writer concluded with the statement that all who witnessed the performances felt that Mr. Barnum “can justly lay claim to having the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’”
Next to the Register’s feature article about Barnum’s circus was a small article about two pickpockets from Cleveland, named “Papes” and “Mollie Matches.” They followed the Barnum show to Sandusky, but after being alerted by authorities in Cleveland, Marshal Berrigan ordered the two would-be thieves out of town.
The core exhibit of the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut features the life of P. T. Barnum. Visit the museum’s website to learn more about P.T. Barnum and his many accomplishments.