Amusements and Thrills

Circus activism: Barnum’s female stars demand right to vote

Women received the right to vote 100 years ago today with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Tens of thousands of women from all walks of life spent hard-fought decades working for this moment. Many of the most prominent suffragettes were wealthy white women of the Fifth Avenue set. It was… Read More

Amusements and Thrills

The fire at Barnum’s American Museum 155 years ago

One hundred and fifty-five years ago (on July 13, 1865), New York City lost one of its most famous, most imaginative and most politically incorrect attractions. When P.T. Barnum opened his museum in 1841, the kooky curiosities contained within the building at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street — at the foot of Park… Read More

Amusements and Thrills

Before seeing ‘The Greatest Showman’, listen to these three Bowery Boys podcasts

The latest, lavish movie musical arrives this week to movie theaters and it’s the story of P. T. Barnum! The Greatest Showman (opening Wednesday, Dec. 20) featuring Hugh Jackman as the title impresario, certainly a role he was born for. The film will recount Barnum’s life and his most audacious projects including such pivotal characters… Read More

The First

The Big Story Of Old Bet, America’s First Circus Elephant

PODCAST Before the American circus existed, animal menageries travelled the land, sometimes populated with exotic creatures. This is the story of the perhaps the most extraordinary wandering menagerie of all. This year marks the end to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus and, with it, the end of the traditional American circus. Once at the core of… Read More

Mysterious Stories

The Fejee Mermaid, New York’s original mermaid freak

  Today let’s give a little love to New York original mermaid queen — the hideous Fiji (Fejee) Mermaid! This sickening Frankenstein monster — comprising a monkey’s head sewn onto a fish torso — was displayed in  PT Barnum’s American Museum off and on for almost twenty years.  Believe it or not, Barnum actually leased… Read More

Amusements and Thrills

History in the Making 3/19 “Opulent Grandeur” Edition

Arriving at Madison Square Garden one century ago, you would find the Barnum & Bailey circus in town with their new spectacular, The Wizard Prince of Arabia. (Poster from the blog My Delineated Life) All Nine Lives: The odd, little tale of Peter, the pole-sliding fire cat from Bushwick. [The Hatching Cat] Prince Charles: What do… Read More

Amusements and Thrills

Commodore Nutt: Barnum’s dwarf star, NYC police officer

The attentions of most New Yorkers 150 years ago today were understandably occupied by the events of the Civil War. The general mood in April 1862 had turned cynical and grim. It had been one year since the first battle at Fort Sumter. The bloodiest skirmish yet, the Battle of Shiloh in northwestern Tennessee, left… Read More

The sad tale of New York’s first Asian female ‘celebrity’

Meet Afong Moy, the Chinese teenager who became the most famous Asian person in America in the 1830s. I would not exactly call her notoriety enviable. There’s a strong likelihood that Moy (in the illustration at right) was actually the first Asian woman to ever step foot in New York. Early trade with China, beginning in… Read More

Mrs. Bigge Trout: On the passing of Barnum’s prized fish

Trout by Currier & Ives, 1872. Sadly there are no extant images of Mrs. Trout. I could not let this week pass without mentioning a sadness that fell over lower Manhattan 150 years ago today. A lament over the number of Southern states seceding from the union? The grief of Democrats over the inauguration that… Read More


Mesmerizing: The forgotten museum of Rubens Peale

Believe it or not, this long-gone, unsuccessful attempt at a museum actually figures into the larger tale of a major New York institution, which we cover on this week’s podcast and which will be available for download by Wednesday. This is a reprinted article from May 15, 2008 with some modifications. Original is here. What… Read More


Niblo’s Garden: New York’s entertainment complex and home to the first (bizarre) Broadway musical

Show-stopping: The interior of Niblo’s Garden Theatre. Illustration by Thomas Addis Emmet, courtesy NYPL PODCAST It’s the 1820s and welcome to the era of the pleasure garden, an outdoor entertainment complex delighting wealthy New Yorkers in the years before public parks. Wandering gravel paths wind past candle-lit sculptures, songbirds in gilded cages, and string quartets… Read More

Hot List: What To Do In New York, Sept. 28, 1860

It’s gettin’ hot in here: the Light Guard Ball at the Academy of Music in 1860 We may be 150 years separated, but the New Yorkers of 1860 had similar (if more primitive) fascinations, judging from the September 28, 1860 issue of the New York Daily Tribune. If you were stressed out about national politics… Read More

Happy Belated Birthday, P.T. Barnum!

Yesterday was Phineas Taylor Barnum‘s 200th birthday. Hopefully you did something outrageous to celebrate it. On top of renovating a railroad shed at Madison Square for one of his circuses (helping create the future Madison Square Garden), Barnum is most familiar to New Yorkers in the 19th century for his outrageous, moralistic, politically incorrect American… Read More

Will an aquarium come to midtown Manhattan– again?

From a pack of old, aquatic themed ‘cigarette cards’, naturally [NYPL]Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that a Canadian developer may bring a luxury, multi-floor aquarium to a new skyscraper in Times Square. The proposed aquatic amusement, to feature “sharks, rays, penguins, otters” and a pirate museum, would liven up the freshly built, so-called 11… Read More

Barnum’s freaky link to Madison Square Garden

Barnum star Jumbo the Elephant is used in a truly horrific thread company advertisement, being dragged by gigantic spools through the streets of New York City! Oh, PETA, where were you in the 1870s? The Barnum American Museum, America’s surrealistic showcase of the moralistic, natural and bizarre, burned down to the ground in 1865. But… Read More