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Reiss...uses P.T. Barnum's first hoax, the exhibiting of Joice Heth...to look at race relations in the antebellum North. This was one of the first media spectacles in US history; as such it provides a mirror of mid-19th-century society...Her exhibition and its aftermath brought into prominence several facets of antebellum cultural history, including the role of medical science, the importance of memories of revolutionary unity, attitudes toward death and religion, the role of women in public life, class competition, the effects of urbanization on culture, and the emergence of the mass media. Above all, exhibiting Heth provided ample opportunity for discussion of race and slavery...and for supplying evidence of northern psychological and material involvement in southern slavery. This should become a classic study of antebellum history.
— W. K. McNeil