Animal Crackers

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In late February, Mitchell submitted her report to the city, and despite the Barnum House hoax and the other myths surrounding P.T. Barnum, she recommended a circus theme complete with blue-and-white-striped playground equipment and concrete "elephant footprints" scattered around the park.

City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez, whose district includes the Barnum neighborhood, would like to see a petting zoo at the park as well, according to her legislative analyst, John Soto. Martinez will need to get input from local residents and find a private donor first, however.

Murayama says she hasn't heard about the idea and that it's not within the city's budget, but the department doesn't want to release the specific details about what the final design will look like. Construction is scheduled to get under way this fall.

Uchill, who says her book will contain a few surprises when it is finally published, has an alternate suggestion for a playground theme, however: dinosaurs. A triceratops horn was unearthed in 1887 just yards from Villa Park House, she says; although Barnum combed the globe for oddities, she says, he died four year later without ever knowing what an amazing find had been uncovered in his own backyard.

And Uchill, despite her passion for truth, says she thinks that Bart, with his colorful house and colorful character, is actually doing a service to the legend of P.T. Barnum -- who famously said that "the public loves to be fooled" -- and to the Barnum neighborhood.

"He's really in the tradition of P.T. Barnum," she says. "This is a great thing. It's a hoax within a hoax."

Julia Rogers, however, a recreation instructor at the Barnum Senior Center, says she has never doubted that Bart is a Barnum descendant. Bart, who goes by that name when he visits the center, comes by about twice a week to drink coffee and chat with other seniors. "I don't think he'd have any reason to lie," she says. Rogers says she has even taken groups of seniors on tours of Bart's house. "They love it," she says. "They absolutely love it."

But Rogers is concerned about Bart's failing memory and says workers at the center are worried that Bart may not be able to live on his own for much longer.

Bart himself doesn't see it that way. "I'm damn near eighty years old, but I feel forty," he says. "I feel real bouncy. I go to the old fogies' meetings over at the senior center, and I say to myself, 'I'm not in this category.'"

He is worried about who will take over Barnum House when he "kicks the bucket," though, since none of his grown children seems to want it. "They're good kids, but they just don't vibrate to this sort of thing," he explains. Neither does a friend of Bart's who checks in on him from time to time to make sure he is all right.

"You know, this isn't a cheap thing to live in," says Bart. "I'm just sitting high and dry here waiting for someone to take an interest in it."

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Megan Hall