I did not believe in reincarnation until I read about P.T. Barnum. He was one of the most celebrated men in America while he lived. He understood the public was willing – even eager – to be conned, provided there was enough entertainment to be had in the process.

He lied and exaggerated easily and often. He exhibited a “real” mermaid – made up of a monkey top and fish tail. He claimed to have the woman who was George Washington’s mammy, meaning she was over 120 years old. When he got caught in his many lies, he just laughed. Any publicity was better than no publicity. In fact, he was known to create events just to be in the papers.

Barnum became the most celebrated man in America not despite his racism and flimflamming, his duplicity and self-promotion, but because of them. He didn’t so much fool the public as entertain and indulge them.

When he went broke, he made speeches on “the Art of Money-Getting”. Toward the end of his life, he considered running for president as the “Prince of Humbug”.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Does this sound like anyone we know today?

Will Reid

Corvallis (Aug. 25)

Be the first to know - Sign up for Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.