Nancy Fish Barnum
Life DatesApril 22 1850 – June 23 1927
Nancy Fish (April 22, 1850-June 23, 1927), was born in Blackburn, England and at age 24 became the second wife of P.T. Barnum. She was the daughter of well-to-do parents and after her marriage to Barnum, who was forty years her senior, she became a lady of leisure who enjoyed high society social life, travel, decorating her homes, and a variety of hobbies.
Her father, John Fish, began as a millhand and later became a cotton manufacturer. He followed P.T. Barnum’s guide The Art of Money Getting, and later on, the two became friends via a meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. During this time, Nancy was in the process of receiving an excellent education, and her father continued to make his fortune. Around the late 1860s, her father also began to act as one of Barnum’s agents in England, which brought the two men closer together. The correspondence between Nancy and her father soon extended and Nancy and Barnum began to correspond as well. It was through this correspondence that Barnum became attracted to Nancy. Although it is doubtful that they had a relationship prior to Charity’s death, they were secretly married in England on February 14, 1874, only three months after Charity’s death. The marriage remained a secret from almost everyone, including Nancy’s parents and Barnum’s children, until September 15, 1874, when the two had a public ceremony at the Church of the Divine Paternity on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
The May-December element of the marriage was remarked upon, but the couple was generally happy together. Barnum traveled and conducted business, and while Nancy suffered from ill health, as Charity did in her lifetime, the two seemed to get along and shared a similar sense of humour, as well as enjoyment of the finer things that wealth afforded them. The marriage also allowed Nancy to pursue her own hobbies, including collecting, reading, writing, horseback riding and carriage riding, and playing pianoforte. Marina, the last home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that Barnum constructed was explicitly built for Nancy, knowing she would outlive him and want a home more easily maintained than Waldemere, as well as allowing room for her interests and activities.
Barnum and Nancy spent the last year of his life together traveling in England, and then in the United States. When Barnum passed in April of 1891, she received a generous portion of his estate, which displeased Barnum’s children. After Barnum’s death, Nancy chose to travel to Europe, then returned to the United States for a while, and home to Marina. She was involved in helping with the unveiling of the P.T. Barnum statue in Seaside Park on July 4, 1893, but soon enough, issues with the executors of Barnum’s estate were proving troublesome. In 1894, she put Marina on the market, and left Bridgeport for good.
Nancy’s second marriage was to Demetrius C’allias, who was a diplomat working for the Turkish sultan at the time. He held the rank of Bey, which has no equivalent in the U.S. government, but at the time denoted someone of particular rank or note. The two met in Egypt where Nancy was presented with a mummy that was to go to the Scientific Society in Bridgeport, and indeed has remained as part of the collection of the Barnum Museum. About eighteen months after they met, C’allias and Fish wed on August 7, 1895. They had two services, civil and Greek Orthodox; details of the wedding were written up in New York newspapers. Sadly, the marriage only lasted for eleven months as C’allias died of liver disease in September 1896. It is remarked that he was Nancy’s true love in life, as it is he whom she is buried beside.
With C’allias gone, Nancy settled in Paris, living in an apartment near the Arc de Triomphe, which she kept for thirty years until her death in 1927. Nancy continued to read and write, but also desired to have societal company. She married Monsieur Lucien Hyppolyte Ferdinand Marie, Baron d’Alexandry d’Orengiani, Officier du St. Sauveur de Grèce and Membre Correspondant de l’Academie de Savoie. His family, from Savoy, had connections to the Italian royal family, and the whole marriage was one of convenience for both: Lucien for Nancy’s wealth, Nancy for Lucien’s society connections. Nancy’s life in Paris was one of leisure. She had companions, employed servants, had a horse and carriage that was later replaced by a car and a chauffeur, played music on her piano, read widely, and even wrote down apt sayings in a number of leatherbound books. She also had a Papillon dog named Follette, who was her constant companion.
As a baroness, Nancy enjoyed a residence in Aix-le-Bains, and socializing in the highest circles, but family histories suggest that Lucien and Nancy parted at some point in time. They remained friendly, and Nancy was able to travel widely, maintain a villa in Menton, and generally enjoy the luxuries of her new life. She was able to fulfill her goals of meeting particular royals, especially Empress Eugenie, the widow of emperor Napoleon III. Nancy was also in touch with the activities of American expatriates in Paris, rubbed elbows with French nobility, and entertained visitors in her apartment in Paris, especially family members of P.T. Barnum. She remained in contact with her English family, and made friends both in Paris and abroad. The baron died in 1919, and Nancy was the chief mourner at his funeral.
In her later years, Nancy experienced three strokes which left her partly paralyzed in the last eighteen months of her life. She died on June 27, 1927, likely from complications related to the strokes. In her will, she left generous gifts to her servants, friends, and relatives of P.T. Barnum with whom she was close. Her cremated remains were buried beside her second husband, Demetrius C’allias, in the Protestant cemetery du Grad-Jas in Cannes, France.