PT Barnum, frustrated with how long people lingered in his museum’s exhibits, posted large signs throughout that said “This Way to the Egress”. He knew most of the visitors would follow them, not knowing that “Egress” meant “exit”. They couldn’t re-enter without paying the entry fee again.
The museum’s collection included items collected throughout the world over a period of 25 years. The museum offered many attractions which grew to great fame. One of the most famous was General Tom Thumb a 25-inch tall dwarf. Thumb wasn’t the only physical oddity there, there was also the Fiji Mermaid and Josephine Boisdechene, who had a large beard, which had grown to the length of two inches when she was only eight years old. As if to supplement Tom Thumb, another famous attraction of the museum was William Henry Johnson, who was one of Barnum’s longest running attractions. Another one of the famous attractions at the museum were Chang and Eng, Siamese twins who were extremely argumentative, both with each other and Barnum himself.
The museum also boasted an elegant theatre, called the “Lecture Room,” and characterized in the popular Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion of 1853, “one of the most elegant and recherche halls of its class to be found anywhere,” which would offer “every species of entertainment” “‘from grave to gay, from lively to severe,’ and “judiciously purged of every semblance of immorality.”
At one point, Barnum noticed that people were lingering too long at his exhibits. He posted signs indicating “This Way to the Egress”. Not knowing that “Egress” was another word for “Exit”, people followed the signs to what they assumed was a fascinating exhibit…and ended up outside.
The five story building also served great educational value. Aside from the different attractions, the Museum also promoted educational ends, including natural history in its menageries, aquarium (which featured a large white whale), and taxidermy exhibits; history in its paintings, wax figures, and memorabilia; and temperance reform and Shakespearean dramas in the above described “Lecture Room” or theater.