The Lost Museum Archive

Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Barnum’s Museum, Illustrated News, November 26, 1853

This review of the American Museum’s Lecture Room production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in the Illustrated News, a weekly newspaper of which P. T. Barnum was an owner. Not surprisingly, it is glowing in its praise of the production, from H. J. Conway’s adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel to the actors to the scenic effects. The anonymous author, quite likely Barnum himself, concludes by reassuring readers nervous about the novel’s anti-slavery politics that the production contains “not a single word calculated to offend those whose opinions on this topic favor its non-agitation.”

UNCLE TOM’S CABIN AT BARNUM’S MUSEUM—We cut the following from a New York paper:

-- One of the happiest dramatizations we have yet seen of this singularly popular work is the “Uncle Tom” now creating such an unprecedented sensation at Barnum’s Museum. And, perhaps, the best proof of its excellence is its attraction, for we attempted, on three distinct evenings of last week, to obtain a glimpse of it without effect, although we presented ourself fully fifteen minutes before the curtain rose. The first thing our eyes encountered at the ticket office was a great placard, thus inscribed:

The Living Giraffes, the Bearded Lady, the Happy Family, the Chinese Collection, and all the other Curiosities, MAY BE SEEN, AS USUAL

Our fourth effort was attended with more success, for we were careful to go an hour before the regular time, and placing ourself near the doors of the lecture room, we patiently awaited, amid the human multitude, their first opening. We secured, in this manner, a pleasant seat, and would advise all who wish to enjoy this interesting spectacle, to a luxurious extent, to imitate our example.

When we say that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” as performed at Barnum’s Museum, gave us unfeigned satisfaction, we employ the quietest possible terms in order to escape the charge of exaggeration; for, in simple truth, we have seldom been so much gratified with the productions known as the “moral drama.” They are, some think, vapid as well as wholesome compositions, and exact as much of our taste as they usually bestow upon our judgment. And we could not even perceive how “Uncle Tom,” from a perusal of the original work, might be tortured by the ingenuity of the dramatist into anything more interesting. But we stand corrected. Mr. H. J. Conway, the author of this capital version, has convinced us that there are no limits to genius; for he certainly has produced, out of the materials placed before him, a thrilling and absorbing drama, full of life, spirit, power, rich humor, and irresistible pathos—a drama, that not only captivates the fancy and arrests the wildest current of thought, but grasps the heart and holds it, with unflagging interest, from the beginning to the felicitous finale.

We might be deemed invidious were we to allude, in detail, to the several roles and their representatives in “Uncle Tom,” at the Museum. The dramatic corps at that establishment is so very extensive, and its capability so admitted that praise would be superfluous. It would be hard to point out a single part that is not sustained with signal ability, while many, in the hands of such complete artistes as Messrs. C. W. Clarke, Hadaway, Daly, Thompson, Andrews, the two Monroes, Charles, Howard, & c., or Misses Mestayer, Bellamy, Charles, Granice, Jackson, Flynn, Burroughs, &c., not omitting the charming little Eva, Miss Chiarini, assume a character of superiority that demands our unhesitating eulogy.

Nor is the scenic effect of “Uncle Tom,” at Barnum’s, at all behind the other important features of this fascinating drama. Delamano, we learn, is the artist of the Museum, and he has won vast credit for his pencil in the production of the gems of art with which he has studded the work. It actually glitters with the beautiful creations of his fancy. The steamboat-cabin scene is very pretty. The steamboat-dock is unique, as well as brilliant. But the moving diorama of the Mississippi, surpasses all the rest. The changes from noon to night, the moonlight and its effects, the approach of day and the glorious outburst of sunrise, are given with a most exquisite fidelity to nature, and challenge all comparison. The stage has never yet seen anything better, and rarely indeed, in this country, are we favored with anything as excellent.

To conclude, “Uncle Tom,” at Barnum’s Museum, is a composition of the most attractive order. While thoroughly anti-slavery in its sentiment, it contains not a single word calculated to offend those whose opinions on this topic favor its non-agitation. Its tone is eminently American, and its tout ensemble strikingly humane and republican.

Source: New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Barnum’s Museum Clipping File