10 Things I Didn’t know about P.T. Barnum (1810-1891)

Contemporary cartoon of Barnum as a “humbug”

Sure, we all know him as a great promoter, showman and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus (at age 60) but here are some things I didn’t know.

  1. He created America’s first aquarium.
  2. He was a Republican member of the Connecticut legislature and the mayor of Bridgeport.
  3. He started Bridgeport Hospital.
  4. He almost bought the birth home of William Shakespeare.
  5. He created the concept of matinées to encourage families to come to the theater and to lessen the fear of crime.
  6. A self-proclaimed humbug himself, he offered $500 to any medium who could prove power to communicate with the dead in his book Humbugs of the World.
  7. He sponsored a law against contraception that was not overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1965.
  8. He made significant contributions to Tufts University, including Jumbo the circus elephant.
  9. He never actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
  10. He made arrangements to read his own obituary shortly before he died.

Source: Wikipedia, “P.T. Barnum”


Surendranath Banerjee (1848–1925)

Bon_anniversaire_346Hindus calculate their ages from the date of conception rather than the date of birth.

That is why Banerjee, an early leader in India’s fight for independence from the British, was rejected from the Indian Civil Service.  The British thought he had misrepresented his age.

What an interesting custom!  I wonder if the focus on conception means that Hindus have a different set of beliefs and attitudes toward sex than Christian-dominated cultures.

Photo credit: Photo by Patrick Subotkiewiez from BAZIEGE, FRANCE


For this Indian people of northern Colombia, “[p]uberty rites are observed for both sexes, and formerly both boys and girls were initiated sexually by older persons at the conclusion of such rites.  Now only boys are so initiated.  Married couples also observe a taboo against sexual intercourse indoors.”

There have been many books and articles written about whether American children have or should have initiation rites.  Some have suggested that obtaining a driver’s license or going on a first date or having one’s first period are the closest we have to a rite of passage.This raises a couple of questions for me:

1)  Should there be a clear demarcation between childhood and adulthood?  Do rites of passage serve a legitimate purpose even in modern societies?

2)  Should such rites be sexual in nature?  I can imagine anthropologists arguing that without such rites, sex is cheapened in our culture, with a cascade of consequences.  Perhaps our birth of sexuality is too significant to ignore or to relegate to happenstance, and sexuality should be elevated above other bodily functions as eating, drinking and like eliminating waste.  Like most people, however, I find the idea of adults sexually initiating children to be repulsive.  There should be some other way to restore sexuality to something like sacredness.

3)  If we had rites of passage, would we have fewer people in their 20’s living at home with their parents?  Would we have fewer adults playing video games?

I certainly get a sense that Americans are infantilized far beyond their childhood years.  If you don’t think so, contrast what 14-years do today versus what they did in other times and places.  Throughout most of world history, it was very common for people to be married at around the age of 14 .  (A prominent example of this would be Joseph and Mary in the Bible.)  Another 8th grader doing significant things was John Quincy Adams.  “By age 14, John Quincy was receiving ‘on-the-job’ training in the diplomatic corps and going to school. In 1781, he accompanied diplomat Francis Dana to Russia, serving as his secretary and translator (Biography.com).”  I have a hard time imagining any junior high school students doing such responsible things as establishing a household or learning to be a diplomat.

The other interesting thing in this article was the taboo against indoor sex.  I wonder if outdoor sex ensures a good year for hunting or crops.

Antyesti (Hindu funeral rites)

Antyesti rites are the final sacraments in a series that ideally begins at the moment of conception and is performed at each important stage of a man’s life.

Imagine how Western sex would change if the moment of conception were treated as a holy event and celebrated with a ceremony!  What would such a ceremony look like?

Imagine being so aware of death that one performs a ceremony centered around death at every milestone of one’s life.  Can you imagine the college graduation ceremonies?

It appears from the article that the oldest son may participate in the cremation. Is there an awful, even Freudian, symbolism in a son setting fire to the body of a dead father?  At least the death duties are performed hands-on by family members rather than delegated to a mortician.

With such an everyday awareness of death in the East, why is life so cheap there?