Barnum Museum’s Renovation Prompts ‘Catchy’ PETA Donation Offer

For Immediate Release:
January 18, 2018

David Perle 202-483-7382

Bridgeport, Conn.

After learning of The Barnum Museum’s upcoming renovation plans, PETA sent a letter today offering to put forth $10,000 toward the modernization—if the museum agrees to address P.T. Barnum’s shameful history of exploiting minorities, disabled people, and animals to make his fortune. Barnum’s circus caged, chained, and beat animals, and he reportedly also exhibited an African-American woman with a disability—selling tickets to her public autopsy when she died—and advertised a man with microcephaly (a condition in which a person’s head is unusually small) as “the connecting link between man and monkey” with the tagline “What is it?”

In the letter, PETA contends that the museum must feature eyewitness testimony and historical images showing how Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—which followed in Barnum’s footsteps—routinely bound baby elephants and tortured them into performing demeaning and often painful tricks. PETA also offers the museum its “I, Elephant” virtual reality project so that visitors can experience firsthand what it’s like to be an animal used in the circus. And the group suggests displaying a bullhook—the heavy baton-like weapon with a sharp hook on one end that Barnum’s animal handlers wielded to coerce elephants to perform, which is still used in circuses today—as well as a pile of steel tethering chains, which visitors could attempt to lift in a hands-on visual of what animals endure as they’re carted across the country.

“A museum about P.T. Barnum’s life and legacy is not complete without mention of his deplorable exploitation of African-Americans, people with disabilities, and, until the bitter end, animals,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA wants to help The Barnum Museum present an accurate depiction of animal circuses, and that includes their long and hateful history of beating animals into performing.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—ran a determined campaign against Ringling that included video and photographic exposés, creative ads, celebrity campaigns, online activism, support for local legislation, and thousands of demonstrations. The circus finally shuttered in 2017 after nearly 150 years of exploitation and cruelty, citing declining ticket sales and changing public opinion about wild-animal acts.

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