A Letter About a Friend

By B.Bass

 

Hello Mr. Robinson,

Thank You for creating your Sideshow site!

I have especially enjoyed reading the stories about Harvey Boswell. He was my friend. I first met him when I wrote a story about him for a book I was working on in college. I was lucky to get the assignment. A fri
end of his in the class wanted to write about him, but the teacher thought another one of her ideas was a better subject for her. The teacher said I might enjoy interviewing Harvey. We both got drunk during the interview and I get a really good story about him.  Afterwards, we become friends, and he took me on a snake hunt, and I later spent part of a summer working in his show.

Harvey was a very private person in spite of his quasi-public figure status. I was honored that he let me into his world. I saw some of the stuff he had, and I know why he was so private. I should add that when I interviewed him for my story, he showed me some things and told me what to leave out of the story, which I did. He later told me that by leaving it out, I had gained his trust.


Even now after his death, I don't feel like I can talk about the items he had that he told me not to discuss with outsiders. One of the items in his collection that he showed me but told me to exclude from my story was Marie O'Day, which I guess I can mention now that she's been on the National Geographic Channel.

My  mother, like some others in town, thought Harvey was strange, and she told me to stay away from him. I think he kinda liked his nebulous reputation because it kept non-friends people away from his property. The Harvey that I knew was a friendly and very interesting person. No one who really knew him ever had a bad thing to say about him.

I have always enjoyed sideshows, even when they are completely unbelievable, e.g., the "Headless Woman" and "Snake Girl." For me, the cornier they are, the better they are. With the exception of the Midget Pygmies, most of Harvey's show was what it was advertised to be. (Hey, he never said the Ubangi woman was an actual non-wax human or that the six-legged puppy was alive.) When I was working for him, the main attraction to his show was the snake "pit," which was a large open wooden box, "Zuma" -- a large albino python, his deformed and preserved animals, and his many photographs. I used to visit the Wilson County Fair every year, if only to see Harvey's show. I also saw it the last time he exhibited at the NC State Fair.

After college, I kept in touch with Harvey, and we would occasionally get together and drink. Wow, when I visited Harvey, I always had to be ready to drink some beer and wait a while before trying to drive home. I still can't believe that we even got drunk while trying to catch cottonmouths one day.

I loved his stories, even after hearing them for several hours on the ride from North Carolina to Canada and then back home. As luck would have it, I hate tall bridges, and he was scared of bridge tunnels. But, he was the boss so we went over the water instead of under it. It seemed that every time we crossed an especially tall bridge, he had some horrific story to tell about a death involving a bridge. I finally had to tell him about my bridge phobia because he was freaking me out.

I took my wife to meet him a few months before he died. I had told her much about him, and one day we were back home in Wilson, and I said, "Hey, let's go see Harvey." He told me about what all had gone on since I last saw him, and then went into a story, except it was a story about us getting searched at the Canadian border, and how I hinted to the border guard that Harvey was insane when he found a case of snake oil in the van. The ruse worked, and we were allowed to pass.

While I was working in his show, I learned that Carny people were pretty normal. Before I worked for Harvey I had always thought that Carnies were bitter, drug-addicted loners or fugitives from the law, and maybe some are. One of the guys at the Maine State Fair in Bangor told me, "We look after each other because if there's trouble, police always take the side of the locals." I suppose that's why it's a pretty closed society. I quickly learned that if you're one of them, most of
them can actually be quite nice.

Harvey was a great guy. I truly miss him.

 

Image from the cover of one of Capt. Harvey Lee Boswell's Pitch Booklet
 

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