The Barnum Museum
From its opening on February 18, 1893 to present day, The Barnum Museum has been committed to the preservation and interpretation of Bridgeport's industrial and social history, as well as being an outstanding educational resource for students of all ages. Illustrated in relief panels across the top of the building are images from various periods in America's history: the Native American (1670), Early Settler (1760), Maritime (1840), Civil War (1861), and Industrial (1870). Interspersed between the five panels are six busts depicting a Native American, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Elias Howe, US General Winfield Scott, and President Grover Cleveland.
The first floor gallery hosts P. T. Barnum: Bethel to Broadway to Bridgeport. The exhibition guides you through Barnum's long and multifaceted career. Using numerous artifacts, including a reproduction of Barnum's renown 'humbug', the FEJEE MERMAID, a souvenir piece of cake from Tom Thumb's 1863 wedding, and many personal items from the Barnum family, the exhibit explores Barnum's life from his humble beginnings in Bethel, through the "curiosities and marvels of nature" in his American Museum on Broadway in NY, through his family and political life in Bridgeport, his adopted home, and concluding with his most famous enterprise: "P. T. Barnum's Greatest Show On Earth®".
Adjacent to the first floor gallery is a re-creation of the library from Barnum's first Bridgeport mansion, Iranistan. Modeled after the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, and designed for Barnum by Leopold Eidlitz (founder of the American Institute of Architects,) Iranistan (oriental villa) was completed in 1848, and ultimately destroyed by fire in 1857. The 19th century room contains the original furnishings designed by the prominent cabinet-making firm Julius Dessoir, and showcases Barnum's distinctive taste.
The main lobby features Baby Bridgeport, a 6'8" 700 pound mounted pachyderm. Baby Bridgeport was born in Bridgeport at the winter quarters in 1882. He was the second elephant born in captivity and is the first elephant born in captivity to be preserved.
The second floor exhibits focus on 19th century culture and industry in Bridgeport, and explore Barnum's contributions to his adopted home. The Victorian Picture Gallery, featuring fine art and sculpture, captures the essence of the early art museum, popularized during the 19th century. A model of Iranistan, made for the Arts & Entertainment Network movie, "P. T. Barnum", marks the entrance into the main gallery, Grand Adventure: A Celebration of the American Spirit in Bridgeport. This exhibition examines how Barnum developed Bridgeport's East Side from farmland to a major east coast industrial hub.
The exhibition explores the impact of industrialization, and how Bridgeport recognized and responded to its growing community by designing parks, establishing schools, and building utilities and social institutions. Industries that made Bridgeport a manufacturing center during the later part of the century included Wheeler & Wilson (sewing) Manufacturing Company, Warner Brothers (corsets), Remington Arms, Bridgeport Brass Company, and General Electric Company.
The third floor gallery hosts a 1,000 square foot, 3/4" scale model of a five-ring circus. This exhibit, hand carved by William Brinley of Meriden, Connecticut, includes more than 3,000 miniature sculptures - everything from the Big Top to the Menagerie. This miniature wonder is considered one of the most spectacular carved circus models in the country.
Adjacent to this display is an exhibition devoted to Barnum's legendary protégé, General Tom Thumb. Born Charles Stratton in Bridgeport, the diminutive performer became the most famous of Barnum's acts. Original furniture, clothing, and personal objects belonging to Tom and his wife Lavinia Warren are on display, as well as miniature carriages belonging to Tom Thumb and his companion performer, Commodore Nutt.
Pictures and information were provided by the Barnum Museum
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