The Lost Museum Archive

The Baby Show - Prodigious Jam and a Hot Time, New York Times, June 7, 1855

Barnum's baby show was both popular and controversial, and local newspapers reported on it in great detail, providing further publicity. This article was one of several from the New York Times. Its vivid and detailed descriptions convey both a palpable sense of the show (and the Museum's) atmosphere and specific insights into such antebellum issues as immigration, the politics of the union, and urban poverty.

The Subject "Improved" to the Ten Governors.


Once before we have seen as great a crowd. It was when Bishop HUGHES was consecrated Archbishop -- and St. Patrick's Cathedral was only large enough to hold the little link end of the crowd that reached from the street, in through one door of that Church and out the other. That was a great crowd, and from that day to this, we are not cognizant of as great a one until that yesterday which pervaded, and rolled up against, and squeezed in at, and was turned away from BARNUM'S. From 11 o'clock until 3, the Museum was jammed full. The sidewalks were entirely blocked up. A sick friend got into a omnibus at Trinity Church, and it took him just half an hour to reach the Astor House, so great was the crush and crowd in the street consequent upon the rush to BARNUM'S. The flags stretched across the street did much, the picture of the babies that is mounted over the entrance did more; but that perpetual crowd at the door obliged every leisurely passer-by to stop and try his luck at forcing an entrance.
The ticket office of the Museum was compulsorily closed at 1 _ P. M., the building being full to repletion. For nearly one and a half hours afterward a constant throng of ladies and gentlemen was flowing into the doorway and out, but none could be admitted. Meanwhile a door had been opened on Ann-street, out of which flowed perpetually such of the crowd as had arrived at the conclusion that it were better to go than risk any longer being squeezed to death.
"Now," said a lady that evidently was fat in the morning -- "now I've seen the babies, and been standing for an hour, I want to see BARNUM, and then I'm ready to go back to old Kentuck."
But BARNUM was not to be seen -- in more than one place at a time. At the door he was waving back the multitude that held back their quarters -- "Back, back, gentlemen," said he, "it ain't no use a-trying -- you can't come in -- the old Museum will burst if I let in another one."
"Take the Crystal Palace to-morrow, old fellow," shouted one from the top of a lamppost. And everybody wondered why he didn't, or the Academy of Music, or the Hippodrome, or the National Race Course, so as to accommodate visitors.
Everybody who got inside rushed first of all -- that is, as soon as he could get there -- to the third story, where the prize baby sat on a raised platform, which was surmounted by a crimson canopy, and draped with material of the same color, over which was a placard.

To this baby was awarded $100,
as the finest exhibited out of 143 children.
June 5, 1855

The little fellow stood his compliments well, and his mother, who is a pretty woman, didn't seem to be downcast at all. Her baby's name is CHARLES ORLANDO SCOTT. He was born in New-York, and is now in the fourth year of his age. He is a beautiful child, with dark, lustrous eyes, which are large and expressive, regular features, remarkable for the harmony of their outline. His form is the very perfection of infantile grace. His hair, which is of a light color, curls naturally over a broad and well developed forehead.
The exercises within were much the same as on the first day. The Albino woman, however, referred those who called on her for a speech to the DAILY TIMES, which, she said, reported it with remarkable fidelity and grace. The fat girl's arms are not black and blue yet, in spite of all the pinching; and the mother of the triplets does not seem to be disgusted, notwithstanding the perpetual repetition of questions from the men, who seem to admire, and the women, that envy her. The bad jokes and outrageous puns that one is obliged to hear is worse than the heat. The latter made one lady faint away -- the former spoiled hundreds of appetites for dinner.
Two innocent-looking ladies -- rushing up stairs to see the prize baby, stopped at the place where a man sports with a dressed up monkey. As there was a crowd around they thought at first the monkey had won the first premium. "Why, Julia," said Sally, "he ain't half as our little brother!" "La!" said Julia, "that ain't him, I know; there was a canopy over the boy, -- the policeman said so."
Policemen were very plenty -- very.
It will be pleasing to hear that the loving couple -- the lady in white crape shawl and light plaid silk dress, and the gentleman who kept his arm around her waist as they walked -- were on hand again all day -- the same couple that was at the Academy the last opera night, -- and as loving as ever.
Droll mistakes were plenty. An Alderman's wife, to rest herself, had taken the vacant seat of the mother of the twins. A reporter proceeded to put the constitutional questions which we published.


