Watching Copper, you'd think that New York in the 1860s was all about brass-knuckle brawls in bordellos, opium-fueled sex romps, and chasing criminals with names like Buzzy Burke through seedy Five Points. But there was a lighter side—in an era where finding the next cat with eyebrows wasn’t so easy, P.T. Barnum was the public’s point of entry to the world of the bizarre and extraordinary.

Yes, the same man behind the famous circus actually first operated Barnum's American Museum, one of the most popular attractions for New Yorkers and tourists alike. Millions flocked to the museum partly because Barnum trumpeted things like conjoined twins Chang and Eng, the skeleton of a "real" mermaid and tiny Tom Thumb and partly because he hired the worst musicians to play music outside the museum, thinking it would drive people inside.


The Barnum Museum in 1853