‘Greatest Showman’ film stirs new interest in PT Barnum

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Hollywood film on the life of the founder of the Barnum & Bailey circus is stirring new interest in the man, P.T. Barnum, who besides his turn as a master showman was a state legislator, philanthropist and mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

There’s been an increase in visitors to Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum since “The Greatest Showman” started playing last month in theaters. Museum director Kathy Maher said the museum has had to add guides.

The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, also has seen more people taking interest in Barnum and asking to speak with their historian, spokeswoman Alice Murphy said.

Maher said producers of the film took some advice from the museum for props and set designs. But she said the filmmakers at 20th Century Fox advised they were seeking to capture Barnum’s spirit, and not do a documentary, so she was prepared to see the movie take some liberties with his life story.

“We are here to deliver the authentic. That’s what museums do,” she said. “That’s not what Hollywood does. Their mission is to make people happy. Nailed it.”

Still, circus historians have found sport in picking apart where the man as depicted by a singing and dancing Hugh Jackman diverges from the true story of Phineas Taylor Barnum.