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Day 18: Three Ring Circus

12 Jul

Remember that thing I said last night about Tina and Joe being the consummate hosts? And how Tina always has some amazing trick up her sleeve? Probably one of the funniest in the past was when she and the kids made a huge rice krispy cake decorated to look like my nemesis license plate, North Dakota. I still laugh thinking about that one. But this year’s treat was keeping in line with the thematic elements of CMRT 2019: US History Edition. Tina is heavily involved in the tourism industry in Connecticut, so she has all kinds of fun connections. Nearby Bridgeport, CT, happens to be the home of the fabulous Barnum Museum (https://barnum-museum.org/). P.T. Barnum was born in Bethel, CT, and lived in the area for much of his life, including building 4 different mansions in Bridgeport over the course of his life. Sadly, none of those are still standing today, but still in existence is his museum. From their own description, “The Barnum Museum in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut is the last surviving building attributed to the American visionary entrepreneur and entertainer Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891).” The Barnum Museum is in the middle of a huge fund-raising push so they can renovate and innovate, to put more of their extensive collection on display for the public. They are also engaged in a full-scale preservation effort after the museum suffered major damage from a tornado in 2010, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. They are not only conserving and renovating the building that P.T. Barnum himself built to house his museum in 1893, but they are preserving more than 60,000 Barnum-related artifacts and counting!

Today we didn’t just go to the Barnum Museum, we got a behind the scenes look at artifacts that aren’t even on display! It was astounding. Truly jaw-dropping. The Executive Director (Kathy) and Curator (Adrienne) had pulled several amazing artifacts, and proceeded to show them off – telling stories of their origin and how they related to P.T. Barnum. There were costumes worn by Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name of “General Tom Thumb”, including the hat, jacket, and boots of one of his Napoleon costumes. There was a massive gold ring depicting one of Barnum’s mansions. There were paper dolls from the 1860s depicting Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia. There was a photo album showing P.T. Barnum during his time in Connecticut’s General Assembly, including a hand-written letter from Barnum. There were photographs of a few interior rooms in his mansions. There were so many lovely, interesting, rare, and valuable things laid out on the table – a regular smorgasbord of Barnum treasures. And I could have easily stood there all day listening to Kathy tell stories, and Adrienne give details of the artifacts. But the kids were beginning to get restless after so much time standing still, and the grown-ups were delving a little deeper into the life of Barnum than strictly interested them, so it was time to head out. I highly recommend you check out the website for the Barnum Museum - https://barnum-museum.org/ - to learn more about P.T. Barnum the man (who may not have looked like Hugh Jackman, but was much, much more than a ringmaster), and take a look at their entire collection, which has been digitized. I would love to have heard Kathy’s entire presentation regarding the fact and fiction of “The Greatest Showman.” Because there was so, so much that the movie either ignored or flat out got wrong. P.T. Barnum is a study in perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. No matter what you think you already know about him, you have so much more to learn. And while you are visiting their website, please consider donating to this worthy little museum who has taken on the spirit and charge of Barnum, and are insisting, even in the face of natural disaster, that the show must go on. After all, P.T. Barnum himself said it best: “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”

After leaving the Barnum Museum we headed over to a place called Brewport. They had amazing New Haven style pizza – very thin crust with a slight char on the bottom. So very delicious! They also had some rather delicious brews, as the name might suggest. I highly recommend their seasonal Summer Ginger Sour. Another nice feature was that while waiting for the pies, the kids were off in another area playing with their gigantic Jenga set. We stuffed ourselves silly on their delicious pizza – not a single slice left over! But there’s always room for dessert, right? Especially on a hot summer day when the dessert is Italian ice. We loaded the cars and headed over to Micalizzi’s, a place Tina remembered going during her childhood. Just a tiny little shack on a residential street, a few picnic tables out front on the sidewalk. It is a seasonal, cash-only business. And talk about authentically delicious. Yum! What a full and successful day experiencing the best of Bridgeport!

We then proceeded to have a beautiful, lazy afternoon in the Tison’s fantastic backyard. The kids hung out on the hammock, we played rounds of corn hole (Who’s the champion? That’s right, I’m the champion!), and we watched the fireflies come to life as the light died. The weather was clear, and the breeze was divine. Had the torches burning, but it was still too warm for the fire pit. Once we shuffled the kids off to bed, Tina, Joe, and I stayed up talking, like we always do. I do adore these people, and it is so refreshing to converse with people whose ideas, thoughts, and opinions you respect. Even when we don’t totally agree, we still have the common ground of friendship, respect, and shared experience. What a treat is it for me to spend time with these characters from my past – especially to know them now as a couple, when I knew them individually all those years ago at W&L. I wish I had the opportunity to interact with them more often. We drank, we talked, I educated them on what their dog’s bully stick was actually made of(!) And we stayed up too late. We always do that. And it is always worth it.

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim