By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Trapeze artists, lion tamers, elephants — these are the kinds of pictures that usually come to mind when we hear the name P.T. Barnum, famous for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In fact, Phineas Taylor Barnum was about far more than the circus. Born in 1810, he became a famous man in his own time for other reasons. Well-loved storyteller and magician William Pack comes to the Pendleton Community Library on April 12 to share Barnum’s fascinating story.
“He’s complicated,” said Pack. He noted that Barnum didn’t even start the circus until he was 60 years old. By that time, he had already established Barnum’s American Museum in New York, toured around the world with General Tom Thumb, and defined himself as an exceptional business and marketing mind.
Pack will tell Barnum’s story in his conversational style that engages the audience. He’ll draw on visuals and props, including the bizarre Feejee mermaid and a glove that was owned by Tom Thumb. Pack’s own experience as a sideshow performer and magician figures largely in his presentation. Expect a little magic, and prepared to be amazed. Pack will even perform a stunt, The Human Blockhead, for the library audience.
“I pound a nail in my face,” said Pack with enthusiasm. “It’s something people will be talking about forever.”
This comes from a man with plenty of sideshow experience. “I walk on glass. I eat fire.” That’s just the kind of guy he is.
“I’ve been a magician, worked in magic shops since I was 11 years old,” said Pack, who hails from the Chicago area. The award-winning magician received training at the Chavez College of Prestidigitation, and has performed in many venues, including 13 years as a performer at Chicago’s Navy Pier. He’s crossed paths with other greats in his field, including Todd Robbins, who Pack describes as the greatest living sideshow performer.
Pack performed last year at the Pendleton Community Library. His program on Houdini was one of the library’s most popular ever hosted there.
“Not only did he educate people, he also entertained them,” said Arlene Shannon, adult program and community outreach specialist for the library. Shannon expects a good turnout this time, too. “I can hardly wait. Barnum was such an enormous personality. ... Everything was big. He never did anything small. It was all very bold, too.”
“He’s a little misunderstood,” said Pack, noting that people often think of him as a con artist. “You have to take him in the context of his time. ... He wanted people to think, talk and wonder.” Pack’s enthusiasm for his subject, his talent as a storyteller and his delight in eliciting and observing the audience’s reactions should make a winning combination for Pack’s reprise visit to Pendleton.
“I’m looking forward to coming back,” said Pack.