Columns

For John Morgan, There's a Sucker Born ...

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: February 1, 2014 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

John Morgan still insists his medical marijuana motives are strictly personal and born of compassion.

Maybe. But you have to give the man who may be the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum more credit than that.

This is one of the smartest businessmen in America, not just in Florida. Underestimate him at your peril.

P.T. Barnum and John Morgan

P.T. Barnum and John Morgan

Like the famous American showman and entertainer of the 19th century, Orlando lawyer-entrepreneur Morgan is big on self-aggrandizement and wealth-building and short on humility and inertia.

Barnum was an author, a philanthropist and for some time a politician; Morgan is an author, a philanthropist, an investor in Democratic politicians and owner of two of them -- Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo. And though Barnum incorrectly gets credit with coining the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute," he easily could have said it, and so could Morgan. It fits like a glove.

About the only thing different in these two is their roots. P.T. Barnum was born upper-middle-class in Connecticut; John Morgan came from poorer folks in Kentucky.

Both were smart as a whip and rode to great riches on an uncommon capacity for hard work and a drive that wouldn't quit.

Read their stories. The similarities, even across more than a century, are incredible -- but the thing that will blow you away is their mutual attraction to the bizarre, the freak side of science -- most of it out-and-out "humbug" stuff -- and how they not only made it all pay off, they let it teach them what makes people tick -- how they think, what they like and what they want.

P.T. Barnum

Barnum didn't launch his first traveling circus, "P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" -- the business that led to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus -- until he was 61. But before he did, he'd made his fortune promoting elaborate hoaxes, everything from a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish, known as the "Feejee" mermaid, to a "dwarf" named Tom Thumb, who was billed as 11 years old but was only 4.

Barnum created America's first aquarium and expanded the wax figure department. His "Seven Grand Salons" demonstrated the Seven Wonders of the World. Then he created a rogues gallery of wax figures. The collections expanded to four buildings said to include 850,000 "curiosities."

John Morgan

More than 100 years later, Morgan's first job -- as a teen living with his transplanted family in Orlando -- was working in costume, one of the Three Little Pigs at Walt Disney World. He loved it, loved show business. Later, he didn't just pursue and rise in multistate personal injury law, oh, no. He opened WonderWorks and Magical Midway on International Drive in Orlando, bringing in favorite, weird-science attractions like a bed of nails, a "bridge of fire" that makes visitors' hair stand on end, and a "hurricane hole" that simulates a Category 5 storm. And he launched other attraction-related businesses from county fair management to VIP portable bathrooms with piped-in music and portable sinks.

Nor is this stuff all in Morgan's past. In 2009, in the depth of the recession, he announced plans to spend $32 million opening three new WonderWorks attractions -- one in Panama City, one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and one inside a New Jersey Meadowlands shopping mall. The idea was to double his portfolio of small attractions.

“We have figured out the secret for our sauces," Morgan told the Orlando Business Journal at the time. "We're going to roll these things out. Boom, boom, boom.”

I mention this now because suddenly here Morgan is again, claiming to The Miami Herald after an old poll linking medical marijuana to heavy Democratic voter turnout, no, no, I wasn't scheming to get Charlie Crist elected governor, I was driven to get medical marijuana on the ballot because of the pain and suffering my father Ramon endured -- made easier only with marijuana -- during his life-ending struggle with cancer.

His father, incidentally, died in 1993. OK, that was 21 years ago, but now marijuana is easing the pain of his paralyzed brother Tim. Morgan tells the world he held onto this desire to give medical marijuana to the people for just the right time. How could anyone think it has anything to do with the fact that he's bought himself a governor who can add to his fortune?

Morgan's similarity to P.T. Barnum is uncanny. Like the ultimate American showman, he knows how to make people do what he wants. He had it all figured out from the time he hired an affable career-flattened former governor without a party and put his face on billboards from one end of Florida to the other. It's exactly how Barnum would have played it. Find a way to get the people to vote for the man who owes ya. "For the people" all the way.

Medical marijuana. Who needs a poll to tell you that's a winner for Democrats?