They were to be given only for children under one year of age.
First Premium--Baby No. 47 -- To PETER ALEXANDER BLAKE, of New Lotts, aged 11 months this 7th day of June.
Second Premium--No. 88 -- HENRY CLAY BOLSTER SHANNON, No. 34 West Forty-first-street; 10 months old to-morrow, June 8.
Third Premium-- No. 56 --Name and age not yet obtained.
These three were well awarded -- none who remember the little fellows will dispute. At 6 o'clock we dropped in again to see how things looked.
There were not over 200 or 300 people in. A lean lady was laying off in the Giantess' chair. The odd gloves, veils, breast-pins, &c., had been swept together, and so far as could be identified, restored, or filed away to be called for.
We did suppose -- foundling are so popular lately -- that when they came to sweep up, a score or two of unclaimed babies would turn up -- but there were none. There was no "larding of the lean earth" where the fat folks sat, no sinking of the floor where the Giantess promenaded -- no half used bottles of anguents and hair generators on the window-sill where the Bearded Lady and her infant Esau are stationed in the heat of the day.
Our impression is that BARNUM made some money yesterday. Good guessers guessed that 25,000 visitors were inside the Museum yesterday. That is putting it very strong -- there were enough at any rate to warrant a new Edition and a long appendix to BARNUM'S "Life," this very week.
But he didn't make all the money. The Indian women that frequent the steps were there and sold lots of moccasins. The Blue man had DEWITT & DAVENPORT'S "Brooks and Hughes Contoversy," and sold -- he must have sold an edition. Two boys who went "not to see the youngones, but the naked darkies on the Oystriches," came out denouncing the whole thing as a humbug and a cheat.
We must not fail to tell how Councilman WILD managed it to get a gratuitous and first rate notice.


After the morning performance yesterday, Councilman WILD appeared upon the stage -- his first appearance upon those boards. Councilman WILD we should judge to be a Know-Nothing at heart, for squeezing through the crowded rooms on Tuesday, he discovered a beautiful child, not on exhibition, but who came in with her parents, and was surveying everything around her with a calm and philosophic eye, having left her twenty-five cents at the door. Councilman WILD noticed her and was struck, -- smitten, -- prostrated by her beauty. He thought her a gem, an angel; he wished providence had blessed him with such a child.
"Who was her father?"
Who was her mother?
Had she a sister?
Had she a brother?"
After due search her father was discovered, and turned out to be a Mr. TURNER; her mother was a Mrs. TURNER; the dear child herself was a Miss FRANCIS TURNER -- really a very interesting, beautiful child; at least Mr. BARNUM said she was, and he of course is a judge. We privately thought her one of the prettiest children we had ever seen -- except at our house of course -- and if she had been entered for the exhibition, perhaps Master CHARLES ORLANDO SCOTT would not have carried off the $100 Premium so easily.
As we have said, Councilman WILD appeared upon the stage of BARNUM'S theatre -- no, we beg BARNUM'S pardon -- his lecture room. He said that he had met with a heavenly jem [sic] in the shape of an angelic like girl, -- to whom he was so drawn by affinity, attraction, -- spiritual likeness and internal assimilation that nature within him cried Halt, and he halted. He liked the little girl, and thought how nice a little locket, with her own little daguerreotype in it, would look around her little neck. He thought that BARNUM would have no objection to assist him in making capital out of the idea, and accordingly he appeared upon the stage and made a speech. He told the audience the child was of American manufacture. He addressed the child, (three and a half years old,) and told her he hoped she would grow up and have a husband; that that husband would "preserve the Union, and so love one State, that he might never wish to sever from the whole of them." The audience -- ladies and all -- applauded, and the curtain fell, hiding the blushes of Councilman WILD. The gift presented to the child was a locket, in which ROOT is to insert her picture and Councilman WILD's.
The occasion must not pass without improving it to some of our City sponsors. It cannot better be done than by inserting what we wrote at midday while at the solemnest. To wit:


We have just returned from the Baby Show, thoroughly saturated.
Babies were here, babies were there,
Babies were all around.
They cried and growled, and roared and howled,
As the crowd gathered round.

