Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 19 How The West Was Spun

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 19•17


*Note: Not With Actual Congress

Go anywhere in the world, and ask people what they think of Americans, and the word “cowboy” is likely to pop up.  How is it that a brief 50 year period involving the least populated part of the United States has come to define the country as a whole? 


You can thank – or blame depending on your viewpoint, a man named Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show.

I Am Not Making This Up: Hoaxes And Humbugs

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 12•17
P.T. Barnum is famously quoted as saying “there is a sucker born every minute.”  While he may not have said it, it’s easy to conceive that he believed it, with some of the “humbugs” he exhibited.  
Here then, are some of the more famous humbugs associated with P.T. Barnum.
The “FeeJee” Mermaid

Not the kind of mermaid your child wants to theme a birthday party around.

Barnum exhibited his FeeJee mermaid in his American Museum.  The exhibit featured the head and torso of a mermaid sewn onto the tail of a fish.  The original probably burned with Barnum’s museum, though several copies exist.  You can see photos and video on the internet, if you want something to fuel your nightmares.
The Cardiff Giant
The Cardiff Giant was a hoax created by George Hull, a tobacconist and atheist to make a local Methodist preacher look foolish after the two quarreled. 
Hull had a 10 foot statue carved from gypsum in the likeness of a man.  He then had it buried on the farm  of his cousin, William “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York. 

You could say it was a giant hoax.

Newell waited a year, then had a well dug, and waited for the diggers to find the giant. 
The giant “petrified man” was immediately proclaimed by some ministers as evidence of biblical giants, though archaeologists said it must be fake.
Newell immediately started exhibiting the giant, and turned a hefty profit.  
Barnum wanted to buy the giant.  When the trust controlling the giant wouldn’t sell it, Barnum had his own created, and exhibited it as the “real Cardiff Giant.”
The Egress
When Barnum’s museum had a problem with overcrowding, he solved it by putting up signs advertising “the great egress.”  When curiosity seekers rushed to see the egress, they found themselves exiting the building.  Egress was a word Barnum used to mean exit. 
Though trickery was an element of Barnum’s attractions, Barnum made being tricked a feature, not a bug.  Even as he conned people out of their money, they had such a good time, they never seemed to mind being conned. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 18 Barnum’s Burning Buildings

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 05•17


The water that firefighters used to put out the fire, combined with freezing temperatures turned the museum into a life-sized gingerbread house.

Recently it was announced to the world that in May of 2017, the Ringling brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus would be rolling up it’s tents for the last time.

And while the circus is synonymous with P.T. Barnum today, in his day, Barnum was known for many other business ventures. The circus is something he just kind of fell into.
Barnum could be considered the Elon Musk or Richard Branson of his time. A self made millionaire with his finger on the pulse of America. Barnum revolutionized entertainment for a country that was just starting to have leisure time.

But One thing Barnum is not known for, but maybe should be, are the many, many times a building that he owns burned down.

I Am Not Making This Up: P.T. Barnum and . . . The Other Guy

Written By: Tracy - May• 29•17

When you think of the circus, you think of Barnum and Bailey’s circus. You probably also know about P. T. Barnum. But who was Bailey?

James Anthony Bailey was actually born James Anthony McGinnis in Detroit Michigan on July 4, 1847. He joined the circus the way most little kids dream of doing, by running away. (It helped that he was an orphan).  

Eventually, James started working for Frederick Harrison Bailey at the Bailey Circus. Frederick’s uncle, Hachaliah Bailey founded the Bailey Circus, and pioneered circuses. Under Hachaliah, the first elephant, Old Bet, was introduced to the circus. The entire Bailey Circus was built around Old Bet. 

Frederick took James under his wing. Eventually the two developed a father -son relationship. James took Frederick’s name to become James Anthony Bailey. 

Eventually, James entered a partnership with James E. Cooper, and the Bailey Circus became the Cooper and Bailey Circus. This circus would be the germ of the Barnum and Bailey circus. Bailey and Cooper brought the circus know how, Barnum brought to this circus his museum exhibits (which became the sideshow), his extensive vaudeville contacts, and his ability as a promoter. 

