Our exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?
From 1820-1865, some popular choices for leisure activities were in Connecticut were attending exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and holiday celebrations. Shows and exhibitions that traveled from town to town were advertised using broadsides, or posters, that were hung in public places.
In the 1820s and 30s performances and other displays —like animal caravans— were often promoted as educational. Exhibitions displaying wax models of popular, historical, and religious figures and Native Americans were common.
Later in this period, popular shows featured magicians and ventriloquists. Just like today, people are interested in unusual things and Connecticut’s P.T. Barnum capitalized on that by exhibiting human curiosities like “the bearded lady,” “the living skeleton,” “the albino lady,” and “Siamese twins.”
Other popular activities included firework shows, educational lectures, agricultural fairs, and parades on holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
In addition to formal concerts, music for dancing was performed both privately at home and at public assemblies or balls.
Mike Messina is the Interpretive Projects Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society.