Capt. Harvey Lee Boswell My Friend!

by Brian Ezzelle

 

Capt. Harvey Lee Boswell spent most of his life in the outdoor show business.

He has had good times and bad times, been in high cotton and low cotton and he would tell you that. Over the years he owned a few rides, but his first love was always the backend sideshows. Most all of the carnivals of today have replace the sideshow with rides. 

 

His sideshow "Palace of Wonders" goes back to 1954, but that's not where he got his start. He enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marines when he was only 16 years old in 1944, and served for eight years. While he was in the service he collected oddities from over 32 countries. He worked in sideshows on the West Coast and around the country in-between his voyages. He was injured while serving in the Merchant Marines and was paralyzed. He spent over a year in a U.S. Marine Hospital. In spite of his injury, he stared his first "Palace of Wonders" show as soon as he was released from the hospital. 

Capt. Boswell has operated just about every type of sideshow, grind and pit show in the business. For many years he operated live wild and freak animal shows. After he finished touring with his animal shows, he started and ran the second largest exhibitor of Pickled Punks in the business right behind Lou DuFour, The King of the Unborn Shows. Pickled Punks were still born oddities and carnies would use the term, (but never in front of the general public) in describing deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde. These were prime exhibit material. Often faked, and often presented as human, animal, "What Is It?", or even "alien" fetuses very often as the deformed offspring of crazed degenerate drug addicts, they were displayed in large jars. After 17 years he decided that he would no longer run the punk shows. There was a lot of controversy over the exhibition of human remains and freaks. So these show went the way of the Old Iron Lung, Geek, Posing, Torture, Dope, Crime and many others shows you no longer see on American Midways. 

Over the years Capt. Boswell operated shows in permanent amusement parks and he toured with most of the major carnivals on the East Coast and throughout Canada. He toured for several seasons with a large Canadian railroad show where he had three 80 foot railroad flat cars for his shows. He would say "This was one of the most enjoyable times in my life." Even when he was traveling with the railroad show he had a road unit in operation. 

He also maintained his winter quarters in North Carolina for 35 years, where from 1957 to 1962 he operated a zoo along with his museum, gift shop, pony and kiddy rides. He operated a complete small carnival for two seasons until 1963. Capt. Boswell would always say "It's been a great life; I have met some of the most fascinating people in the world, the sideshow greats. Most are now all gone to the big lot in the sky. It has been an honor to be in their company." 

The only other thing Capt. Boswell loved more than his shows, was his involvement with the Confederate Sons of America. He was pretty proud of that and kept all that stuff all around his place. In case you are not familiar with the CSA, it is an organization for men who can trace their ancestors back to somebody who fought for the south in the civil war. It's kind of funny because not much happened in Wilson during the Civil War. But he really like his membership in the CSA. 

He was very fluent in Spanish and up until his health started really going downhill he made at least one trip a year to Mexico. He always had some Mexican people helping him around his place, as well as when he was still on the road with his show. 

And he loved his beer & liquor. 

I always wished I had sat down with him with a tape recorder and just had him tell me his stories. He trusted me enough to give me his phone number and we would talk every now and then. He didn't care too much about sports (in North Carolina that's a rarity, considering the ACC basketball scene with NCSU, Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, it's almost a religion. But he did like following racing sometimes. (It is probably the second most popular religion in N.C. next to ACC basketball!!). 

A couple of months before he died James Taylor and Bobby Reynolds, bought most of his pickled punks. Capt. Boswell would always tell me that he had sold all his banners but I do not know how true that was. After he died his brother pretty much locked everything up. 

James Taylor does own a lot of his stuff and it is safe and secure. Capt. Boswell also owned a 1940s Ferris Wheel which he operated along with his zoo, museum, gift shop, and other stuff. He gave all his snakes to a family in Nashville, N.C. (about 20 miles from Wilson) before he died. I never understood why he stayed in his hometown instead of going to Gibtown we never talked about that. Wilson is your typical small southern town. It's claim to fame is Ava Gardner and tobacco. Its funny because whenever I stopped by for a visit we spoke more about hometown stuff than any other thing. I live in Richmond VA now, but my parents and family are still there in North Carolina.

 

photos provided by Brian Ezzelle.

 

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