Death or Castration?: The Pains of Circus Management
Posted by Anna Culbertson
Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:42:00 PM
What do you do when an angry elephant is terrorizing your menagerie? That was the problem facing legendary circus manager P. T. Barnum in this 1883 inquiry in which he seeks advice from an unidentified Professor about a “ferocious” male elephant that he “must kill or castrate.” Although the letter calls to mind the world-famous Jumbo, he was unlikely to have been the unfortunate subject of castration. By this time, he was already quite tame, having carried children on his back for years at the London Zoo before coming to Barnum's circus in 1882.
The letter is one of several in the Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts written by Barnum (1810-1891), best known as the founder of the “Greatest Show on Earth”, P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome. It came to the Morgan in 2008 as part of a diverse collection of correspondence, manuscripts and drawings assembled by the collector Joseph F. McCrindle.
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