The Lost Museum Archive

The Baby Show - Grand Infantile Display, New York Times, June 6, 1855

Barnum's June, 1855 baby show at the American Museum was phenomenally popular and controversial, and newspapers reported on it in great detail, providing further publicity. This article was one of several from the New York Times. It contains a wealth of detail: vivid descriptions of the scene, overheard conversations, and partial lists of contestants, plus complete lists of the judges; the categories and their cash prizes; and the questions posed to prospective entrants.

Success of the Exhibition.

Barnum and his one hundred and odd babies were the theme above all other prolific themes of discourse yesterday, wherever two or more females were gathered together for a little talk over a cup of strong green tea; on the front stoop or at the milliners. Even the servant girls loitered at the groceries and hydrants to compare notes of what they had heard on the subject at home and make a few comments of their own. Well, Barnum and his babies are worth looking at -- the former equally so with the latter, -- both are extraordinary subjects and together they drew to the Museum yesterday over ten thousand persons.


According to announcement the babies with their mothers or nurses were at 10 o'clock yesterday in the nursery, which is on the first floor, and arranged so as to afford every convenience required by its occupants. Into this room our reporter (a bachelor) endeavored to enter, but failed. A colored gentleman of gigantic proportions and courteous manner, struck an attitude in front of the entrance, which caused him to look upward until his eyes rested upon a placard, reading as follows:


None but babies and their female attendants admitted.
The door-guard bowed and hoped no offence would be taken, as he was acting in strict accordance with the particular instructions of Mr. BARNUM, who, he said, had told him to admit no gentlemen to the nursery while the children were dressing, except himself. This was a sad disappointment, but with the perseverance of the profession, he at length found himself in the presence of Mrs. Rebecca Ewen, the principal of the nursery department. This lady very kindly gave all information concerning the room that was proper to be given to such a person on such matters -- pointed out to him which were cradles, which baby-jumpers, which rookers, which sugar-tits, and so on. But there were many things concerning the use of which the good lady was, very properly no doubt, silent. Among the latter are a number of articles in a show-case concerning which not a shadow of an idea of their use could be obtained. The case was surmounted by a placard, which for the benefit of the initiated we publish:

Dr. C. H. Needham's patent improved breast-pumps and nipple-shield.
N. B. -- Any lady requiring the use of one of these instruments will please apply to Mrs. NEEDHAM, at the showcase.

The nursery is immediately opposite the main entrance, and is tastefully fitted up with muslin drapery and hangings.

While examining this department a number of babies had been transferred to the show-rooms above, whither our reporter hastened. (He has said nothing of the appearance of the children while in progress of preparation for the exhibition, in consequence of an earnest request to that effect from several of their mothers.)


The hall in which the largest number of babies were on exhibition is that in which statuary and wax works formerly stood. The statuary and wax works had been removed from the show cases, and in their places stood chairs and other conveniences for the mothers and babies on exhibition. Otherwise, preparation for the occasion had been liberal. Nearly two hundred flowers had that morning been culled from the gardens of Iranistan, and tastfully distributed around the hall, and their fragrance and beauty added much to the pleasure of the exhibition.
In the situations named the babies were placed, with their attendants, labelled "triplets," "twins," and so on. They were all very neatly dressed, some of them elegantly; and they seemed, generally speaking, much pleased with the attentions they received from the spectators, who, at 1 o'clock, filled the Museum, to the great joy of Mr. BARNUM, and sorrow and anguish of an elderly maiden lady who, in the arrangement of her apparel, had evidently not calculated upon their being more than four or five others in the hall at the same time with herself. About three-fourths of those present were ladies, and their remarks were in many cases both characteristic and amusing.


There was one child, Miss HELEN ECKHART, from Easton, Pa., four years and three months old, and weighing seventy-five pounds, who attracted very general attention. Mrs. H., from Bridgeport, was there, with her neighbor, Mrs. A., and this child fairly astonished them.
Mrs. H--I don't believe it's a real child, do you?
Mrs. A.--I never saw the beat on't. Julie Perkins ain't a circumstance.
Mrs. H--I tell you it ain't a real natural young 'un. Mr. BARNUM's been humbuggin' agin, but he can't humbug me. I know better; and I know ain't no such thing. I hain't forgot about the mermaid yet.
Mrs. A.--It's real queer, ain't it? I--
Here other eager spectators crowded in, and the ladies from Bridgeport were crowded out. Being tightly squeezed the remainder of the sentence was but an unintelligible explosion of air.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary obesity of this child, her grandmother declares she enjoys most excellent health.