James continues to contribute to the circus. He was instrumental in purchasing the elephant Jumbo for the circus.  

His association with Barnum made him very rich. He built a mansion in New York, supported charities for orphans, and established an orphan’s day at the circus. 

Bailey died in 1906, from a skin infection. He spent his final days dictating instructions on how to run his circus, insuring that it would continue to run long after his death. 

I Am Not Making This Up: A Jumbo-Sized Story

Written By: Tracy - May• 22•17

When you buy something that’s “Jumbo-sized,” like bread, or large jars of peanut butter, you may not think about where that term comes from. But the original Jumbo was a circus elephant. 
We associate the word with bigness thanks to P. T. Barnum, and his gift at promotion. And while Jumbo’s story is painted with rosy colors, the reality is anything but happy. 

Jumbo didn’t start life in the circus. He was born like any African Bush Elephant, in the Sudan. His mother was killed by hunters, and he was captured and sold to animal dealers, who sold him to a French Zoo. From there he was sold to the London zoo.

Jumbo’s handlers gave him his name, which is various stories claim is possibly a play on the Swahili words for “hello”and “chief”, the Zulu word for a large package, or Mumbai-Jumbo” a West-African deity. It’s hard to tell. Jumbo’s story is so filled with smoke and mirrors and circus magic, that the truth is distorted. 

As a resident of the London zoo, jumbo would give children rides, and even pull a sleigh in winter. 

In November 1881, James Anthony Bailey purchased Jumbo for the circus he co-owned with P.T. Barnum.  

When the plan became known, there was immediate public outcry (perhaps stirred up by Barnum himself. Because all publicity was good publicity, and because Barnum was kind of a jerk that way.) 100,000 school children sent letters to Queen Victoria begging her not to sell Jumbo. 

The sale went through and Barnum exhibited Jumbo at Madison Square Garden, where he made back his money in short order. 

Thanks to the kerfuffle over the sale, combined with the sensation of the new Jumbo-sized attraction in Madison Square Garden, Jumbo became a word associated with bigness. Thomas Edison named one of his newest gadgets “jumbo”. Disney named the baby elephant in his movie Dumbo, and the mother Jumbo. Everywhere you looked, you had jumbo-sized things. Jumbo burgers, jumbo packs. (Eventually even the jumbo jet, but that would be much later. )

Jumbo lived just five more years in Barnum’s care. In 1884, he was one of Barnum’s 21 elephants that crossed the Brooklyn bridge to prove that it was safe. 

In 1885, while exercising on a train track, Jumbo tripped and impaled himself on his own tusk, dying instantly. In a strange twist, an unexpected train ran over the body of the elephant. 

Of course, Barnum spun the tragedy. That’s what he did. His story claimed that Jumbo died saving a baby elephant from an out of control speeding locomotive. (Possibly after changing into a cape in a Jumbo-sized phone booth). 

Barnum had the body separated and sent bits of it around with his various museums and sideshows, charging admission to see it. 

Eventually the whole body was reassembled, stuffed and donated to Tufts university, where it became the school’s mascot. The body burned in a fire in 1975 (the year I was born, so that’s one elephant I’ll never see). The school’s mascot remains an elephant to this day. 

Jumbo only lived 24 years. In the wild, an African Bush Elephant may live 70 years. A well-cared for animal in captivity may live 80 years. There is a temptation to draw parallels to actors or rock stars who live fast and die young, but Jumbo was no pampered diva. He was a working animal and he was treated like one. 

So the next time you get a Jumbo-sized anything, think of the original Jumbo. His life may not have been Jumbo-sized, even if his reputation was.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 17 Warrior, Princess, Badass

Written By: Tracy - May• 15•17


For 100 of these, you can wrestle for her hand in matrimony.

If I asked you to name a badass warrior princess, you might mention Xena or Wonder Woman.  But one real life woman left them all behind.  Her name was Khutulun, and she was the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan.

I Am Not Making This Up: What Explorers Lewis and Clark Have to Do With the Kentucky Derby

Written By: Tracy - May• 08•17

Because “tiny people racing big horses” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Last weekend was the Kentucky derby, which is like the Super Bowl of Horse Racing, with a little bit of the Oscar’s red carpet mixed in. 

