From the legendary Aaron Mahnke comes his newest project yet: “Grim & Mild Presents.” Grim & Mild of course being his podcast production company dedicated to historical storytelling, usually the darker side of humanity’s past. This new podcast is no different, and the first season of this new podcast, titled “Sideshow,” is all about the complex character P.T. Barnum and his traveling circus.
The inaugural episode of “Grim & Mild Presents” just dropped on January 7th, and the season will be 13 episodes long (how delightfully symbolic). This first episode is just 30 minutes long. Each season will unpack a new subject in a fresh format and style each time. Obviously, these topics will be all about the unique, unusual, and macabre.
Back to Mr. Barnum. Unlike Hugh Jackman’s depiction of him in The Greatest Showman, he was, above all else, a scammer. A con artist, a hoaxer, a purveyor of fake news, and someone willing to take advantage of anyone for a quick buck. This inaugural episode is all about how he came to be such a showman, always having a bit of a demonstrative side.
Barnum didn’t start his circus until he was 60 years old, but he had been making a show of “freaks” for quite some time. Mahnke informs us that one whole episode will be dedicated to his first “exhibitions,” a woman by the name of Joice Heth, a formerly enslaved woman who was blind and fully paralyzed in her old age. Barnum, though an abolitionist who actually served as the Republican representative for Fairfield, Connecticut for four terms, purchased the woman when he was 25.
He had purchased her through a loophole, as slavery was outlawed in New York, from a man already parading her around Philadelphia, claiming she was the 161-year-old wet nurse of George Washington. For a year, Barnum paraded Heth around New York, making her work 10 to 12 hour days until she died in 1836, after which, he hosted a gruesome, live, public autopsy in a saloon. We have so many words for Mr. Barnum.
Mahnke takes us through the early stages of what would become P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome. He talks about the hoax of the Fiji Mermaid, a creature with the body of the monkey and the tail of a fish, and his next live exhibit, Charles Stratton, the little person called General Tom Thumb.
In truth, Barnum was just capitalizing on something had already been proved: that people would buy into hoaxes if not merely for entertainment, but for the possibility that is could potentially exist, even if what they were looking at was fake. “Grim & Mild Presents” tells us where Barnum got his ideas – from a series of 1835 articles published in the New York City newspaper The Sun, which would become known as “The Great Moon Hoax.”
We are stoked as ever to hear more of “Sideshow” as episodes continue to be released each Friday. We’ll be listening in to hear the exceedingly dark history of the American sideshow.