In praise of suckers and P. T. Barnum

We are now three years and one day removed from this unforgettable event:

Diaper-Wearing Service Kangaroo Kicked Out of Wisconsin McDonald’s

You know who else liked kangaroos? P.T. Barnum. You know who publishes his every-word-guaranteed-to-be-true* autobiography? The University of Illinois Press. Without a doubt the Greatest Book on Earth, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, was a pioneer of that most American of genres, the tell-all celebrity biography. The UIP version reprints P.T.’s original 1855 fib fest in its brazen, confessional, and immensely entertaining entirety.

barnum kangarooOne of the surprises of Barnum’s life story is that some of his profit-making escapades enjoyed a certain respectability. New York newspapers, for example, celebrated the educational benefits of his famed American Museum, and indeed it held a natural history collection that, besides being more or less legitimate, was among the largest in the country. Its wonders included live curiosities from the animal kingdom—alligators, anacondas, a platypus, a kangaroo, and many other creatures. On July 13, 1865, a fire swept the premises. Though firefighters reportedly broke open the water tanks holding captive whales (!), the American Museum burned down. The kangaroo did not survive.

* Not legally binding.