P.T. Barnum

Essays

Race and the White Elephant War of 1884

Race and the White Elephant War of 1884

Feuding impresarios, a white-but-not-white-enough elephant, and racist ads for soap — Ross Bullen on how a bizarre episode in circus history became an unlikely forum for discussing 19th-century theories of race, and inadvertently laid bare the ideological constructions at their heart. more

Circassian Beauty in the American Sideshow

Circassian Beauty in the American Sideshow

Among the “human curiosities” in P. T. Barnum’s American Museum was a supposed escapee from an Ottoman harem, a figure marketed as both the pinnacle of white beauty and an exoticised other. Betsy Golden Kellem investigates the complex of racial and cultural stereotypes that made the Circassian beauty such a sideshow spectacle. more

Jumbo’s Ghost: Elephants and Machines in Motion

Jumbo’s Ghost: Elephants and Machines in Motion

On September 15, 1885, twenty-five years after his capture in Sudan, Jumbo the elephant tragically died when struck by a freight train. Ross Bullen takes us on a spectral journey through other collisions between elephant and machine — in adventure novels, abandoned roadside hotels, and psychic science — revealing latent anxieties at the century’s turn. more