P.T. Barnum is a newcomer to New York and still unknown to the world when he purchases an old museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street. With uncanny confidence and impeccable timing he transforms the dusty natural history collection into a great ark for public imagination. Though Barnum's bold vision and shameless huckstering are essential to creating his magical, lucrative museum, its inhabitants are Carlson's concern. To taxidermist Emile Guillaudeu, nature's greatest beauty lies in its rational taxonomy, represented by his meticulous arrangements of mounted specimens. When Barnum takes over the museum, Guillaudeu's attempt to maintain order in an increasingly chaotic microcosm grows more frantic, and ultimately forces him out of the museum and into the unpredictable flux of antebellum New York. The giantess Ana Swift is plagued by chronic pain and jaded by a world of gawkers, but she is hopeful as she arrives in Barnum's museum. Working without a manager for the first time, she can present herself as she wishes. But does this constitute real freedom? With Ana, the narrative travels beneath the museum's baffling surface to visit the lives of Barnum's human performers, his Representatives of the Wonderful.