The Lost Museum Archive

Barnum's Letter to the Editor, New York Times, November 27, 1864

In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Confederate plot to burn down New York City, P. T. Barnum moved quickly to reassure the public about the safety of the American Museum. In this letter to the New York Times published the day after the scattered fires, he detailed the fire safety measures he had taken to protect his establishment and the many patrons who visited there daily.

To the Editor of the New York Times:

In view of the announcement in the morning papers of the attempt to fire my Museum last night, as well as other public buildings, I wish to state the following facts:

Everyday from sunrise until ten o'clock P.M., I have eleven persons continually on the different floors of the Museum, looking to the comfort of visitors, and ready at a moment's warning to extinguish any fire that might appear. From 10 o'clock at night until sunrise, I have from six to twelve persons in the Museum engaged as watchmen, sweepers, painters, &c.

I always have a large number of buckets filled with water on and under the stage, and a large firehose always screwed on to be used at a second's notice. I never allow an uncovered light in the Museum, and I heat by steam from a furnace in the cellar.

As a proof of the efficiency against fire, I submit the fact that instead of "slight damage" being done to the Museum last night, as reported by a morning paper, so speedy was the extinguishment of the flames arising from the liquid ignited on the stairs, that not even a scorch is visible.

My own sense of security is proved by the fact that I never insure for one-third the value of the Museum property.

For the safety of visitors in the lecture-room, I long ago opened nine different places of egress, so that the lecture-room, if filled with visitors, could be emptied in from three to five minutes, and the spacious openings to the street in Broadway and Ann street, render mine, I think, as safe a place of amusement as can be found in the world. The Fire Marshal and insurance agents will corroborate this statement.

Very Respectfully,

AMERICAN MUSEUM, Nov. 26, 1864