PART of the museum's appeal to the masses was due to the broad spectrum of entertainment it provided with live exhibits like Tom Thumb and morality plays. In the 1850's Barnum renovated his Lecture Room to increase its seating capacity to hold 3,000 people. Andrea Dennett contends that Barnum's renovation of the lecture room was "presumably a deliberate attempt on the part of Barnum to entice puritanical visitors who would not willingly attend a performance in a conventional theater."14 With the increased popularity of theatres, they became sites of rambunctiousness and people became more reluctant to attend performances.

Barnum's Lecture Room
Lecture Room, Barnum's American Museum, 1853.
(Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library.)

As an alternative to the degenerative theatre environment Barnum declared, "I abolished all vulgarity and profanity from the stage, and I prided myself upon the fact that parents and children could attend the dramatic performances in the so-called Lecture Room, and not be shocked or offended by anything they might see or hear."15 Neil Harris maintains, "The museum lecture rooms on the other hand, were not theaters, but could do what theaters did, mount dramatic entertainments or present variety acts under the guise of education and public entertainment."16 Barnum wrote in his autobiography, "My plan is to introduce into the lecture room highly moral and instructive domestic dramas, written expressly for my establishment and so constructed as to please and edify while they possess a powerful reformatory tendency."17 Barnum himself was a reformed drinker and a proponent of the temperance movement. William H. Smith's, The Drunkard was a popular temperance play that enjoyed one hundred uninterrupted performances in 1849 in Barnum's lecture room. The educational experience and moral edification was encouraged even after the play; audience members were urged to return to the box office and sign a pledge against drinking.18


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