All posts by Jim Swanson

The Barker of Strange and Curious Attractions


In 1871, after he had already achieved success through his famous New York museum, P. T. Barnum entered into a partnership with two men from Wisconsin, who organized “P. T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome.” It offered several strange and curious attractions, borrowed from his museum, from which evolved another major feature of circuses — the sideshow. Its characteristic attractions included the giant, the fat lady, the thin man, the midget, the three-legged boy, and the armless wonder, as well as such other curiosities as the fire eater, the sword swallower, the snake enchantress, and the magician. Housed in its own tent, the sideshow typically was fronted by giant banners or panels illustrating the marvels offered inside. A unique and vital element of the sideshow was the barker, whose fog-horn voice and unceasing patter attracted the public to the show.