Humbug: The Great P.T.Barnum Séance
The ambiance of The Peale Museum is quite fitting this latest installment. Enter David London with his one-man séance/show- Humbug. As you enter the oldest museum in Baltimore, the curator, Nancy Proctor, and David usher you into a back room for check in to the production. As you enter the room- you are greeted by a mermaid. Um, I don’t mean a picture or sculpture or likeness, I mean a real mermaid, in a tank, taking your reservation and making conversation, in a tank. She was captivating. The ad on the web does promise a fejee mermaid, but I was not ready for this.
As I browsed the gift shop and snack bar, waiting on the rest of my compatriots, I was greeted by another oddity- a bearded lady. As I would learn later in the production, P.T.Barnum had a fascination with them. Although the most famous was Annie Jones, apparently he “collected” over 100. This one was working the bar and answering questions about the time machine in the corner. Fabulous.
David began the night with a short address to the patrons in the lobby of the Peale Center. He connected the history of the Peale to Barnum and other “showman” of the time. We were then ushered into the back room for the firs half of our evening.
As we sat in three rows in the dimly lit room, we were surrounded by artifacts, oddities, and as promised, “reproductions, facsimiles, fakes, frauds, and completely fabricated items.” Barnum was a humbug- the definition of which is often negative in connotation- is a person or object that behaves in a dishonest way, often as a hoax or jest. Apparently though Barnum saw himself as a positive humbug- one who was charming, manipulative, and of course a master at the art of razzle dazzle. He was credited with bringing animals to the U.S. for display. And although he did not enter the circus game until late in life, that is the part of his legacy that prevails. Barnum and Bailey, in the past few years, and disbanded and released many of those animals, but remember that for some time in the earlier part of the 1900s, this was the only way to view such a menagerie, and this man was a forerunner in procuring these spectacles for public observation.
The first room and show was quite comical and hands-on. David led us through a historical depiction of Barnum and passed around copious artifacts on small velvet platters for the audience to view with their own hands and eyes. While storytelling, David managed to sprinkle in bits of his notorious magic- conjuring items from thin air, and making some artifacts into more than they first appear. I can’t divulge all the secrets- but his skills were smooth and his tory included the perfunctory comedic elements along with a serious and often accurate historical informational speech.
After a brief intermission, the audience was led back in and told to select an “artifact” to bring to the séance table. The table was hand-crafted for David and is truly remarkable. I highly suggest sitting in the inner circle if possible. The knobs allow him to turn in the inner circle while the outer remains in tact. There is also a small scale looking arm that allows artifacts to be “offered up” in the center of the table to the spirits we were summoning. The night I went we were “visited” by several supporting actors to P. T. Barnum’s famous status. I do believe we made contact with “the nightingale”, and “tom thumb and wife.” Each night will be different though, because different artifacts are selected and that is where the beauty of the experience comes in- if you think you are wise to the “humbugs,” remember that the audience selected them. There is no rhyme or reason to what is brought literally to the table.
This was a one-of-a-kind experience that was enlightening, amazing, and awe-inspiring. David London is lovely and charming, and his knowledge of Barnum is unfounded. His skills are smooth and his stage presence and magic are even smoother.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? You need to go. You need to sit in the inner circle and you need to get tickets before they sell out- they already did- see you stalled! No worries, it has been extended to 4/20- now get a ticket ASAP. Take some friends, chat up the oddities, investigate the treasures, and make sure to talk to David- his charm is dazzling and his humbug is almost as priceless as that of Barnum himself. (I)
Running through 4/20 at the Peale Museum. For more information visit thepealecenter.org