|Iowa In The Civil War Project|
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1. Barnum's Giant -
Jean Antoine Joseph Bihin
Belgian giant Jean Antoine Joseph Bihin was one of P. T. Barnumís giants. He was reported to be a sworn-in Civil War soldier, who traveled the country during the Civil War promoting the Union by the request of the war department. However, I have been unable to confirm this. However, he did some performances to raise funds for wounded soldiers and their families.
At the time this photograph was taken, Giant Bihin, was rivaled by one of Barnumís other giants, Arabian, Colonel Goshen, who also served Barnum. These men generally got on together very well, though each was jealous of the other, and of the attention the rival received, or the notice he attracted. One day they quarreled, and a lively interchange of compliments ensued, the Arabian calling the Frenchman a "Shanghai," and receiving in return the epithet of "Nigg*r." From this exchange, both were eager to proceed to blows, and both ran to the collection of arms, Goshen seizing a club, and Bihin laying his hands on a saber. The preparations for a deadly encounter, and the high words of the contending parties, brought a dozen Barnum employees to the spot, and these men threw themselves between the gigantic combatants. Hearing the disturbance, Barnum ran from his private office to the dueling ground, and said:
"Look here! This is all right; if you want to fight each other, maiming and perhaps killing one or both of you, that is your affair; but my interest lies here: you are both under engagement to me, and if this duel is to come off, I and the public have a right to participate. It must be duly advertised, and must take place on the stage of the Lecture Room. No performance of yours would be a greater attraction, and if you kill each other, our engagement can end with your duel."
This proposition, made in apparent earnest, so delighted the giants that they at once burst into laughter, shook hands, and quarreled no more.
Jean Bihin (1805-1873) the Belgian Giant - Comedian, vocalist, and strong man, Jean Antoine Joseph Bihin - billed as the Belgian or French Giant - measured 7'8" and 320 pounds. Born in Belgium, Bihin found fame touring Europe, then visited the U.S. in 1840. A concert vocalist, he performed with Mrs. Turpin Wallack in New York. Bihin later returned to the U.S. to support his family, doing comedy routines, sometimes for P. T. Barnum, co-starring with Commodore Nutt. Bihin married an American with whom he had two children.
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