The Greatest Showman and his Rockbrook Connection

Rockbrook Camp and Barnum Family Lineage

We were excited last week when the local movie theater began showing The Greatest Showman, not just because we love a good movie, but because of its connection to Rockbrook!  As some of you may remember, Nancy Clarke Carrier, the founder of Rockbrook is the great-grandaughter of the famous P.T. Barnum- The Greatest Showman himself!  Here is a wonderful old photograph of P.T. Barnum (seated on right) and to the far right is Julia Caroline Hurd, Nancy Carrier’s mother.  For more on their family history check out this previous post.

In keeping with the P.T. Barnum connection, we have regularly heard from campers from the early years of camp that there was circus memorabilia in the Rockbrook house.  The most frequently mentioned item was a small chair that was once owned by Tom Thumb, a star of Barnum’s circus.  Campers mention getting to see and even sit in the chair. The chair is no longer in the home but its regular mention has led us on a multi year quest to track it down!  The only clue we had was that a family member was pretty sure that the chair had been donated to a Barnum museum!

The first stop on the great chair quest was the Ringling Museum down in Florida which houses lots of Barnum and Circus memorabilia.  Sarah and Jeff were on the road hosting camp reunion parties and made a point to go by the museum to see if they could find any information about the chair.  Unfortunately they had no such chair in their collection but it was a good start!

Next up was to contact The Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT. We spoke with the curator of the museum who said they did have a few Tom Thumb chairs in their collection but none of them had any history associated with the Carrier Family.  They did have one in the collection with no background information so our next challenge was to find a photo of the Barnum Rockbrook Chair. If we could just find a picture we may be able to make a match!

P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb chair at Rockbrook House, Brevard North Carolina
Carrier great grand children and the Tom Thumb Chair, circa 1970

We spent several months looking through the archives to no avail when out of the blue a set of photographs was donated to Rockbrook by Phillip Tucker who is a great grandson of Nancy Carrier. While flipping through the pictures we were THRILLED to see this photo:

We were ecstatic to find the photo and sent it promptly to the Barnum Museum for their inspection and were so happy to get the following reply:

Restored Tom Thumb Chair
Tom Thumb Dining Chair. Photo provided courtesy of The Barnum Museum. Anyone wishing to use the image must receive permission in writing from The Barnum Museum. (info@barnum-museum.org)

“…But it seems very likely that with the background story you stated previously, this chair came to the museum from Nancy Carrier’s grandson. Of course, the chair, being part of a dining room set, is not entirely unique, though possibly only one of two still in existence, that we know of. So it does seem likely that going back many years, the Clarke-Carrier chair was donated to The Barnum.” – Adrienne Saint-Pierre, Curator

So, while we can’t say with total certainty that this is THE chair, it sure seems likely that we have found the Rockbrook Tom Thumb Chair!  Here it is in all it’s fully restored glory.  Next time you take a trip to Bridgeport, CT, be sure to go by the museum and pay it a visit!

For more on Tom Thumb and The Greatest Showman check out this neat article by the Hollywood Reporter that compares the real people to the characters in the movie!

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  1. Celia G Page
    2 years ago

    I vividly remember a small table in the Carrier house with a stereoptican (sp?), the forerunner to the Viewmaster, and using it to look at some of the P.T. Barnum stars, including Ying and Yang and Tom Thumb. Was fascinating. This was around 1956.

  2. Phyllis Shaw
    2 years ago

    I remember the chair!