New York in New York County, New York — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
Barnum's First Big Bamboozle
Washington’s 161-Year Old Nursemaid
— Bowery & Division Street —
Whether P.T. Barnum said it or not, “there’s a sucker born every minute” certainly applies to the throngs that lined up at Bowery and Division Street in 1836 for his first big bamboozle – the exhibition of slave woman Joice Heth, the supposed 46-pound, 161-year-old former nurse to America’s first president. Popular with audiences, Heth smoked a pipe, sang Baptist hymns and reminisced about baby George. To lure the skeptics, Barnum also exploited one critic’s theory that Heath was actually a clever combination of automation and ventriloquism.
By his own admission, he bought the blind, toothless, partially paralyzed old woman for $1,000. Given the 10-hour shifts and multi-state touring schedule, he almost certainly hastened her death within just a few months of purchase. An autopsy, which Barnum sold tickets to, suggested she was probably not over 80.
The Bowery was the young Barnum’s stomping ground. In addition to Heth, he exhibited song and dance acts at Vauxhall Garden (Bowery at Cooper Square), wrote advertising hype for the Bowery Amphitheatre (37 Bowery), and tried manufacturing and selling bear’s
Even after hitting the big time with Barnum’s Museum on Broadway, his influence continued to be felt at the dime museums that lined the Bowery, offering in miniature the exotic exhibits and stage shows that made his museum the wonder of the age.
-David Mulkins, Historian/Educator
Erected 2016 by Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.
Location. 40° 42.838′ N, 73° 59.845′ W. Marker is in New York, New York, in New York County. Marker is at the intersection of Bowery and Division Street, on the right when traveling north on Bowery. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: New York NY 10002, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Gateway to Old Chinatown (within shouting distance of this marker); Birthplace of Modern Tattooing! (within shouting distance of this marker); NYC’s Oldest Brick House (within shouting distance of this marker); Windows On The Bowery (within shouting distance of this marker); Kimlau Square (within shouting distance of this marker); Americans of Chinese Ancestry (about 300 feet Lin Ze Xu (about 300 feet away); The First Jewish Cemetery in the United States (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in New York.
Regarding Barnum's First Big Bamboozle. One of more than sixty entries in the “Windows on the Bowery” series.
Many of the other site mentioned in the text have marker of their own.
Categories. • African Americans • Entertainment •
More. Search the internet for Barnum's First Big Bamboozle.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 17, 2019. This page originally submitted on April 8, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York. This page has been viewed 62 times since then and 6 times this year. Last updated on April 17, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 8, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York. 5. submitted on April 9, 2019. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.