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Home North Carolina Nash County City of Rocky Mount Historical Markers P. T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum

US 301 Bypass at Airport Road, Rocky Mount, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"First stop of record with own circus troupe was 1/2 mile S.E., November 12-13, 1836. No show is recorded, but Barnum preached a sermon."
     In November 1836, P.T. Barnum dazzled the people of Rocky Mount Falls, North Carolina. However, it was with the words of a sermon, not with the performance troupe that the “World’s Greatest Showman” captivated his audience. Barnum had recently separated from his associate Aaron Turner’s act which had been touring in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. To form his own circus troupe he took with him Signor Vivalli, an Italian juggler and tight ropewalker, James Sanford, a black singer and dancer, several musicians, horses, wagons, and a small canvas tent. Their first stop together was in Nash County.

     Barnum stayed the night of November 12 at Rocky Mount Fall’s Stage Coach Inn. In his autobiography, Barnum wrote that, the next morning, he accompanied the landlord to the Baptist church. Before entering the church, Barnum noticed a grove with a stand and benches. Desiring to speak to the congregation, Barnum was permitted by the preacher to announce that he would speak for a half an hour after the service. Approximately 300 people stayed to listen to Barnum preach. About the sermon he delivered Barnum wrote, “I told them I was not a preacher and had very little experience in public speaking; but I felt a deep interest in matters of morality and religion and would attempt, in a plain way, to set before them the duties and privileges of man.”

     Barnum and his traveling show performed together until June 1838 before moving on to bigger and grander things. In 1841, he purchased Scudder’s American Museum on Broadway in New York City. The museum, which showcased all sorts of oddities and curiosities, led to Barnum’s fortune. In 1881, he combined his P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus with James Bailey and James Hutchinson, resulting in P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth, and the Great London Circus, Sanger's Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United. In 1888, the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth first toured America. Among Barnum’s most famous acts over the years were the midget General Tom Thumb; Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” soprano; and the Siamese twins, Eng and Chang.

P. T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs (1874)
Irving Wallace, The Fabulous Showman (1959)
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Website: http://www.ringling.com/explore/history/ptbarnum_1.aspx