Eyewitness to Barnum’s show

CH TubbsPvt. Charles Henry Tubbs served in the 27th Massachusetts volunteers during the first years of the Civil War and in 1863, due to a lingering illness, was transferred to the Invalid Corps – a group of men who were not healthy enough for combat duty but were well enough for garrison duty.  Tubbs’ first service was in North Carolina, where he spent a little more than a year between 1862 and 1863.  After the riots in New York City in the summer of 1863, the Invalid Corps was stationed in New York City to keep the peace.  Tubbs wrote letters to his wife Minerva (Nerve, as he called her) in Massachusetts from his post in Brooklyn.  Tubbs transferred one last time from Brooklyn to Washington DC as the Invalid Corps was moved to help guard the Nation’s Capital after the Confederate raid in the summer of 1864.

While in Brooklyn, Tubbs visited P.T. Barnum’s show and sent a detailed description home to Nerve.  His letter gives an interesting view of the show as seen by someone who was contemporary to the event. His account is even more interesting due to the recent success of the current movie about Barnum’s show.

While in DC Tubbs must have visited the Smithsonian collection.  He was in DC when the Smithsonian caught fire in January 1865.  During the fire, guards were placed to keep people from stealing parts of the collection but the guards did not stop all thieves and some items were stolen.  In his letter [dated 25 January 1865] to Nerve about the fire, Tubbs made another reference to Barnum’s show – he wrote that if likened to the Smithsonian “Barnum’s was nothing but a sideshow to a Circus.”  An interesting comparison by a man who had seen both venues.

Here is the first part of Tubb’s 28 February 1864 letter describing Barnum’s  – some punctuation was added but spelling was not edited.


Located in our Private Collections – Charles Henry Tubbs collection, P.C. 1864

Now is this full enough fore one sheete.  Speaking of sheets I wish I had some to lay on tonight.

Brooklyn, Feb. 28 ‘64

Wall Dear Nerve, I have commenced again but I don’t know what I shall fill this sheete with unless I give you a discription of what I saw at Barnum’s Show. But firste I will write of myself.  I am aboute the same as when I wrote laste neither well nor yet sick but betwixt and between aboute midling.  If you can tell by that how I feel you can do better than I can for in fact I donte know what ailes mee.  Now for Mr. Barnum’s.  I will describe it as well as I can but it will not be perfect so donte expect to much.  The first saloone we look through magnafing glases at some pictures they look as large as life through them.  There is alpine scenery and Italy closaters where wee see the monks in churches and in prosesions but the best was the Battle of Navareno.  It was life size and looked natural as a battle scene.  The next floore there was shells and fosile plants with all kinds of fishes in aquariums.  They looked nice.  They are supplied with fresh water all the time by a simpal contrivance.  Then a showcase of slippers of all kinds frome I don’t know how far back up to the present time.  It was curious to look at bugs and beetals from a flea up, all stuck on pins.  Butterflies and all such animals stuffed of all kinds and fishes.  Then wee came to the big snakes.  They were in a glass case but I did not like the looks of them.  There was a turtal that was as big as your table.  He was stuffed.  Then wee run on to an elaphant stuffed.  Here I saw one of the famous giants as he stood shaking hands.  He was near two feete above common folks and well proportioned.  He must weigh near if not quite three hundred pounds.  There was coins and minerals from all parts of the worlde but the best of the whole was the moving wax figgers.  They was as large as life and breathed or looked as though they did.  Rather they would turn their heads, some would shake their heads and wink their eyes.  It was the representation of the dying Chief.  The Chief lay with his head in his wife’s lap.  Once in a while he would gaspe drawing a longe breath then it would grow shorter and shorter until we could not see him stir.  His wife sat at his head looking O so sorrowfull.  She looked as though she coulde not cry but once in a while a sob would burst frome her bosome.  Behind her stood [page two] his mother in deepe grief gasing [gazing] into his faice, looking as though tears were not far – her in her deep grief.  Just beside him his little son leaning on his sworde looking as though he coulde not realize the death of his Father.  Behinde and beside his mother stood the monks in their robes of office crying.  Behind the son was the sister of the Chief kneeling.  She was crying and wiping her eyes with her handkerchief.  At the feete of the Chief was his soldiers leaning on their swords.  Once in a while they would shake their heads looking as though they had maide a vow to avenge their Chief.  They were as near what God made man when he breathed the breath of life into him as the ingenuity of man can come.  Wall, after looking at the sights wee went into the play, it was not much but I saw the what is it this is a curious anamile of the babboone specie.  It looks very near like a man.  it is nearly as tall as I am and looks like a monkey in the face.  Then the four giants – three men and one woman.  The average hight was eighte feete and well proportioned.  Two little boys came out with them for a contrast.  One was twelve, the other thirteen.  They looked like a flee besides an elaphant.  Then the tyrolean whistler.  he played a tune on an old coffee pot and played on three flutes at a time, one in each nostril and one in his mouth.  He played regular tunes on them.  Then the albino family came out but I think you have seen them so I will not describe them. I was well payed; it was worth a quarter to see the wax worke alone.  I spent a very pleasant day indeede. It was sporte to see the interest Uncle Jim took in everything he saw.  It was new to him.  He never saw eneything of the kinde before. [The letter continues but this is the end of referencing Barnum’s show].