A child named EDWARD WALTER BAKER, from Jersey, and weighing fifty pounds, elicited very general remark.
A middle-aged lady, dressed in mourning, and wearing heavy gold spectacles, was as skeptical on this child's reality as were the two ladies from Bridgeport on that of the other fatty. She said it didn't look right -- and as she spke[sic], she turned to one who may have been her niece. The latter nodded agreement. The lady in heavy gold spectacles, thus sustained in her suspicions, asked if she might not just feel the child, Assent was given, and she pinched him until he squealed naturally enough to satisfy doubters generally -- but it was not until after an examination of the place pinched that the old lady expressed confidence in it's reality. She said she knew it was a genuine baby, because the place where she pinched it looked just the same as little PATTY, when she'd been spanked.

There were several other children whose only claim to particular notice was their extreme fatness. They had no features -- nothing but fat. It is to be supposed that they had eyes and noses, but they were not to be seen. Their noses can be of no possible use to them at present, and all their eyes can do as now surrounded is to look after the fat.

Of the other children on exhibition, those who attracted much attention were the


Mr. J. R. SPRAGUE and his wife, of Danbury, Conn., exhibit five children -- two girls and three boys -- triplets and twins. They were born in Knox County, Ohio. The triple's are five years of age, and named HARRIET ELIZA, HANNAH JANE, and HARRISON TAYLOR.
The twins are named WILLARD FRANKLIN and WILLIS FRANCIS. Their age is three years.
The little girls are dressed in pink, and the boys in blue jackets and white pantaloons, with patent leather gaiters. They are fine-looking children.
Mrs. PAULINA BIERMAN, of Newark, New Jersey, exhibits twins, girls. They are three years old and named FLORA and AUGUSTA. They are also pretty children, dressed in blue frocks.
ROBERT H. OWEN, of Fort Byron, Oayuga County, New-York, exhibits three little boys, five years old. They are named WM. H. SEWARD, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, and ALBERT LAMARTINE. They are smart little fellows, dressed in gray suits.
Mrs. MCFLYNN, of New-York, exhibits three children -- two boys and a girl, eight years of age. The children were born in Ireland. They are fine children, the little girls is dressed in pink, and the boys in pink sacks and white pantaloons. They are named JAMES, MARY and PATRICK.
Mr. JACOB DEUSS, of New-York, exhibits twins, two little boys, aged four years. One is named JACOB and the other HENRY. They are dressed in calico sacks and plaid pantaloons.
Mrs. ANN McCABE, of Clove Road, Brooklyn, exhibits twins -- boys, eight months old. They are very bright looking infants, and named MARK and THOMAS. They are dressed in white frocks.
Mr. FRANCIS DEGAN, of Addison, New-York, exhibits triplets -- two boys and a girl --13 months old. Good looking children, dressed in white, not yet named.
Mr. GEORGE ROWLEY, of Newark, exhibits twins -- boy and girl --11 months old. Very fine looking children. Named ALFRED and SARAH ANN.
Mr. THOMAS McCLEARY, of Manhattan, New-York, exhibits twins -- boys -- aged 3 years. Named JOSEPH and FRANCIS. Dressed in green sack and brown pantaloons.
Mr. Wm. RIDDLE, of New-York, exhibits a little boy, 2 years old, dressed in Scotch costume.
Mr. EDWARD DUFFY, of New-York, exhibits a little boy, dressed in Native American costume. The bodice is composed of the full spread American eagle in white embroidery on a blue ground, and the skirt of red, white and blue stripes.
Mr. Johnson, of New-York, exhibits two little girls, aged 14 months and 3 years each.
Dr. GEORGE R.BOND, of New-York, exhibits three little children -- two girls and a boy -- HULDAH MARIA, four years; AUGUSTA, five; JOSEPH N. B., ten months. The girls dressed in embroidered drab silk dresses, and the baby in white.


