P.T. Barnum: The Later Years

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As a senior citizen, P.T. Barnum was a man who never stopped working.  He never really retired and he never took it easy.
Barnum always found something new to work on.  His life in Bridgeport offered a busy schedule–traveling with the circus, serving with the State Legislature, and being a one-term mayor.

The two women that the well known showman, entrepreneur and developer married may have had a lush lifestyle, but they also had a busy husband.

Barnum had his third house in Bridgeport, named Waldemere (Woods by the Sea) built in the South End in 1869.  He was married to his first wife, Chaity at the time.

Charity, always ailing during the later years of their marriage, would probably preferred a smaller house.  Barnum built a gigantic house, with many guest rooms and bathrooms, and large and impressive grounds.

Charity usually stayed home at Waldemere while Barnum traveled.  It was on one of Barnum’s journeys in 1873 that, after 44 years of marriage, Charity died of heart failure.  Barnum learned of the sad news in Germany and, grief stricken, decided to stay in Europe.

He then traveled to England to be with his old friend John Fish.  Fish had a daughter Nancy who also knew Barnum.

On February 14, 1874, just 13 weeks and two days after Charity’s death, 63 year old Barnum and 22 year old Nancy Fish married in London.

Barnum returned to the United States without his new wife.  In September 1874, P.T. Barnum and his young wife had a public ceremony in New York.

The following year, in 1875, Barnum was elected mayor of Bridgeport and served the one year term in effect  in the 19th century.  As one might expect, Barnum was not a quiet mayor. Barnum protested against the city’s saloons, he pushed for prisoners to have to work, and he strived to modernize the city’s utilities.  In many ways, despite his age, he was a very modern mayor.

A modern mayor with a young modern wife, of course.  So in 1889, senior citizen Barnum, after everything he had done in Bridgeport, including the winter quarters for the circus, decided he had tro build a new home.

Barnum began to build next to his old house.  He wanted a brick house, without drafts.  He wanted to continue living near the water, but in a house that was more comfortable.  He owned the land, and he loved the location.

Barnum named his new house Marina.  Barnum had a stroke in 1890 and he was confined to his new home.  On April 7, 1891, P.T. Barnum died.

Part of Waldemere still stands on Rennell Street, while the other half of Waldemere was moved to 1 Pauline Street in Stratford, where it was owned by the late actress Nancy Marchand.

Barnum’s last house, Marina stood for many years at the original site.  In 1961, the University of Bridgeport tore down the residence.  All that remains is an iron gate with an “M” where Marina Park now stands near Seaside Park and the University of Bridgeport campus.

Today, as a tribute to Barnum, the immediate vicinity includes a Marina Park Drive and a Waldemere Avenue.

Want to learn more about P.T. Barnum? The Bridgeport History Center has the following materials available:

Bridgeport on the Sound, by Mary K. Witkowski and Bruce Williams.

Bridgeport at Work, by Mary K. Witkowski

A Pictorial History of Bridgeport, by David Palmquist.

Bridgeport History Center:  Newspaper clipping file, Barnum, P.T.

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About Author

Mary K. Witkowski is the former Bridgeport City Historian and the Department Head of the Bridgeport History Center, Emeritus. She is the author of Bridgeport at Work, and the co-author with Bruce Williams of Bridgeport on the Sound. Mary has had a newspaper column in the Bridgeport News, a blog for the Connecticut Post, and a weekly spot on WICC. She continues to be involved in many community based activities and initiatives on local history and historic preservation.

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