P.T. BARNUM - AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED 01/14/1883 - HFSID 286033
Sale Price $4,037.50
The great showman will send a bear and hyena that died at his circus' winter quarters to his taxidermist to be mounted or "skeletonized" for display at Tufts' Barnum Museum and mentions Jumbo, the giant elephant that the recipient will preserve less than three years later
Autograph letter signed: "P.T. Barnum", 1p, 6x9¾. Bridgeport, 1883 January 14. On pictorial letterhead of "P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth and the Great London Circus" featuring "Sanger's Royal British Menagerie" and "Great International Allied Shows" to Professor Henry A. Ward. Barnum, J.A. Bailey and J.L. Hutchinson are pictured on the letterhead. In full: "Our folks at Winter Quarters lost a bear & I think a hyena this week. I told them to send them to you by freight train. Please tell Prof. Marth of Tufts about them & ask what you shall do - as I present them to their Museum either to sell to you or have you mount or skeletonize them if they desire at their expense. I remove to New York tomorrow - to Murray Hill Hotel & close Waldemere for the season." Handwritten postscript: "Let my partners do the Jumbo business with you. Hope your little girl enjoyed her day." Two years earlier, in 1881, PHINEAS T. BARNUM (1810-1891) had joined promotional forces with JAMES A. BAILEY and JAMES L. HUTCHINSON to form "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", which soon became known as the "Barnum & London Circus". One of Barnum's biggest successes had come in 1882 with his acquisition of JUMBO the elephant for $10,000 from the Royal Zoological Society in London. Dubbed "The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race, Whose Like the World Will Never See Again", Jumbo arrived in New York on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1882, in time for the annual opening of the "Greatest Show on Earth" at Madison Square Garden, attracting enormous crowds that grossed $336,000 for the show. On May 24, 1883, four months after this letter was written, the Brooklyn Bridge opened, connecting the cities of Brooklyn and New York and Barnum staged one of his greatest promotional coups by walking Jumbo across the bridge to test the strength of the new engineering marvel. PROFESSOR HENRY A. WARD of Rochester, New York was Barnum's semi-official taxidermist for rare birds and animals that "died on the job". In 1883, Ward requested that he be the one to stuff Jumbo when the need occurred. Barnum assented: "I shall have my managers understand that if we lose Jumbo (which Heaven forbid!) you must be telegraphed to immediately, & hope you will lose no time in saving his skin and skeleton". This is what Barnum is referring to in this letter when he mentions Ward working with his partners. Jumbo's demise came on the evening of September 15, 1885, when the "Greatest Show on Earth" was playing the town of St. Thomas, Ontario. An unscheduled express train hit both Jumbo and the show's smallest elephant, Tom Thumb, breaking Tom Thumb's leg and killing Jumbo. Barnum was having breakfast at the Murray Hill Hotel in New York, mentioned in this letter, when the news was brought to him. He then asked Professor Ward to make two Jumbos, one made of skin, the other a skeleton, to replace the flesh-and-blood original and to have both ready for the 1886 season. The stuffed Jumbo continued to tour with the circus until 1889, when he was given to TUFTS College in Medford, Massachusetts to be displayed in the Barnum Museum of Natural History, which had been named for its benefactor. Tufts sports teams are called the Jumbos. Jumbo burned in a fire in Barnum Hall in 1975, but his ashes were gathered in a peanut jar, which still serves as a good luck charm for Tufts athletes. WALDEMERE, also mentioned in this letter, was Barnum's mansion (completed in 1869) in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he spent five months of every year. Additional background at www.galleryofhistory.com. Barnum letters mentioning Jumbo are extremely desirable. This letter to his taxidermist is of special historic importance. Lightly creased with folds, not at signature. ¼-inch separations at blank left margin at upper horizontal fold and lower blank edge. Shaded and lightly soiled at margins from prior framing. Pencil notes (unknown hand) on verso, which is lightly soiled and has tape remnants at upper and lower left margins and lower right blank edge (show through).
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