Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

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. 

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