P. T. Barnum & 101 Bowery


From the Greatest Showman to a Renowned Museum

101 Bowery PT Barnum Lower East Side

About P. T. Barnum & 101 Bowery

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • As the heart of 19th Century New York’s low budget, high entertainment, seedy vaudeville, dancehall, saloon district, the Bowery was the inevitable birthplace for The Greatest Show on Earth.
  • But if you rewind the clock to 1839, you won’t find P.T. Barnum, circus impresario. You’d discover P.T. Barnum, proprietor of a not-so-successful “shoe-blackening, cologne and bear’s grease (without the bear!)” store at 101 Bowery.
    • Barnum’s career as a mediocre grocer/dry-goods salesman was short-lived. When his business partner at 101 Bowery skipped town for Rotterdam and left Barnum holding the bag, the Greatest Showman sold that enterprise. He made a go of it with a vaudeville act at New York’s Vauxhall Gardens (a 19th-century pleasure garden/vaudeville saloon) at what’s now Astor Place.
    • The Vauxhall show was not bringing in the kind of cash Barnum wanted, so he went on the road as an itinerant showman. But — obviously! — nobody can stay away from New York City for too long, so by the spring of 1841, Barnum was back in town, at the helm of the enterprise that would make him famous: Barnum’s American Museum!
      • The American Museum was a 5-story, 25-cent, side-show fantasia on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street that sported a zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater, and “freak show.”
      • Such attractions as Tom Thumb, the Fejee Mermaid, and a wax figure of Jefferson Davis in drag, attracted a reported 15,000 people a day.
  • Just because P.T. Barnum was no longer selling bear-less bear grease at 101 Bowery doesn’t mean the address didn’t continue to traffic in curiosities.
  • In fact, by the late 19th century, The Bowery was chock-a-block with vaudeville theaters, and dime-entertainment revues.
  • In 1881, E.M. Worth opened “Mr. Worth’s Renowned Museum of Living Curiosities” at 101 Bowery.
    • These Living Curiosities included a 28-foot-long giant squid and 54 rattlesnakes.
      • Keeping curiosities came back to bite Worth. Literally.
        • In 1882, Worth was bitten by one of his rattlesnakes at 101 Bowery. He stands out in local history as the first person treated for rattlesnake bite in the city of New York.

Carpe City Trivia

What was P.T. Barnum's first name?

It was Phineas. “P.T.” stands for Phineas Taylor.

If anyone could sell you a bridge in Brooklyn, it was P.T. Barnum

  • When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and nobody thought that it would stand. So, P.T. Barnum pulled off the greatest PR stunt/public service the city had ever seen.
    • He found a fantastic and unique way to test the bridge’s durability: Barnum sent a procession of 24 circus elephants across it! When the elephants came through unscathed, the city was satisfied, and the Brooklyn Bridge could duly be hailed as an engineering marvel. Thank you, P.T. Barnum!

By: Lucie Levine
Photography by:

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