The Lost Museum Archive

Letter to Henry Bergh

Correspondence between Henry Bergh, the founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and P.T. Barnum received wide distribution in the press as a way to poke fun at Bergh's views. As this letter illustrates, some of Bergh's supporters found all of Barnum's animal exhibits at the museum objectionable. This transcription of excerpts from a letter to Bergh is from the ASPCA archive. The original letter in full and with signature is no longer available, we recreated the handwritten document found on Barnum's desk in The Lost Museum.

The following letter is preserved in the file of the Society:

New York
March 20, 1867

Dear Sir:

I just read your correspondence with "Barnum" respecting the snake etc. Speaking, Sir, of inhumanity to the brute creation - I would ask, is not Barnum's whole establishment one of cruelty to the Animal Creation?

I have traveled considerably in Europe and have yet to find any building like "Barnum's Museum" used for showing wild animals. Such exhibitions are confined to open gardens where every ventilation and a . . . national aspect made to adorne the same . . . Barnum's affair is nothing more than a few stores knocked into one and with an atmosphere not only calculated to inflict the beasts with sickness but alike dangerous to visitors. In case of fire, so common in New York, what escape for the poor beasts; none whatever.

Such a place, I repeat again is not to be found outside of New York.

It would be well had Government made some appropriation for the purchase and exhibition of such shows, in some suitable place like Central Park.

And the Law should decree similar exhibitions on cruelty to animals -- as at present in this city.