The Lost Museum Archive

Barnum Defends the American Museum, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 18, 1843

In December, 1843, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the story of a young female visitor to the American Museum who was approached by a strange man there, a man who subsequently followed her home. New proprietor P. T. Barnum—intent on enlarging the audience for his museum by making it an acceptable place of public amusement for middle-class women—was quick to respond. In this letter to the newspaper, Barnum expressed his outrage at the incident and detailed for readers the many ways that the Museum safeguarded its visitors from such “scoundrels.” Barnum took personal responsibility for maintaining “rigid decorum and propriety” at the Museum, keeping it safe for “daughters and wives” to visit often.

New York, Dec. 16th, 1843
Dear Sir:--A friend has just handed me your paper of Friday last in which is detailed an account of a most rascally and impudent attempt on the part of some male visitor to the Museum, to engage in an improper familiarity with a young lady from your city. It is hardly necessary for me to assure you that I am deeply grieved to learn that such a transaction should have occurred here; and that sorrow is blended with indignation and regret that the vagabond should not have been pointed out to me. If that had been done the scoundrel would have received a public cowhiding on the spot, that would have been a lesson to him for the remainder of his life, and an example to other villains of the same stamp. The “rules and regulations” of the Museum are publicly placarded throughout the building, and they contain the following paragraph:

As the manger is particularly desirous of maintaining good order and propriety throughout the establishment, he will regard as a favor, the report to his office of any improper conduct on the part of visitors or employees of the Museum.”

I most deeply regret that the young lady did not render me the favor solicited in the above paragraph. If she had done so, she would have saved herself the annoyance which she suffered, and myself the mortification which I now feel. My intention ever has been, and shall be, to preserve at all times the most rigid decorum and propriety throughout the museum, so that parents and husbands may feel the same confidence in the protection of their daughters and wives here, that they would have receive in a church. For this express purpose I keep men stationed in each hall of the Museum, and no public breach of decorum could possibly escape their scrutiny. You will, however, of course discover that they would be unable to detect any imposition that could be practised where nothing but a conversation between a lady and gentleman was all the outward evidence of wrong which existed. In such a case the scoundrel must inevitably escape punishment, unless the lady would at once expose him by reporting his insolence to me or my assistants, and I ardently hope that no case similar to that mentioned in your paper, may ever again be allowed to occur, without immediate notice being given to me. I would farther add that I always employ a lady to receive tickets at the door, and should any female feel a delicacy in reporting their grievances to me, the ends of justice will be efficiently forwarded by making their complaints to her.

Respectfully yours,
P. T. Barnum, Manager of the Am. Museum

Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 18, 1843