The Man Behind the Curtain

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Phineas T. Barnum 1810-1891

Phineas T. Barnum 1810-1891

Colorado from the air looks like a state of enormous fields in which nothing much seems to happen. Mountains decorate the horizon, staring reproachfully at the well organised emptiness in front of them. We are finally on our way to Kansas City, only twenty-four hours later than planned and having travelled an extra 2,500 miles.

‘Kansas she says is the name of the star.’ Evocations of The Wizard of Oz form in my mind as our small 100-seater plane moves up through the clouds. Below me the emptiness is dotted with three absurdly isolated farmsteads, like Dorothy Gale’s Aunty Em’s and Uncle Henry’s place, with their white picket fence. But we’re not in Kansas, yet.

It seems especially appropriate to be thinking about the famous film version of the story which concludes with the exposure of the Wizard as little more than a showman (‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’), because 5th July is Phineas T. Barnum’s birthday. He was one of the greatest showman of them all, who takes the credit for coining the phrase, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’. And, it was rumoured that he had designs for Shakespeare’s Birthplace when it came up for auction in 1847.

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Written on the United Airline Flight 4912 from Denver to Kansas City, 4 July 2014.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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