Mr. EDWARDS, of New-York, exhibits a little girl, one year old. Very pretty.
Mrs. DAY, of Hoboken, N. J., exhibits a little girl 3 years old. An intelligent looking child.
Mr. GEO. T. MORTON, of Brooklyn, exhibits a little boy 17 months old. A smart child, able to walk alone when 8 months old.
Mrs. ELIZA RYDER, of Brooklyn, exhibits a little girl 8 months old.
Mr. WM. KIRK, of Brooklyn, exhibits a boy and a girl, aged 9 months and 3 _ years. GEORGE is the name of the boy, who is a smart little fellow, with light curls.
Mrs. DRAKE, of Newark, exhibits a little girl named ARABELLA, aged 15 months.
JOHN H. MAGINNESS, of New-York, exhibits a girl 11 months old. Fine-featured child.
H. BYRON BRONSON, of Huntingto , L. I., exhibits a girl 2 years and 8 months old‹handsome child.
JOHN HYATT, of New-York, exhibits a girl 4 years old -- a pretty child.
MARY JOSEPHINE, a little girl of four years, remarkably beautiful.
HORACE SKINNER, New-York, exhibits a boy 2 years old. A very fine child.
SAMUEL MYERS, of New-York, exhibits a boy 8 months old. Also, a girl 3 years and 1 month.
JOHN GRAHAM exhibits a boy 8 months old. A handsome child.
JOHN BIFFLEY, New-York, exhibits a boy 2 months and 12 days old.
ROBERT SHANNON, New-York, exhibits a boy 2 years and 4 months old. Also, a boy 9 months old.
K. KIRKPATRICK, New-York, exhibits a boy 11 months old. A beautiful child.
The above are but a few of the names of those on exhibition. Many of their attendants refuse to give their names -- mostly those whose prospect of a prize is not as bright as they could wish.
Until 3 P. M., the hour at which the children retired, the Museum was crowded to excess, and although the greater portion of those present conducted themselves with becoming propriety, there were many present (males) whose speech was not such as would reflect credit either upon their understanding or their manners. As a whole, however, the first day of the baby-show was highly satisfactory to all concerned -- except, perhaps, a few who had expected, but not obtained, the first prize.


The following is the list of prizes for which mothers have entered their children:
The finest baby under five years of age   $100
The finest baby under one year   50
Second finest baby under one year   15
Third finest under one year   10
The finest baby, of from one to three years   50
Second finest baby, of from one to three years   15
Third finest baby, of from one to three years   10
The finest twins, of any age under five   60
Second finest twins, of any age under five   15
Third finest twins, of any age under five   10
The finest triplet, (or three at birth,) any age   70
Second finest triplet, (or three at birth,) any age   25
Third finest triplet, (or three at birth,) any age   20
The finest quartern, (or four at birth,) any age   250
Second finest quartern, (or four at birth) any age   150
The fattest child under sixteen years of age   50
Second fattest child under sixteen years of age   25


The following ladies act as judges:
Mrs. W. LELAND, Metropolitan Hotel.
Mrs. W. H. BURROUGHS, Irving House.
Mrs. I. N. FOWLER, No. 308 Broadway.
Mrs. R. T. TRALL, No. 15 Laight street.
Mrs. H. WILLIAMSON, No. 160 Barrow street.
Mrs. J. N. GENIN, No. 214 Broadway.


The list of interrogations runs thus: As it is believed that important physiological facts may be established through the National Baby Show, held at BARNUM's American Museum, the Judges selected for that occasion require each competitor for the premiums to answer the following questions:
   1. What is, or would be, the present age of the father of the child?
   2. What is, or would be, the age of the mother at the present time?
   3. What is the exact date of the child's birth?
   4. What is the name of the child? [An accurate reply to this question is not obligatory, but in bestowing upon the child a piece of gold, or silver plate, or even a diploma, his name would seem necessary, and in any event, the name would be kept a profound secret by the judges.]
   5. With how many previous children has the mother been gifted?
   6. What was the diet of the mother for a twelve month previous to the birth of the infant?
   7. What were her habits of exercise during the same period?
   8. Is the child one of premature or regular birth?
   9. Have the parents or child resided on mountainous or elevated land, or the reverse?
   10. Have the diet and exercise of the child been subject to any special care, or particular regimen? If so, please describe it. State, also, how often the child has been bathed, or washed all over, and whether in warm or cold water.
   11. Please mention any uncommon personal incidents of which the mother was a subject for a year previous to the birth of this infant.
These questions had all been answered satisfactorily by those who entered for the prizes.


The days and rules of the exhibition are fixed as follows.
Tuesday, 5th June, 11 A. M. to 3 P. M. Babies of all ages exhibited.
Wednesday, 6th June, 11 A. M. to 3 P. M. Babies under one year of age exhibited.
Thursday, 7th June, 11 A. M. to 3 P. M. Babies from one to three years of age, and babies from three to five years of age exhibited in two different classes.
Friday, 8th June, 11 A. M. to 3 P. M. All the premium children exhibited. Premiums bestowed at 3 o1clock P. M.
The baby taking the highest premium ($100) is not eligible to compete for any other premium.
All the twins, triplets, quarterns and fat children, as well as the baby taking the highest premium, to be seen on the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th of June, from 11 A. M. to 8 P. M.


