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“There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute”: An Examination of P.T. Barnum’s Methods and Museum Controversy Today




Galati, Leslie Ann

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The purpose of this paper is to show that P.T. Barnum’s methods have been used in contemporary museums when dealing with controversial exhibits. This contention is supported by first exploring P.T. Barnum’s production of moral dramas, followed by case studies of the Smithsonian’s National Art Museum, National Air and Space Museum’s Enola Gay exhibit, Colonial Williamsburg’s slave auction, The John Dillinger Museum, Emory University’s Without Sanctuary exhibit and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Passing the Torch: Documenting the 21st Century Ku Klux Klan exhibit. In each instance Barnum’s methodology was used to deal with controversy and, in most cases, resulted in the successful run of the exhibition.