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BEHIND THE CANVAS WALLS

 

Sideshows have been with us for several hundred years. They have taken many forms, but they have always piqued the publicís curiosity. The odd and unusual has always found an audience: from the Victorianís cabinets of curiosities to the reality shows we all watch on our televisions; from the dime museums which were the predecessors of todayís modern museums.  People have been drawn to the excitement of the Midway.  The rides, the games, the entertainment: itís all there. What you see has come from all over the known world and even a few places that no one has ever heard of before.

 

Carnivals and sideshows came to large and small communities alike.  They brought the exotic, the forbidden and the strange; things that most people would have never had the opportunity to see.

 

They provided community, for the odd, the drifter, the performer and the showman. When the show came to town, the townies became the marks, the outsiders. It was a way to make a living for a traveling community where everyone was valued, where everyone watched out for each other.  It was a place where the whole group of people could work and make a good living when most of the world had just discarded and viewed them as out casts.

 

Today when most people think of a sideshow they think of the great banner lines, with their larger than life images brightly painted to draw the crowdís attention.  The Strange, The Unusual, The Fire Eaters, The Electric Chair, The Penguin Boy, The Mule Faced Woman, The Human Blockhead and many, many others.  On the midway we hear the voices from the bally platform or loud speakers screaming out, ďItís here. Itís now. Itís Alive. You can see it on the inside right behind the canvas walls.  Enter now into the great top, which houses the performance and the human abnormalities.Ē 

 

Even though we are welcome on the midway, we are still strangers to their world.

 

Throughout history, language has helped define who we are.  Every culture and group has a language that defines its members.  Thatís true of the carnival sideshow industry.  Itís not a secret language to those that understand, but a language that helps define their community.  It is a language that helps protect them from outsiders and if that language is known, welcomes in those who are ďWith-it.Ē

 

As we walk down the midway with all its flashing lights, its sounds and its smells, we travel a path that leads us closer to their world.  We never truly see it, for it lies just beneath the surface.  Itís in the ticket box.  Itís behind the counter of every joint.  Itís in their back yard. Their world is right in front of us, but we canít see it, we donít understand it.  Itís inside the canvas tops where the talker stands tall out front on his bally platform giving his spiel to draw us in a little closer; to turn the tip, to take the dollar, but he never completely lets us into his world, where we are not welcomed. 

 

So step right this way. Come in a little closer. Youíre about to see the most amazing sights your eyes have ever beheld.  They will shock you.  They will entertain you. You will never forget what you are about to see.  Itís alive on the inside.

 

John Robinson

Sideshow World

 


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