Staff Favorites: A Skeletal Pachyderm

P.T. Barnum & Co.'s greatest show on earth & the great London circus combined with Sanger's Royal British menagerie & grand international shows, 1888.

P.T. Barnum & Co.’s greatest show on earth & the great London circus combined with Sanger’s Royal British menagerie & grand international shows, 1888.

We are often asked which Library of Congress primary source is our favorite. We could never choose just one, but this week Rebecca Newland, our previous Teacher in Residence, highlights an especially intriguing or engaging primary source from the Library’s online collections. Next week you will meet one of our new Teachers in Residence, Tom Bober.

An item in the collections that I love because I think it is both beautiful and intriguing is this poster for P.T Barnum & Co’s Greatest Show on Earth. I love the vivid colors of the poster and the detail in every bit of it. Since there is no obvious date I like the idea of figuring it out based on details such as the clothing and transportation that are prominent in the poster. And then of course I am drawn to the central figure of the elephant skeleton. This element of the poster mostly raises questions for me.

  • Has the skeleton been drawn accurately? If not, what are the mistakes?
  • Would people at this time have ever seen skeleton displays of other animals?
  • Was the skeleton really displayed alongside live elephants?

What do you see in this, and what do you wonder?

One Comment

  1. John Hunter
    September 1, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    It’s interesting to see that 19th Century advertising is now considered a primary source. I wonder if contemporary ads will also become future primary sources and serve as a spotlight on our current culture.

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