The Greatest Showman: Separating Fact from Fiction

The Greatest Showman: Separating Fact from Fiction

Fact vs. Fiction in The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman is a cinematic interpretation of the life of P.T. Barnum, the legendary showman and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. While the film is based on real events, it takes creative liberties to craft a compelling narrative. In this article, we’ll explore some of the historical inaccuracies in the movie and compare them to the actual events that transpired in Barnum’s life.

The Museum Fire: Movie vs. Reality

In The Greatest Showman, a fire engulfs P.T. Barnum’s museum, which was based on a real event. In fact, Barnum’s museum burned down not once, but twice, in 1865 and 1868. However, the film alters the context of the fire. In the movie, an angry mob starts the fire due to their disapproval of Barnum’s work. In reality, the cause of the fires remains unknown, and there is no evidence to suggest that a mob was responsible.

Tom Thumb and the Bearded Lady: A Matter of Timing

While P.T. Barnum did feature performers such as Tom Thumb and the Bearded Lady in his museum, the film’s portrayal of their recruitment is historically inaccurate. In reality, the person marketed as Tom Thumb joined Barnum at the age of four, while the Bearded Lady joined him at the age of one. Interestingly, she was initially marketed as the Infant Esau, a reference to the biblical figure Isaac’s older son.

Jenny Lind and P.T. Barnum: A Romanticized Relationship

The Greatest Showman portrays a romantic relationship between P.T. Barnum and Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale. However, there is no evidence to suggest that such a relationship existed in real life. In fact, Jenny Lind parted ways with Barnum due to her frustration with his relentless promotional efforts. She went on to complete her tour with a different manager, achieving great success.

P.T. Barnum’s Political Views: A Complex Picture

The film simplifies P.T. Barnum’s political views, presenting him as a staunch opponent of slavery and a champion of the downtrodden. While it is true that Barnum was an early member of the Republican Party and opposed slavery, his views were more complex than the movie suggests. For example, he once purchased an elderly slave woman and marketed her as George Washington’s 160-year-old nurse, later selling tickets to a public autopsy of her body to prove her age upon her death.

In conclusion, while The Greatest Showman is an entertaining and visually stunning film, it is important to remember that it takes creative liberties with the historical events it portrays. By understanding the differences between fact and fiction, we can appreciate the movie as a work of art while also acknowledging the complex reality of P.T. Barnum’s life.

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