While Barnum's baby show was drawing hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators, it was also drawing criticism. This commentary is from the New York Tribune, which frequently criticized Barnum in its pages. The unnamed author objects to the association of children with public commerce and with the American Museum's other exhibits, which included wild animals and human freaks.
There is now open in this City an exhibition of Babies in connection likewise with various monsters of natural deformity and eccentricity. Hogs, donkeys and other animals are displayed at agricultural shows for the purpose of obtaining prizes and improving their breeds. The advertisements of this Baby-Show promise similar rewards for similar reasons.
The superficial often discover in the novelty of a project an excuse for its impropriety. The original of the baby-show idea was partially overlooked in the wild zig-zag of its Western origin. It seemed to some a heroic aspiration after the neglected grandeurs of health and beauty -- those of the antique mold -- of the age of undiseased mankind. But stolen by low cunning and transplanted to New-York to a harlequin and monster Museum which stops at no deception to dupe the simple out of their money, the eccentric and comical thought of the West becomes a revolting speculation. There is something opposed to the tenderest instincts of our nature, something indescribably sacrilegious and vulgar in this parade of unconscious innocence, coupled with an ostentatious pretense of a regard for the physical laws of man and the sublime entities of being.
The subject of health and bodily perfection is worthy of all the fire of the poet, the eloquence of the apostle, and the science of the savant. It underlies all else that is valuable in life. It has more to do with morals and religion than is known to the common world's philosophy. It is the healthy eye which can reflect the external glories of creation and hence reason up to the Infinite; the healthy pulse which beats in harmony with nature; the healthy muscle which is the citadel of the courage making and sustaining States; the healthy brain which perfects genius -- that electric force which crowns the greatness of humanity. In the pursuit of the laws of this health no customary sanctions should have weight against new revelations. But these are matters for private research and scientific study and not for popular gaping, which pays two shillings with equal alacrity when a throng of fat children, a woolly horse, or a suppositions mermaid invite to that expenditure.
We must once more express our condemnation for this second-hand display, for a mercenary speculation with the lowest surrounding of a crowd of helpless children. All that is generous and suggestive in the physical as well as the moral and intellectual relations of infancy is here swamped in the meanest appeals to stultified curiosity. It is a contemptuous disregard for the sanctities of home and of life. The speculator we are told will make five thousand dollars by it; nevertheless all persons of right feeling can only regard it with disgust and scorn.