ONE OF THE MORE POPULAR AMERICAN
SHOW-BUSINESS LEGENDS IS THE ONE
ABOUT P.T. BARNUM AND THE EGRESS. In
1841, Barnum launched his American Museum at
the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in Lower
Manhattan. On opening day, folks came in droves
to see Tom Thumb, the original Siamese twins, and
all manner of curiosities and marvels. But in no time,
the museum was filled to capacity, and nobody was
leaving, which meant no more tickets could be sold.
According to the story—and banking on his belief
that there’s a sucker born every minute—Barnum had
two signs painted. He sent one of his roughnecks into the crowded museum with one sign that read
“THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS” and instructed him to yell out to the people to follow him.
And they did, expecting to see some exotic beast. Instead, they were led out the back door of the
museum into an alleyway, where they saw the second sign that read “EGRESS MEANS EXIT.”
Which brings us to another iconic piece of signage that most of us grew up with: the sign in millions
of apartment and office buildings that shows a stick figure running down stairs away from a fire, accom-
panied by the legend “IN CASE OF FIRE, USE STAIRS, NOT ELEVATORS.”
Well, times change, and egress signs may be adapting.
> FOCUS BY JOHN PAUL QUINN
IN CASE OF FIRE: