Friday, December 16, 2016

The Barnum of Magic

Many are not aware, but in his very early days, P.T. Barnum was an assistant to the famous clown and conjurer Joe Pentland. Barnum’s role in the act was to hide under Pentland’s table and secretly take articles passed down to him and pass others up to the magician unnoticed. 
One of the items passed up was a squirrel which bit Barnum on the thumb. Barnum screamed, knocked over the table and ran off stage. It was an embarrassing spectacle but the audience enjoyed it tremendously. The subject of this posting is NOT that Barnum, but rather “Professor” John H. Barnum.

The Bicycle New Fan Back
Our subject was born Nov. 19, 1870, in Hooversville, Indiana, and was associated with show business and magic since the age of seven. He was an early member of the S.A.M. joining on Sept. 6, 1902, and receiving card number 62. He toured primarily in the Indiana and Illinois area and more generally around the Midwest. He also must have toured abroad doing ventriloquism and magic for a March 1903 Sphinx mentions that Barnum reported doing good business on his tour through Mexico.

He must have fit in very well with those early leaders of the society for he was a great opponent to exposing magic to the public.

There are a number of references to him in the early part of the last century. In a July 20, 1907 issue of The Magician, he is noted as being a correspondent for the S.A.M.  In the mid-teens he must have dropped off the map because an Oct. 1917 Sphinx was trying to locate a number of magicians including Barnum. The secretary was asking for any information on his whereabouts. And then, in an Oct. 1923, issue, S.A.M. Secretary Richard Van Dien reported that Barnum was ill and confined to his home in Knox, Indiana. Van Dien indicated that Barnum would appreciate other members sending him reading material.

A year later, The Sphinx reported his death on Feb. 1, 1924, age 53, at Holy Family Hospital in LaPorte, Indiana. His death certificate shows the cause of death was colon cancer which he had battled for over a year. Barnum’s father was Josiah Barnum and his mother, Lucinda Myers. He had two younger brothers Horace and George. He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox, Indiana.  

Like Kellar and Thurston, Barnum’s Good-Luck throwing card showed a devilish character whispering secrets into this ear.  It was a bicycle brand card featuring the fan back in red. The card is certainly no humbug!  

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