America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
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

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America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xv
  • Chapter I - In Detestation of Idleness 3
  • Chapter II - Husking-Bees and Tavern Sports 22
  • Chapter III - The Colonial Aristocracy 44
  • Chapter IV - The Frontier 67
  • Chapter V - A Changing Society 84
  • Chapter VI - The Theatre Comes of Age 100
  • Chapter VII - Mr. Barnum Shows the Way 122
  • Chapter VIII - The Beginning of Spectator Sports 136
  • Chapter IX - Mid-Century 148
  • Chapter X - Cow-Towns and Mining-Camps 168
  • Chapter XI - The Rise of Sports 182
  • Chapter XII - The New Order 201
  • Chapter XIII - Metropolis 211
  • Chapter XIV - World of Fashion 230
  • Chapter XV - Main Street 248
  • Chapter XVI - Farm and Countryside 271
  • Chapter XVII - The Growth of the Movies 287
  • Chapter XVIII - A Nation on Wheels 308
  • Chapter XIX - On the Air 320
  • Chapter XX - The Great American Band-Wagon 332
  • Chapter XXI - Sports for All 347
  • Chapter XXII - The New Leisure 365
  • Bibliography 375
  • Notes 391
  • Index 425
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