While the race is an interesting diversion for two minutes, in Kentucky the festivities last through a two week’s worth of balls and parties, parades and pageantry. 

And the whole thing was started by the grandson of William Clark (one of those two guys who explored the west), Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr. 

Clark, or “Lutie” as his family called him was raised by his aunt and cousins, John and Henry Churchill (remember that name. It will come up again).  

The Churchills raised Lutie to appreciate the finer things in life (some say they spoiled him), including horse racing (which his cousins were passionate about). 

In those days, racing had a seedy reputation. Bets were placed through bookmakers, and there was a lot of cheating. 

Lutie traveled abroad. While in Paris, he observed the automated machines that gamblers would place bets with, eliminating bookmaking.

When he returned to America, it was with an idea of starting a racetrack. He approached his Churchill cousins with the idea. The racetrack would be a place that they could showcase their racehorses, and they would use betting machines. 

The family loved the idea, and donated the land for what would become Churchill Downs.  

As track manager for Churchill downs, Lutie pioneered many of the rules that are racing standards today. He also founded the Kentucky Derby.  

Some of the traditions of the derby were present right from the beginning. For one, dignitaries and high society have always watched from box seats, while the rest of the spectators have always sat in the infield. 

Ladies have always worn derby hats, since formal dress has been a requirement for the box seats from the beginning. Though hats have become particularly outrageous in recent years. 
So next year, when you turn on the derby, try a slice of derby pie, and raise a mint julep in toast to Colonel Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr., founder of the most exciting two minutes in horse racing. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 16 When Frederick Law Olmsted Changed The World

Written By: Tracy - May• 01•17

Olmsted.jpgIn 1857, if a New Yorker wanted to get away from the city, he or she would go to a cemetery. That all changed with the establishment of Manhattan’s Central Park, and it’s architect and superintendent, Frederick Law Olmsted.

I Am Not Making This Up: Whatever Happened to the Sphinx’s Nose?

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 24•17

Did you ever look at the Venus D’Milo? Most people think of it as that one statue with no arms.

The one imperfection makes it famous.

Another famous statue, the Sphinx, is missing it’s nose. The popular story is that one of Napoleon’s men shot it off with a canon. However, like many popular myths, this one is definitely false.

Napoleon came to Egypt during the French Revolution. During this time he was a rising star in the French army.

To everyone on the French side involved, invading Egypt seemed like a great idea. Napoleon wanted to cut the British access to India, plunder the riches of Egypt and further his own ambitions. Napoleon’s enemies saw the invasion as a win-win situation. If Napoleon won, the British lost. If Napoleon lost, he wouldn’t be a political threat in France.

Ultimately, the invasion would be unsuccessful. But in the process Napoleon and his men invented Egyptology, found the Rosetta Stone, carted many treasures back to Egypt, and spun it all into a political win. So he’s a bit like the Donald Trump of his era.

But as to the question of the Sphinx, there are drawings of it without a nose that predate Napoleon’s invasion. So where did the story blaming him come from?

The answer is probably that he was easy to blame. Like blaming your ex for everything wrong in your life, it was probably easy for the locals to blame someone they were already salty at for one more thing that was wrong.

What really happened to the Sphinx’s nose? An older story claims that a Sufi Muslim demolished the nose and ears after he discovered that local peasants were making offerings there to control the flood cycle. Writings say that the man was later executed for vandalism.

This story may also be incorrect, seeing as the ears of the Sphinx are still there.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 15 Would The Real Anastasia Please Stand Up?

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 17•17

A comparison: Franziska Schanzkowska on the left, and the actual Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia on the right.

It was a cold February night in Berlin, 1920, when Franziska Shanzkowska jumped into the Landwher Canal.

We know why she jumped: she’d lost her fiancee during the war.  She’d also suffered from an accident in the munitions plant where she worked.  She had scars, a head injury, possibly survivors guilt and definitely depression. In an era far removed from modern psychology, her story is tragic, and unfortunately all too common.

She survived her suicide attempt.  Then her story takes a turn into the uncommon. Because while she went into the canal a factory worker, she came out of the water as the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.