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
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
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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