As Roger Stone pointed out in his Sunshine State News column earlier in the week, if the amendment passes and the Legislature has done nothing, "the state Department of Health will set up a potentially lucrative system to dispense the medically prescribed marijuana. ... The next governor will control the distribution scheme and John Morgan is betting that will be a grateful Charlie Crist, who will give him (or a client) a franchise, the profits of which would dwarf his personal-injury law firm."

And in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson explained his own theory: "It's so smart of (Morgan) to attach himself to Charlie Crist. I think this is about getting the Supreme Court justices that John wants appointed because they would be good for his own pocketbook.'' Wilson expects the next governor could appoint as many as four justices, who would have an enormous say in how Florida restricts lawsuits.

The ultimate elaborate hoax. They're fooled but entertained and you get rich.

Barnum said of himself, "I am a showman by profession ... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me." His personal aims, he said, were "to put money in my own coffers." 

Morgan's methods, his means, his well-learned lessons in what people want at any given time, are pure P.T. Barnum. And quite brilliant, actually. What a weird cosmic connection these guys have.

Medical marijuana, Charlie Crist, money rolling in. Boom, boom, boom.



Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.
 


Comments (10)

Fire
12:45PM FEB 7TH 2014
Let's say your blog is true, so what. At least John Morgan is smart enough to plan ahead for his future and career. That's better than collecting E.B.T. and medicaid so what you think. Having Florida regulate marijuana grows and distribution would be good for the State and her Citizens. At least we the People would be able to choose. Those that allow street dope pushers over legal State controlled dispensaries are the ones who need to be looked down on.
The Point
10:47AM FEB 3RD 2014
So John Morgan knows what people want, gives it to them and profits from it. That's basically the foundation of a free-market economy. The tone of this blog implies that the author has a problem with this. I enjoyed reading about the parallels between these two, but I'm not sure I get the point of the negative light it is presented in.
Franc
10:01AM FEB 3RD 2014
Ah yes, let the government control everything you do. They are almost there now. Pathetic!!!

If cigarettes and alcohol are legal, so should marijuana be as well.
Witchdoctor
2:57PM FEB 2ND 2014
Witchdoctor say Republicans ignored this issue and opened themselves up to this medical marijuana amendment. Witchdoctor okay with this because winner of election will be pro-life, Reagan Republican conservative Charlie Crist.

Bones don't lie.
H.E. "Pete" Ashley
10:00PM FEB 1ST 2014
He does pull the strings attached to Charlie and has a great influence on Bill Nelson.
Albert Kaplan
8:41PM FEB 1ST 2014
To view a recently discovered ambrotype portrait of P. T. Barnum, likely made in 1852-54, visit kaplancollection.com, then click on his illustrious name.
Freeman
1:03PM FEB 1ST 2014
Only a GOP shill could equate the two,,,,,,giving American citizens what they want is not showman ship,,,,,,oust the repressive fgop from the legislature,,,,,,and let the citizens decide!
Ray Brown
12:55PM FEB 1ST 2014
When a billboards was up on the turn pike with Crist picture I new he had brought and paid for a politician. I wonder when the president meet at Morgan home if this hadn't come up. Lets make the people of Florida as stupid as possible by drugging them. I at one time did smoke and yes I did inhale but it also almost ruined my life. I never wanted to go out and do anything. It will paralyze you.
Ed Vossen
7:40AM FEB 1ST 2014
Nancy, my wife has been suffering for some 40 years due to massive abdominal adhesions that wrap around her intestines. Because of this and the 8 surgeries that she has endured for the removal of these reoccurring adhesions my wife is in constant pain. Pain medication and the pain has ruined her life where we can not make plans to go out because we never know day to day if she is capable of going out. She has had a pain pump installed to help to no avail.

Because of this and the success she has had with marijuana helping enormously with dealing with the pain, we are closely following the benefits of medical marijuana. It is for people like my wife, why it is important that something be done so that she can legally use this to give her back some kind of quality of life for her remaining years.

Living on strong pain medication is not an option any more.
David
7:37AM FEB 1ST 2014
Nancy I suggest you read the retraction posted yesterday in the Tampa Times. They issue one yourself.

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