Political Rallies and Barnum Circus

One would think that the Republican and Democratic conventions took a page out of the marketing book of Phineas Barnum - with all of the hype and mis-direction.

On this day in 1850, the American tradition of celebrity hysteria was born. And who else would you expect to be the mid-wife at the event - none other than Phineas Taylor Barnum. If he were alive today, surely one party or the other would hire him as a convention event manager.

The event was the New York debut of a certain Johanna Goldschmidt but perhaps you know her by the name that most ga-ga New Yorkers knew her by - Jenny Lind. Barnum had imported the soprano from Europe - but - hold your Beatle wig folks - he thought he needed a "gimmick" to hype things.

First he picked a nick-name/image. He called her "the Swedish Nightingale." Then he announced that for her American tour, they would have to outfit a special railroad car for her special needs. (First private railroad car in history.) Sound familiar? Think about the train and bus tours of politicians.

Barnum planted stories that his diva would occasionally appear at the window, on a balcony, or in the lobby of her hotel. The result was an incredible 30,000 people surrounding the hotel. (First
call out of the police to protect a celebrity.)

Barnum then announced that the tickets for her appearance at Castle Clinton, on the southern most tip of Manhattan, was oversubscribed. So, he announced, in true Barnum fashion, that he would auction off the 25¢ tickets. On the first bid a man who was either love struck or a Barnum plant paid $225 for the 25¢ ticket. His name was John Genin. The crowd went wild and began bidding frantically for tickets. (First ticket scalping - an old NYC tradition). When the auction was over, many of the
successful bidders re-offered their tickets at a premium to those who missed the auction. (Second ticket scalping - another tradition.)

Having caused more than enough headlines and hysteria, on this night, Barnum escorted his star to the glittering candlelit stage of Castle Clinton and into celebrity history.


Comments