Film stirs new interest in PT Barnum

Posted: Updated:
NY - DECEMBER 08: Actors Hugh Jackman (L) and Zac Efron attend the 'The Greatest Showman' World Premiere aboard the Queen Mary 2 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal NY - DECEMBER 08: Actors Hugh Jackman (L) and Zac Efron attend the 'The Greatest Showman' World Premiere aboard the Queen Mary 2 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal

By MICHAEL MELIA
Associated Press

HARTFORD (AP) - The Hollywood film on the life of the founder of the Barnum & Bailey circus is stirring new interest in the man, P.T. Barnum, who besides his turn as a master showman was a state legislator, philanthropist and mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

There's been an increase in visitors to Bridgeport's Barnum Museum since "The Greatest Showman" started playing last month in theaters.  Museum director Kathy Maher said the museum has had to add guides.

The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, also has seen more people taking interest in Barnum and asking to speak with their historian, spokeswoman Alice Murphy said.

Maher said producers of the film took some advice from the museum for props and set designs. But she said the filmmakers at 20th Century Fox advised they were seeking to capture Barnum's spirit, and not do a documentary, so she was prepared to see the movie take some liberties with his life story.

"We are here to deliver the authentic. That's what museums do," she said. "That's not what Hollywood does. Their mission is to make people happy. Nailed it."

Still, circus historians have found sport in picking apart where the man as depicted by a singing and dancing Hugh Jackman diverges from the true story of Phineas Taylor Barnum.

"I thought it was fun entertainment. It was a romp. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the historic Barnum," said Arthur Saxon, author of "P.T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man."

For one, Saxon said, Barnum grew up in Bethel, Connecticut, as the grandson of one of the most prosperous people in town despite the film's portrayal of humble beginnings. He also took issue with the ringleader's uniform worn by Jackman - something he said Barnum never wore - and scenes that had the champion of liquor reform drinking champagne or whisky.

The film highlights Barnum's hiring of people with disabilities as circus performers, a practice that's especially suspect for a modern-day audience. Saxon said individuals such as Tom Thumb often became well off and in his research on Barnum he never came across any employee who had a negative thing to say about Barnum.

Near the film's end, it depicts an 1865 fire that destroyed Barnum's American Museum in New York City. It shows Barnum running into the building to save a fictional partner, but at the time he was actually on the floor of the Connecticut legislature, as a representative for the town of Fairfield, speaking out on a scheme to monopolize railroads, Maher said.

Among those seeking to set the record straight is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which called on Thursday for the Bridgeport museum to address the circus's history of exploiting elephants.

Later this month, Maher is presenting a talk at the Barnum Museum on what inspired the film. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to thousands of artifacts. It was completed in 1893 and has been dealing with repairs and preservation work since it was struck by a tornado in 2010. It's still trying to raise money for improvements.

"My hope is the movie will illuminate the museum situation to a broad range of people through the state, the country, and even globally," she said.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Connecticut SlideshowsSlideshowsMore>>

  • Guide: National park sites in the tristate area

    Guide: National park sites in the tristate area

    Statue of LibertyStatue of Liberty

    A guide to the national park sites and trails on Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York City and the Hudson Valley.

    A guide to the national park sites and trails on Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York City and the Hudson Valley.

  • Students organize walkouts over gun violence

    Students organize walkouts over gun violence

    Students from across the country streamed out of their schools on April 20, 2018 in the latest round of gun-control activism following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.Students from across the country streamed out of their schools on April 20, 2018 in the latest round of gun-control activism following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

    Students from across the country streamed out of their schools on April 20, 2018 in the latest round of gun-control activism following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The protests were chosen to line up with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

    Students from across the country streamed out of their schools on April 20, 2018 in the latest round of gun-control activism following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The protests were chosen to line up with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

  • Connecticut Birthday Smiles

    Connecticut Birthday Smiles

    Is your or a loved one's birthday coming up? Let us know! Send us your photos and you could end up on air and News12.com!Is your or a loved one's birthday coming up? Let us know! Send us your photos and you could end up on air and News12.com!

    It's a celebration! Is your or a loved one's birthday coming up? Let us know! Send us your photos and you could end up on air and News12.com!

    It's a celebration! Is your or a loved one's birthday coming up? Let us know! Send us your photos and you could end up on air and News12.com!

sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."