Background to P. T. Barnum's last words
Phineas Taylor Barnum was one of the best-known people in the world when he established his giant circus spectacle "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the 1860s and that was exactly how he liked it - all of his many entrepreneurial efforts were accomplished by the means of a large dose of self-publicity.
He prospered by being outrageous (and often completely fraudulent) in his advertising and daring in his ambition. He brought the African elephant 'Jumbo' to the public stage and made an international sensation of the Swedish singer Jenny Lind.
The acts he offered were many and various and, as well as the innovative and impressive, there was also the tawdry and fake. Bearded ladies, conjoined twins, dwarves and bogus mermaids were all put forward as 'attractions'. Nevertheless, in 1845, he presented his show in front of Queen Victoria, then the most prominent monarch in the world, a coup that secured his reputation and his takings for years to come.
Barnum certainly subscribed to the view that "there's a sucker born every minute", although, contrary to popular belief, he didn't coin that phrase. He didn't aim to cheat the public though, just to use any inducement possible get them to part with their cash and enjoy a magnificent show.
When he knew that he was dying, at age 80, he asked a New York newspaper to show him a copy of his own obituary. In fact they printed it for all to see and, happy with the positive tone of the piece, he died two weeks later. His last words, "I want you to know my last thoughts are of you", were spoken to his wife Nancy. He did last a few hours longer but spoke only in monosyllables.