Life was a circus for Barnum & Bailey partner

“If PT Barnum was the famous face of the circus, James Anthony Bailey was the heart.” The lesser-known partner in the Greatest Show on Earth is given his due in “James A. Bailey: The Genius Behind the Barnum & Bailey Circus,” an illustrated biography for middle readers by Gloria G. Adams.

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Bailey was a Detroit orphan named Jimmy McGinnis who ran away from his sister’s harsh treatment to a life of itinerant labor. When he was 13, two months after the beginning of the Civil War, he signed on with a traveling circus. The circus agent treated Jimmy so kindly that he took his name.


Though PT Barnum was the “greatest showman,” Bailey was the organization man, known for his generosity and honesty.

The book features reproductions of full-colored circus posters promoting high-wire acts, performing geese and, of course, Jumbo the elephant. Sidebars provide curious circus terms: “Alfalfa” is paper money; “screamers” are marching tunes.

“James A. Bailey” (48 pages, hardcover) costs $21.95 from Slanted Ink and is recommended for readers 9-12. Gloria G. Adams also is the author of “Who Sees You at the Zoo?” and “Ah-Choo!” A former children’s librarian, she lives in Stow.

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