History of the

Barnum Festival


This year, the Barnum Festival is celebrating 75 years of reimagining fun. As we move towards a bright and exciting future, we are looking to our vibrant past; bringing timeless events to a new generation and introducing fresh new events to our lineup. Join us, as we imagine a new future for our community.

“The Prince of humbug,” they called him. “The Shakespeare of advertising,” “the king of adjectives.” He was a man with a genius for inspiring lucrative curiosity, like a circus parade lures spectators to the paid admission of the big top. He could convince hundreds of thousands to step right up and inspect the 160-year-old nurse of George Washington, the bearded lady, the smallest man in the world. With whirlwind tours of circus freaks, exotic animals and human feats, he cranked out humbug by the yard.

Phineas Taylor Barnum knew better than anyone else in creation that every crowd had a silver (dollar) lining. Barnum was the master mythmaker and he’s still a favorite subject of playwrights and authors because he was so upfront and amiable about his humbuggery. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is a Barnum quote entrenched in cliché history. Now more than 100 years after his death it’s in some ways fitting and in other ways sad that he is most esteemed and credited for that oft-parroted apocryphal expression. If he ever said it, no historian has ever been able to document it. The statement may have found its place as a corruption of a Barnum suggestion or attributed to Barnum by one of his circus rivals.

The real legacy of Barnum—showman, circus innovator, author, philosopher, humanitarian, public servant, humorist and even Bridgeport mayor—has been clouded over by the obfuscation of the man’s many promotions.

That old huckster impression lingering these many years overshadows his contributions to the entertainment profession and to Bridgeport. But as Barnum said, “I don’t care what they say about me if they only say something.”

Beneath the charm and extravagance of his circus persona is a man whose contributions to Bridgeport are unmatched. Barnum is quite simply the single most important contributor to the city’s history. He developed thousands of acres of city property, converting farm and pasture land into choice building lots; enabled the working class to purchase land and houses through an innovative payment system; donated a large part of Seaside Park, one of the first waterfront parks in the country; attracted numerous manufacturing companies; served as the president of Bridgeport Hospital, the local water company and the Pequonnock Bank (a predecessor of Connecticut National); donated the money to establish the Barnum Museum; established Mountain Grove Cemetery; and provided funding for Bridgeport schools, the library system, parks, and other civic ventures. Another side of Barnum was his drive to grant Blacks the right to vote and his sympathy for the women’s rights movement.

Imagine. Inspire. Enjoy.

The Barnum Festival is a 501(c)3 nonprofit recognized by the IRS and accepts donations, both monetary and in-kind. The Festival produces arts, cultural and entertainment events for the benefit of the community at large.

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1st Organizing Meeting

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1st Organizing Meeting

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J William Hope – First Ringmaster

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First Annual Barnum Festival

Ringmasters of the 50s

1950: Herman W. Steinkraus

1951: Alfred V. Bodine

1952: William Carlson

1953: Thomas S. Frouge

1954: Sigurd B. Swanson

1955: Joseph H. Lederer

1956: Joseph W. Ganim

1957: G. Neill Tobin

1958: Kenneth E. Raine

1959: David E. Cunningham

Ringmasters of the 60s

1960: Kenneth A. Maloney

1961: Bradford N. Warner

1962: Eaden M. Whiteman

1963: Nelson H. Downs

1964: Raymond J. O’Connor

1965: Lloyd H. Meyer

1966: Edgar W. Bassick III

1967: F. Francis D’Addario

1968: James W. Jolly

1969: Robert J. Magee

Ringmasters of the 70s

1970: Nils C. Erickson

1971: Charles Batcheldor

1972: Earle G. Anderson

1973: Leo Redgate, Sr.

1974: Raymond C. Lyddy

1975: Edward G. O’Shea

1976: G. Webster Miller

1977: S. George Santa

1978: William S. Simpson

1979: James P. Schwartz

Ringmasters of the 80s

1980: E. Cortright Phillips

1981: Andrew J. Julian

1982: Arthur L. McClinch

1983: Barton L. Weller

1984: Paul S. Miller

1985: Victor K. Kiam II

1986: Elizabeth M. Pfreim

1987: John S. Kartovsky

1988: William J. Carroll

1989: Joseph T. Kasper, Jr.

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1983 Program Cover

Ringmasters of the 90s

1990: Frederick K. Biebel

1991: Kaye Williams

1992: William S. Murphy

1993: Mickey Herbert

1994: Paul S. DelFino

1995: Mario D’Addario

1996: Michael C. Bisciglia

1997: Robert L. Laska

1998: Dr. Anthony Cernera

1999: Charles M. Carroll

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1990 Program Cover

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50th Anniversary of the Barnum Festival

Ringmasters of the 2000s

2000: David F. D’Addario

2001: Richard Bodine

2002: Hon. Eddie Rodriguez, Jr.

2003: Leonard F. Berger

2004: Peter F. Hurst

2005: James A. Carbone

2006: Rick Porto

2007: Larry Merriam

2008: Mayor Mark Lauretti

2009: Michael E. Niedermeier

Ringmasters of the 50s

2010: Thomas S. Santa

2011: Armando Goncalves

2012: Frank J. Carroll

2013: John F. Stafstrom, Jr.

2014: Paul Timpanelli

2015: Fred Hall

2016: Jason Julian

2017: Terry O’Connor

2018: John Vazzano

2019: Martin Schwartz