In accordance with the rules, yesterday was the day on which the prize to the finest baby, under five years of age, was to be awarded. The Judges were sorely puzzled. There were some ten or twelve of the competitors whose claims were so nearly equal, that to make a just award was extremely difficult. However, after a careful examination and comparison, they decided that Master CHARLES ORLANDO SCOTT, born February 18th, 1851, residing No. 369, 4th-av., was the finest child on exhibition and entitled to the highest prize -- ($100.)


When the babies were taken away, the assemblage, which was yet very great, moved towards the other and more permanent curiosities of the Museum. The Maine Giantess now arose from her mammoth chair, and startled a number of ladies, old and young, terribly, as she walked through the crowd to the platform on which the bearded lady and her bearded child, the dwarf, the Albino and the fat girl were stationed. "Oh dear me, did you ever see such a great big woman?" exclaimed several ladies. "Thunder, ain't she a whopper!" said a newsboy, who had gained admittance as a "member of the press." "She's one of them you read of in big books," said a young gent with his hat over his left eye. There were other remarks equally instructive and entertaining, but that which attracted the most general attention was from a gentleman who appeared to have the queer woman in charge. He informed those present that the Albino lady would give a short account of the curiosities on the platform with her.


She said: If the ladies and gentlemen who are on the platform will get down, I will address the people, and explain the peculiarities of the phenomena here.
A Voice in the Rear--We can't see or hear you, speak up like a man.
Albino--I'm sure I speak as loud as any lady can speak, and if you'll keep order you may all hear me. I'll speak first of myself.
Another Voice--Can't hear you -- get up on the fat gal.
Albino--not heeding the last remark. I'm an Albino from the Isle of Jersey. Some people suppose that there are no Albinos out of Africa, but that's a mistake -- I'm one, and I never was in Africa. The peculiarities of the Albinos is that they have a very fair complexion, pink eyes, and milk-white hair -- all of which I have, as you can see.
Vulgar Man--slightly intoxicated--You're one of 'em -- you'll do.
Albino--I will now turn to MISS SYLVIA HARDY. The giantess arose, and looked perturbed.
Vulgar Man Again--Get up on her shoulders, just for a flyer.
Albino--undisturbed--MISS HARDY is a very large and well proportioned woman, rather lean than fleshy, weighs 330 pounds, and is one of a pair of twins that weighed only 3 _ pounds at birth. Her parents were both below the medium size. MISS HARDY's figure is not erect. Like too many tall people, she strives to appear shorter by assuming something more than the "Grecian stoop," which has the usual effect of making her look taller than she is. Her complexion is fair, her eyes blue, and the very modest and mild expression of her countenance is a true index to her character.
Another Vulgar Man--Don't put it on too thick, you'll make her blush.
Albino--She never, as nurse, takes an infant in her arms, but always holds it in her hand. Placing the head upon the end of her fingers, its feet extend toward the wrist, and with the thumb and little finger elevated, she forms an ample and admirable cradle -- the length of her hand being quite equal to the whole length of an infant.
Elderly Lady at one of the Show-cases--(Not meaning to create disturbance)--Goodness, gracious, who ever heard tell of such a thing afore. I'll bring PRUDENCE here tomorrow.
Albino--She is unable to pass ordinary doors without stooping a good deal, and it is said the for convenience she usually puts her thimble and other little articles upon the casing over the door instead of upon any lower object as a table or desk.
Very Vulgar Man--(Worse than the others)--It must take considerable timber to make a bedstead for her.
Three Young Men--Laugh.
Albino--Then here's the mammoth girl, not yet twelve years old, and weighing nearly 220 pounds. She continued to speak of the others for some time, but as it was getting late in the afternoon, the people were leaving, so she cut the bearded lady short and made nothing of the dwarf.
Everybody seemed well pleased with what they had seen and heard during the day, and MR. BARNUM was very well satisfied with the report of the Treasurer. The receipts ran several thousand dollars above the average daily receipts of the Museum.
There were many incidents which we have not related, which were amusing, But as most of ladies in town who could spare the time were there, we leave them something to tell their friends over a quiet cup of tea.
The baby show opens again to day.