In the tradition of Devil in the White City and The War of the Worlds, the remarkable true story of the hoax that bewildered nineteenth-century America.
"If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father," says Jesus in Luke 11:11, "will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?" The question is, we assume, rhetorical -- an assurance that our heavenly Father is a square dealer -- but the family of the great P. T. Barnum might have answered it cheerfully in the affirmative. Yes, they might have said, indeed a father will give his son a stone. And a serpent too, by God, if he feels like it! Barnum, as a boy, was told that upon reaching the age of 21 he would receive a marvelous inheritance: a place called Ivy Island, a most valuable parcel of land. Never quite sure exactly what Ivy Island was, or where it might be, he was constantly assured by his family and neighbors that it was bountiful beyond all imagination. And one day, when the boy was 12, the moment came -- it was time to visit Ivy Island. He followed his father deep into the Connecticut countryside, toiling through bogs and getting stung by hornets, panting with anticipation. His father paused at last on the edge of a gloomy creek and extended his arm: behold! The boy stared. He saw before him a dismal, unworkable stump of ground in the middle of a marsh, home to a few sullen snakes and not much else. Ivy Island was...an island covered with ivy.