The ‘biggest liar of the age’ was at his typewriter on the afternoon of 13 July, 1865 reliving the spectacle of the living exhibits within Barnum’s American Museum being burned alive. A fire had broken out in the New York museum (on the corner of Ann Street and Broadway) at around noon and, according to this journalist, the animals in the menagerie suffered unimaginable anguish and pain as they were swallowed up by the flames. He writes of a terrible combat between an escaped lion and tiger and of a snake throttling a lioness. He continues:
One of the alligators was killed almost immediately by falling across a great fragment of shattered glass, which cut open his stomach and let out the greater part of his entrails to the light of day. The remaining alligator became involved in a controversy with an anaconda, and joined the melee in the centre of the blazing apartment. At this moment the floor, undermined by flame, gave way with an awful crash, and the living, struggling, howling, writhing mass was launched into a gulf of red and yellow fire, sending up a whirlwind of smoke, sparks, and cinders to the very heavens. The last object I saw was the Polar bear, upon a white-hot square of sheet-iron, with all the hair burnt from his hide, and standing stark and stiff and rapidly baking brown. Before the whale went down with the rest a stream of spermaceti ran from his carcass down the sides of the building, taking fire and making impromptu candles on a colossal scale.
However, much to the delight of the crowds waiting outside the burning museum, one of the Museum’s favourite attractions was saved – the ‘learned seal’ called Ned. He occupied a conspicuous position on the second floor and was greatly admired. According to the New York Times, ‘…he could eat more small fishes in a short space of time than any seal we ever saw. Unlike the scriptural seals of which we read, he was never closed, but was invariably open, ready for a fish or a cracker. His performances on the hand-organ were, doubtless, painful to him, but to the flippant crowd they were amusing and pleasant… his home… combined the conveniences of a bath and the comforts of a sand-bank.’ Ned was rescued by a couple of men, one of whom he bit, and was carried to a place of safety with the crowd making way on every side. The New York Herald hoped that ‘we may at some future time see him perform as of yore.’