UNITARIANS AND UNIVERSALISTS ON STAMPS
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The United States Postal Department issued this circus stamp in 1966. The first day of issue was in Delavan, Wisconsin, the home of John Ringling, This clown face represents the circus on this stamp.
However, we are using this stamp to tell you about P. T. Barnum, the circus man and showman of the second half of the 19th century.
For it was the Barnum and Bailey Circus, bought by John Ringling in 1907, after the deaths of P. T. Barnum and James A. Bailey which made John Ringling a circus man. John Ringling and his brothers, who were essentially acrobats, kept the original name of the circus and called it: Ringling Bros., and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
So we feel justified in using this stamp to tell you about P. T. Barnum, circus owner and manager, and an ardent Universalist of Bridgeport, Conn. and New York City.
P. T. Barnum liked to think of himself as a showman, but he had to admit that during the last 20 years of his active life, he was a very famous circus owner and manager. When Barnum and Bailey joined their two circuses and for the first time showed a three-ring circus at Madison Square Garden in 1881, it was billed as: "The Greatest Show on Earth." This is how he is thought of today.
His career as a showman began in 1835 when he exhibited Joice Heth, who claimed she was 161 years old and had been the nurse of George Washington. It continued with the exhibition of the Fiji Mermaid, "General Tom Thumb", and the Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. He became an impresario when he brought the singer, Jenny Lind, called the Swedish Nightingale, to the United States for a tour. She was an instant success and lifted Barnum to prominence.
He built an American Museum of freaks and oddities in New York City. This burned and was rebuilt, but after the second fire, Barnum took his friend Horace Greeley's advice and retired.
As a citizen, he served as Mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. and then in the Connecticut Legislature. He planned and completed his gift of Seaside Park in Bridgeport, overlooking Long Island Sound. He also built a new home, Waldemere, for his wife, Charity, and family.
But he didn't stay retired. He was persuaded by Mr. Coup and Mr. Castello to join them to build a "mammouth, gorgeous circus". This circus opened in Brooklyn, N. Y. in April 1871 in huge tents; it then traveled from Maine to Kansas. Barnum was having the time of his life with the circus. It was the showman's paradise. In 1881 this circus merged with its competitor, the Cooper and Bailey Circus.
This was really "The Greatest Show on Earth, but to make it even greater, Barnum bought Jumbo, the largest elephant ever known, from the London Zoo. Jumbo was 12 ft. high and weighed 6 1/2 tons. He was an African elephant. Jumbo became a symbol for the circus and proved to be a huge attraction.
The name Jumbo apparently comes from the Swahili word jumbe, which means chief. The English language now has used jumbo as an adjective, describing jumbo jets, jumbo submarine sandwiches and jumbo eggs and olives.
A tragic accident in Ontario, Canada in 1885 ended Jumbo's life, when an unscheduled freight train hit him while the circus was loading in the freight yards. The huge elephant's skeleton was given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The hide was given to Tufts College. Carl Akeley of the Ward Co. in Rochester, New York mounted the hide. Below is a picture of Jumbo as he was exhibited then in Barnum Museum at Tufts College, now Tufts University.
THE MOUNTED JUMBO AS HE STOOD IN BARNUM MUSEUM AT TUFTS UNIVERSITY. Mounted in 1886, he stood there until the fire of April 1975. Portrait of P.T. Barnum on the wall over his desk.
But the circus went on. In 1887 Barnum and Bailey developed the 3 Ring Show, such a large circus that it took 90 railroad cars to move the whole circus, and this circus played in 175 cities in that year. In 1889 Barnum and Bailey took their circus to London for the summer and in 1890 they were back in the U.S.A. traveling across the land.
Barnum's first, wife, Charity, died in 1873 while Barnum was in Hamburg, Germany. The next year he married a long time friend from England, Nancy Fish. In 1891 the strain of his active life began to show. He grew weaker and died in his home with his family around his bedside. Nancy faithfully completed his autobiography after his death.
P. T. Barnum was named for his maternal grandfather, Phineas Taylor. Born and raised in Bethel, Conn.) his mother took him regularly to the local church, Calvinistic Presbyterian. Barnum later described this faith as: "It was a faith which painted God as so revengeful a being that you could hardly distinguish the difference between God and the devil." The services were so frightening that Barnum, as a teenager, would go home and pray in utmost sincerity to be taken out of the world as a means of being "saved from hell."
Later he began to doubt the preachings of the church. He wrote in his autobiography about how he felt upon learning that his grandfather Taylor was a Universalist: "When I first heard of the doctrine of the Universalists I felt so utterly astonished that I thought I'd drop dead." After serious consideration of religion, he accepted the Universalist belief in a God whose "mercy endureth forever", and consistently adhered to this position in religious matters throughout the rest of his life.
When he moved to Bridgeport, he and his wife regularly attended the Church of the Redeemer (Universalist) there, although it was not until late in life that he actually became a member. The minister, through honest and clever persuasion convinced him that he was wanted as a member. He then became a member of the Board of Trustees, and also went to annual conventions and was frequently one of the prin- cipal speakers. It is interesting to note here, that it was while P. T. Barnum was on the Board of Trustees in Bridgeport, that the first woman minister, Olympia Brown, was called to the Universalist Church.
He made large gifts to Tufts College, Medford, Massachusetts, which was organized originally to train men in the Universalist ministry. After Jumbo's untimely death, he gave Jumbo's hide to Tufts, which established a "Barnum Museum", which was the geology and biology building on the campus. Jumbo's hide was mounted with an interior framework and Jumbo became the Tufts College mascot. There, Jumbo stood from 1885 until April 1975, when Barnum Hall burned.
Barnum's interest in theology persuaded him to publish a newspaper, "Herald of Freedom" in which he could publish his arguments against the newly-formed Church and State party of the established church. It was a four-page, well-printed newspaper in which Barnum inveighed against militant Calvinism and religious oppression. He carried beneath the masthead a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: "For I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
When Barnum lived in New York City, he attended the Universalist Church there. He and Nancy Fish, his second wife, were married in the Church of the Divine Paternity on Fifth Avenue, with the Reverend Mr. Chapin, Officiating. The Church of the Divine Paternity (Universalist) is now the Fourth Universalist Society in New York City.
Barnum's funeral, which was held in the South Congregational Church because it was the largest church available, was attended by thousands of mourners. The Rev. Robert Collyer, Unitarian, bent and gray, with tears rolling down his face, spoke the eulogy over Barnum's body:
"P. T. Barnum was a born fighter for the weak against the strong, for the oppressed against the oppressor. The good heart, tender as it was brave, would always spring up at the cry for help and rush on with the sword of assistance. This was not all that made him loved, for the good cheer of his nature was like a halo about him. He had always time to right a wrong and always time to be a good citizen and patriot of the town, State or Republic in which he lived."