Way Back When … 1891
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, October 14, 2017
From tales of pirates to stories surrounding showman P.T. Barnum, above, our neighboring town, Bridgeport, has an intriguing and often haunting history. This side of Bridgeport is explored in “Wicked Bridgeport,” a book by historian and author Michael J. Bielawa.
According to the book, “Bridgeport’s sinister past is littered with tales of pirates, mobsters, bizarre Victorian murders and even rumors of a doctor’s attempts to
reanimate the dead.”
The author explores these events in his book, as well as the unsolved murder of philanthropist James Beardsley and a grisly discovery in Yellow Mill Pond that helped legitimize forensic science.
With regard to Barnum, the book chronicles bizarre events involving Barnum in 1891. Barnum was born on July 5, 1810, and died on April 7, 1891. He was buried in Mountain Grove Cemetery next to his wife, Charity, and other members of the Barnum family.
Over the next several months, guards were hired to watch over the grave “to prevent relic hunters from stripping the grave.” On May 29, 1891, there were reports of gunshots, sounds of digging and intruders with tools amid the shadowy tombstones. A shallow trench and a tin lamp were found near Barnum’s burial site. Bielawa’s book discusses the many theories behind what may have happened in the cemetery that night.
On Wednesday, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., Bielawa, who has served as a guest curator for the Barnum Museum, will be at the Fairfield Museum for a “History Bites” lunchtime chat aptly called “Wicked Bridgeport.” Attendees are invited to bring a bagged lunch. Fairfield Museum will provide beverages and dessert.
The program is free for museum members and $5 for nonmembers. For information, visit fairfieldhistory.org/programs-events.
Source: “Wicked Bridgeport,” Michael J. Bielawa (The History Press, 2012). Available for purchase at the Fairfield Museum Shop.
The Fairfield Museum and Museum Shop, at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations and foundations. The museum is especially grateful for leadership support from the state of Connecticut, town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.