MR. BARNUM SHOWS THE WAY
WHILE THE THEATRE CONTINUED TO BROADEN ITS POPULAR appeal, it faced the increasing competition of other forms of commercial entertainment. By the 1850's almost every city had a museum with a jumbled collection of curiosities, dead and alive, and a program of concerts and variety acts which could be seen for twenty-five or fifty cents. At scores of music-halls bands of black-faced comedians broke happily into the "Lucy Long Walk Around" or plaintively sang "Old Black Joe" as a phenomenal rage for minstrelsy swept the land. And into towns and villages from Maine to Georgia, westward to the Mississippi, rolled the red and gold wagons housing the properties of what was to become one of America's great institutions-the circus.
Phineas T. Barnum stands out as the leading figure of this period in amusing the populace. No struggle between dramatic standards and popular taste ever troubled the master showman of them all. He was not one whit interested in art; he was interested in entertainment. He recognized the potential market in the restless urban masses. With uncanny prescience he sensed what they wanted, or could be made to want, and gave it to them. He gave it enthusiastically, generously, lavishly -- whether Jenny Lind, the country's pioneer baby show, or his Grand Colossal Museum and Menagerie. Nor did Mr. Barnum ever wait for his public to become bored; he believed in infinite variety. The Feejee mermaid gave way to General Tom Thumb, General Tom Thumb to the Bearded Lady, the Bearded Lady to Campagnolian Bell Ringers. His American Museum took in