The Lost Museum Archive

The Heth Humbug, New York Herald February 29, 1836; New York Sun, March 1, 1836

Barnum expertly manipulated the "penny press" to create controversy about (and publicity for) his attractions throughout his career, beginning with his exhibition of Joice Heth. These two items, from, respectively, the New York Herald and the New York Sun, reflect Barnum's canny use of existing rivalries among newspapers to further his own reputation as a showman.

THE JOICE HETH HOAX. -- The gentleman who has been exhibiting Joice Heth, called upon us on Saturday, and stated positively that he sent Joice Heth to his brother, at Hebron, in Connecticut several weeks since, that she is yet there, and was alive and well at the last accounts. He got several copies of the Herald, exposing the hoax, to send to her.

We are informed also, that the post-mortem exhibition at the City Saloon brought $700, there having been nearly 1500 persons at 50 cents a piece. How much of the proceeds did the Sun paper get? How much was Dr. Rogers share? How much Dr. Locke's? What would Dr. Rogers and the Sun people give us for a couple of good old negro wenches that must die soon? They are as old and ugly as Aunt Nellie, and will post-mortem the public admirably. We will take checks on the Merchant Exchange Bank sooner than lose a good customer. Come let us have a bid.

New York Sun March 1, 1836:

The Heth Humbug. -- The exhibitors of Joice Heth, not content with making $10,000, or $12,000, by their humbug representation of her age when alive, and by exhibiting her body at 50 cts. a head after she was dead, have been amusing themselves with hoaxing some stupid editors with the story that the body dissected the other day at the City Saloon, was not that of Joice Heth, but of some other old negress, with which they had hoaxed the doctors.

One of these editors, if the despicable and unprincipled scribbler to whom we allude can be so termed, believed this story of the non-identity of the body, and proclaimed it in his loathsome little sheet, not knowing that the persons who had deceived him came directly from his office to ours, and boasted of their new exploit! These persons also put an advertisement in the Transcript telling the same ridiculous story, for the purpose, as they said, of "setting the newspapers a fighting;" but we of course, knew its falsehood, for we had seen the body, living and dead, long nails or rather "claws," as the Star calls them, and all. -- The Star, however, of last evening, has sense of propriety enough to oppose this second attempted imposition, and, we doubt not it will in a few days acknowledge the first? With the agents in this infamous imposture, we have hitherto dealt very mercifully, but, if they proceed further, we will make this city rather uncomfortable for them.