There is a good deal of poetry in this exhibition, notwithstanding all that has been said about it to the contrary. One hundred little angels! Look at them, and doubt it if you can, sneerer. They that will are not parents; they are the hard bachelors and spinsters who have never felt paternal or maternal yearnings and impulses within them. Thousands were there to see them, fine as they were, each had better at home. Each little Charlie or Lulu at home far surpassed these prize specimens, the choice of the flock.
Babies, the most valued treasures to yearning hearts, more prized than wealth or fame, here they are, in every one's possession; and yet, when the best is chosen from an already select collection, no one would exchange their own scrubby boy, or their pale-cheeked, delicate girl, for this choice one! The theme fills the heart.
But, as we returned, we chanced to meet one of our Almshouse Governors in the cars, a man of fine feeling, and deeply interested in the care of the thousand little ones thrown upon the cold charities of a cold world, the poor waifs of fortune. "How many," said we, "do you furnish from the Island schools to BARNUM's Exhibition?" "None!" was the reply. We knew that that was the answer, for we knew that there could be no other. There is not, we believe, under their jurisdiction, one solitary child, that could be admitted as a fine-looking child, a fat child as one of twins, triplets or quaterns.
Do you ask why is this? Why is it, that among many hundreds -- if not thousands -- of children, there are none worthy of exhibition? The question is short, but its answer might occupy columns.
It arises partially from necessity, but more from ill-regulated, incomplete and defective administration, on the part of our public authorities.
The necessity occurs from the character of the children. They are chiefly the offspring of indigent Irish and German emigrants. After a longer or a shorter residence in this country, the cholera, a railroad accident, a falling wall or bank, destroys the father, consumption and disease paralyze the mother, and they are afterwards the City's charge. Many had imbued into their systems, from birth physical degeneracy and inherent scrofula in some of its protean forms.
Many are "nurse children." Your bosom would be wrung, dear reader, if you could trace one child only as we have done in many a case, we might perhaps say hundreds without exaggeration -- from its unwelcomed[sic] entrance to its gladsome[sic] exit from this world. Born in shame, the offspring sometimes of incestuous, almost always unholy loves, -- the libertine father having deserted his "passion of a day," -- by its heart-broken, overwhelmed by shame and poverty, it is deposited with many tears after many strivings, with gnawing famine staring both in the face, upon the stoop of some wealthy and benevolent individual. God pity that forsaken woman, for her heart bleeds at what she supposes her hard necessity. Never can she be happy more. That little one that might have been under other circumstances so mildly welcomed, is taken by the next passing policeman to the Station House, and from thence to the Head-quarters at the Hall. Here it finds some one living in the neighborhood who takes care of it during the night.
Every morning a crowd of poor women await around the rooms of the Ten Governors of the Almshouse, under whose jurisdiction this child is now placed. From among these one is selected with little care, and to her is committed the charge of this little one.
Many of these women are wretchedly poor, and the pittance paid for the care of this child -- four dollars per month -- is expected almost to support her. Many are grossly intemperate; more have drunken, vagabond husbands; some are broken down prostitutes; some live solely by the pay from these children -- taking several at a time; some have children of their own; some live in garrets, more in cellars, -- all in misery.
In consequence, the wet-nursed share a scanty breast with the "own child," who has the lion's portion. Or if, apparently more fortunate, they share no divided milk, their lot is even more deplorable, for with every draught they imbibe the fevered milk of a no distempered fancy, but polluted at its source by intemperate potations, or loathsome maladies, they in festering disease and speedy death.
Some are "brought up by the bottle!" The plagues are not yet over. Diseased milk! This is what "the bottle" furnishes,‹not the pure, life-giving milk, breathing the distilled aroma of the clover; not the grass-fed, yellow-crowned, which fed our childhood, but the noxious secretions of another sufferer,‹the poor cow, stalled in narrow pens and fed on the boiling refuse of whiskey distillation.
Suppose our poor babe is not beaten by a drunken husband, neglected by the inebriated wife, abused by older children, but cared for as well as may be, what can you expect from such persons as those to whom she is given? They are so poor that were their desires strong, it would be impossible to do what they ought. If in their hard fortune they meet with kind souls, kindness will not prevent the mistakes of ignorance -- will not warm the cold garret in Winter, cool it in Summer, or dry up the damp imasm[sic] of the cellar.
These half-concluded thoughts are suggested by "the National Baby Show, by which many valuable facts as well as interesting phenomena may be elicited in the natural history of humanity." Should they but ameliorate the condition of the poor "dropped" children of this city, its benefits will be none the less if mendented [sic] and unexpected.