The Lost Museum Archive

Doesticks Visits the Museum

This description of a visit to the American Museum appeared as a chapter in Doesticks, a chronicle of the New York City adventures of the eponymous author, "Q.K. Philander Doesticks," the pen name of humorist and journalist Mortimer Neal Thompson. Tales of travels and adventures were popular among antebellum readers, and Doesticks (published in 1855) provides a satire of the genre. In this excerpt, filled with double entendres and sly asides, Doesticks deftly satirizes the volume and variety of Barnum's attractions. By the 1850s Barnum was attempting to draw a more "respectable" middle-class audience in addition to the working-class Bowery crowd that filled the American Museum during the 1840s. The concluding parody, of a Lecture Room drama featuring Mose the "jealous fireman" and his girlfriend Rose (archetypes of the period's working-class entertainment), Doesticks implies that raucous Bowery culture is still a strong presence in Barnum's now "respectable" American Museum.


Desiring to see the Museum, of which I had read, and also to behold Barnum, of whom I had heard some mention, in connection, I think, with one Thomas Thumb, and Joice Heth, an antiquated and venerable lady, colored (who afterwards died), I determined instantly to visit that place of delectation, "perfectly regardless of expense."

Arrived at the door, man demanded a quarter, but, like Byron's Dream, "I had no further change," so was necessitated to get a bill broke; offered him Washtenaw*, but that was too effectually broke to suit his purpose. Got in somehow, after a lengthy delay, and some internal profanity.

Soon after my entrance, young man, attired in a dress-coat, a huge standing collar, and a high hat, introduced himself as "A. Damphool, Esq.," gentleman of leisure, and man about town. Having never before had any experience of a class of individuals who compose, I am told, a large proportion of the masculine population of the city, I eagerly embraced the opportunity of making his acquaintance.

He also presented his friend "Mr. Bull Dogge," and we three then proceeded to view the curiosities; we commenced with the double-barreled nigger baby (which Bull Dogge says is an illegitimate devil) -- went on to the Rhinoceros (who is always provided with a horn, Barnum's temperance talk to the contrary nevertheless) -- the Happy Family -- the two-legged calf, (B. D. says it is not the only one in the city), a red darkey -- a green Yankee -- a white Irishman (Damphool says that this latter individual is an impossibility, and could only have originated with Barnum) -- wax-figure of a tall man in a blue coat, with a star on his breast, (Damphool says it is a policeman, who was found when he was wanted; but Bull Dogge says there was never any such person, and that the whole story is a Gay fable,) found by the programme that it is supposed to represent Louis Napoleon; never knew before that he had one eye black, and one blue (Bull Dogge asserts that the usual custom is to have one eye both black and blue); wax model of the railroad man who swindled the community (now living on his money, and president of the Foreign Mission Society for the suppression of pilfering on the Foo-Foo Islands); wax figure of the abandoned, dissolute, and totally depraved woman, who filched half a loaf of bread to give her hungry children, and who was very properly sent to Blackwell's Island for it -- also of the City Contractor who did clean the streets -- (Damphool states that he is residing at Utica).

Saw a great multitude of monkeys, streaked face, white face, black face, hairy face, bald face (Bull Dogge prefers the latter), with a great assortment of tails, differing in length, and varying as to color, long tails, short tails, stump tails, ring tails, wiry tails, curly tails, tails interesting and insinuating, tails indignant and uncompromising, big tails, little tails, bob tails (Damphool suggests Robert narratives), and no tails'(Bull Dogge says that some effeminate descendants of this latter class now promenade Broadway, and he swears that they have greatly degenerated in intelligence); pictures, paddles, pumpkins, carriages, corals, lava, boats, breeches, boa constrictors, shells, oars, snakes, toads, butterflies, lizards, bears, reptiles, reprobates, bugs, bulls, bells, bats, birds, petrifactions, putrefactions, model railroads, model churns, model gridirons, model artists, model babies, cockneys, cockades, coackroaches, cocktails, scalps, Thomashawks, Noah's ark, Paganini1s fiddle**, Old Grimes's*** coat, autocrats, autobiographies, autographs, chickens, cheeses, codfish, Shanghais, mud-turtles, alligators, moose, mermaids, hay-scales, scale armor, monsters, curiosities from Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Beaverdam, Chow Sing, Tchinsing, Linsing, Lansing, Sing Sing, cubebs, cart wheels, mummies, heroes, poets, idiots, maniacs, benefactors, malefactors, pumps, porcupines and pill machines, all mingled, mixed, and conglomerated, like a Connecticut chowder, or the Jew soup of the Witches in Macbeth.

Upstairs at last, and into an adolescent theatre, christened a Lecture Room, (Damphool says it is known as the Deacon's Theatre, and that all his pious namesakes attend). Saw the play, laughed, cried, and felt good all over. Much pleased with a bit of fun originating in a jealous fireman, and terminating in a free fight.

Fireman Mose saw Rose, his sweetheart, with Joe, the hackman; got jealous, pitched into him -- fun -- thought of Tom Flood, and went off at half-cock -- thus

Enter Rose with Joe -- sees Mose -- Mose beaus Rose; Rose knows those beaux foes -- Joe's bellicose -- so's Mose -- Mose blows Joe1s nose-Joe's blows pose Mose -- Rose Oh's -- Mose hoes Joe's rows -- Joe's blows chose Mose's nose -- Mose shows Joe's nose blows -- Joe1s nose grows rose -- Mose knows Joe's nose shows those blows -- Joe goes -- Mose crows.

Joe being whipped, and moreover being the only innocent one in the whole fight, was arrested by the vigilant and efficient police.

Damphool says that Joe treated the Emerald conservators of the public quiet, and is again at large.

Let Mose beware.

*The Bank of Washtenaw was a frontier bank (located in what is now Michigan) that issued its own bank notes in the 1830s but failed in the years following the Panic of 1837.
**Paganini was a violinist from the 1820s renowned for his virtuosity and showmanship.
***from an 1825 Irish novel The Nowlans by John Banim