Thursday, August 5, 2010

Barnum's Brick Man

Who doesn't love a good P.T. Barnum story? I'm not even going to bother rewriting it; I'm just going to let Barnum speak for himself.

One morning a stout, hearty-looking man came into my ticket-office and begged some money. I asked him why he did not work and earn his living? He replied that he could get nothing to do, and that he would be glad of any job at a dollar a day. I handed him a quarter of a dollar, told him to go and get his breakfast and return, and I would employ him, at light labor, at a dollar and a half a day. When he returned I gave him five common bricks.

" 'Now,' said I, 'go and lay a brick on the sidewalk, at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street; another close by the Museum; a third diagonally across the way, at the corner of Broadway and Vesey Street, by the Astor House; put down the fourth on the sidewalk, in front of St. Paul's Church opposite; then, with the fifth brick in hand, take up a rapid march from one point to the other, making the circuit, exchanging your brick at every point, and say nothing to any one.'

" 'What is the object of this?' inquired the man.

" 'No matter,' I replied: 'all you need to know is that it brings you fifteen cents wages per hour. It is a bit of my fun, and to assist me properly you must seem to be as deaf as a post; wear a serious countenance; answer no questions; pay no attention to any one; but attend faithfully to the work, and at the end of every hour, by St. Paul's clock, show this ticket at the Museum door; enter, walking solemnly through every hall in the building; pass out, and resume your work.' "

With the remark that "it was all one to him, so long as he could earn his living," the man placed his bricks, and began his round. Half an hour afterward, at least five hundred people were watching his mysterious movements. He had assumed a military step and bearing, and, looking as sober as a judge, he made no response whatever to the constant inquiries as to the object of his singular conduct. At the end of the first hour, the sidewalks in the vicinity were packed with people, all anxious to solve the mystery. The man, as directed, then went into the Museum, devoting fifteen minutes to a solemn survey of the halls, and afterward returning to his round. This was repeated every hour until sundown, and whenever the man went into the Museum a dozen or more persons would buy tickets and follow him, hoping to gratify their curiosity in regard to the purpose of his movements. This was continued for several days--the curious people who followed the man into the Museum considerably more than paying his wages--till finally the policeman, to whom Barnum had imparted his object, complained that the obstruction of the sidewalk by crowds, had become so serious that he must call in his "brick man."

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