History of the
Barnum Festival

Mission:

Imagine. Inspire. Enjoy.
The annual Barnum Festival is a seasonal celebration of the City of Bridgeport and its surrounding towns, including Monroe, Trumbull, Easton, Shelton, Stratford, and Fairfield. Dating back to 1948, the festival originated to help support local businesses and honor P.T. Barnum—a world-renowned showman and city leader. The Barnum Festival events span from late spring to early summer each year in an effort to build community spirit, foster philanthropy, and celebrate the many diverse cultures represented by residents. The festival culminates in a weekend-long Barnum Palooza that hosts parades, concerts, fireworks, and other family-friendly festivities.

“The Prince of humbug,” they called him. “The Shakespeare of advertising,” “the king of adjectives.” He was a man with a genius for inspiring lucrative curiosity, like a circus parade lures spectators to the paid admission of the big top. He could convince hundreds of thousands to step right up and inspect the 160-year-old nurse of George Washington, the bearded lady, the smallest man in the world. With whirlwind tours of circus freaks, exotic animals and human feats, he cranked out humbug by the yard.

Phineas Taylor Barnum knew better than anyone else in creation that every crowd had a silver (dollar) lining. Barnum was the master mythmaker and he’s still a favorite subject of playwrights and authors because he was so upfront and amiable about his humbuggery. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is a Barnum quote entrenched in cliché history. Now more than 100 years after his death it’s in some ways fitting and in other ways sad that he is most esteemed and credited for that oft-parroted apocryphal expression. If he ever said it, no historian has ever been able to document it. The statement may have found its place as a corruption of a Barnum suggestion or attributed to Barnum by one of his circus rivals.

The real legacy of Barnum—showman, circus innovator, author, philosopher, humanitarian, public servant, humorist and even Bridgeport mayor—has been clouded over by the obfuscation of the man’s many promotions.

That old huckster impression lingering these many years overshadows his contributions to the entertainment profession and to Bridgeport. But as Barnum said, “I don’t care what they say about me if they only say something.”

Beneath the charm and extravagance of his circus persona is a man whose contributions to Bridgeport are unmatched. Barnum is quite simply the single most important contributor to the city’s history. He developed thousands of acres of city property, converting farm and pasture land into choice building lots; enabled the working class to purchase land and houses through an innovative payment system; donated a large part of Seaside Park, one of the first waterfront parks in the country; attracted numerous manufacturing companies; served as the president of Bridgeport Hospital, the local water company and the Pequonnock Bank (a predecessor of Connecticut National); donated the money to establish the Barnum Museum; established Mountain Grove Cemetery; and provided funding for Bridgeport schools, the library system, parks, and other civic ventures. Another side of Barnum was his drive to grant Blacks the right to vote and his sympathy for the women’s rights movement.

Imagine. Inspire. Enjoy.

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1948

1st Organizing Meeting

1949

1st Organizing Meeting

1949

First Annual Barnum Festival

1949

J William Hope – First Ringmaster
Ringmasters of the 50s

1950: Herman W. Steinkraus
1951: Alfred V. Bodine
1952: William Carlson
1953: Thomas S. Frouge
1954: Sigurd B. Swanson
1955: Joseph H. Lederer
1956: Joseph W. Ganim
1957: G. Neill Tobin
1958: Kenneth E. Raine
1959: David E. Cunningham

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1957

Vice President Nixon Sends Barnum Festival Best Wishes Telegram

1949

1st Organizing Meeting


Ringmasters of the 60s

1960: Kenneth A. Maloney
1961: Bradford N. Warner
1962: Eaden M. Whiteman
1963: Nelson H. Downs
1964: Raymond J. O’Connor
1965: Lloyd H. Meyer
1966: Edgar W. Bassick III
1967: F. Francis D’Addario
1968: James W. Jolly
1969: Robert J. Magee

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1960

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Ringmasters of the 70s

1970: Nils C. Erickson
1971: Charles Batcheldor
1972: Earle G. Anderson
1973: Leo Redgate, Sr.
1974: Raymond C. Lyddy
1975: Edward G. O’Shea
1976: G. Webster Miller
1977: S. George Santa
1978: William S. Simpson
1979: James P. Schwartz

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1970

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Ringmasters of the 80s

1980: E. Cortright Phillips
1981: Andrew J. Julian
1982: Arthur L. McClinch
1983: Barton L. Weller
1984: Paul S. Miller
1985: Victor K. Kiam II
1986: Elizabeth M. Pfreim
1987: John S. Kartovsky
1988: William J. Carroll
1989: Joseph T. Kasper, Jr.

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1983

 

1983 Program Cover

Ringmasters of the 90s

1990: Frederick K. Biebel
1991: Kaye Williams
1992: William S. Murphy
1993: Mickey Herbert
1994: Paul S. DelFino
1995: Mario D’Addario
1996: Michael C. Bisciglia
1997: Robert L. Laska
1998: Dr. Anthony Cernera
1999: Charles M. Carroll

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1990

1990 Program Cover

1998

 

50th Anniversary of the Barnum Festival

Ringmasters of the 2000s

2000: David F. D’Addario
2001: Richard Bodine
2002: Hon. Eddie Rodriguez, Jr.
2003: Leonard F. Berger
2004: Peter F. Hurst
2005: James A. Carbone
2006: Rick Porto
2007: Larry Merriam
2008: Mayor Mark Lauretti
2009: Michael E. Niedermeier

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2000

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Ringmasters of the 2010s

2010: Thomas S. Santa
2011: Armando Goncalves
2012: Frank J. Carroll
2013: John F. Stafstrom, Jr.
2014: Paul Timpanelli
2015: Fred Hall
2016: Jason Julian
2017: Terry O’Connor