Well, I got on
the carny lot and walked to the back end of the midway and
into the cook tent behind the ten-in-one. Dad came running
to me and we hugged each other, and he said, "You picked a
good time to get here. I'm forming a geek show for the fair
season and need someone to run it."
Man, I was tickled to death to hear that, because I stood a
chance to make some real money.
Now, what the geek show consisted of was a twenty by thirty
foot tent with an eight by sixteen foot snake pit inside,
with a ticket box, a bally stage and a banner line with
three 8 x 10 foot banners out front. The center banner read
"Rose, Wild Cannibal Girl from Bohemia, eats them alive!"
The pictorial banners showed a wild girl eating snakes and a
wild girl biting the head off a chicken.
Inside the pit, there was a mixture of fixed rattlesnakes,
king snakes, blue bulls, whip snakes, yellow bulls, water
snakes, all harmless and a few rubber snakes and a
light-skinned faggot pulling the string on a grunt (an empty
five gallon lard can with a small hole in the center, with a
shoestring running through it.
This grunt was similar to the makeshift telephones kids make
of two cans and a string. The only difference is, there's
only one can with a string and when you draw a rag with
rosin on it up and down, it gives a loud sound like a lion
roaring and can be heard all over the lot.
The geek sits in the pit, acting like a wild gal playing
with the snakes, putting their heads in his mouth. Behind
the pit, there's the whip down boy, cracking his whip and
firing his blank gun like a lion tamer, keeping the wild
girl under control. Every once in a while, the geek puts a
snake in his mouth, grabs one in each hand and lunges at the
marks. This is called a roust, a word that comes from the
German language, meaning get going, or vamoose.
When the geek lunges, the frightened marks run over each
other trying to get out of the way of the fiendish cannibal.
That is when the dips (pickpockets) go to work snatching the
mark's wallets (that was a sideline for the geek show
operator). At closing time, the dip boss would pay the
operator of the show a percentage of the take.
How the scam worked was like this. As a mark, man or woman,
opened their pokes to take out the money to buy a ticket,
the ticket seller would peek in their wallet or purse to see
if they had any line (folding money) like tens, twenties or
fifties. If it was a hot poke (meaning loaded), the ticket
seller would take off his hat and start fanning his face.
That was the signal to the dip boss that the mark was hot
(loaded with money).
After the mark went inside and up to the pit and looked in
at the geek the dips would get beside him and behind him.
When they were set, one of the dips would shake his head up
and down to let the whip down boy know that it was time to
The whip down boy would start to crack the whip and fire his
gun and the geek would put a snake in his mouth and snakes
in his hands, then lunge at the chosen mark. In the scramble
to get out of the way of the 'wild girl,' the mark would
become easy prey for the dips.
The dip that
made the snatch ducked it to the boss of the dips off to the
side of the tent. He would clean it (take all of the bills
out of the wallet), then toss it under the sidewall outside.
I remember one time a few years before, when Dad's geek show
was playing an Italian celebration in New Jersey. the
morning after the big day, the ground around the sides and
back of the geek show looked like the leaves under an oak
tree in late fall, because of the wallets laying around on
At the front of the geek show, to gather a tip, I would take
one of the big yellow bull snakes, get on the bally, and
say, "If you will all move in a little closer, I'll show you
how you can tell at a glance the difference between a
poisonous snake and a nonpoisonous one."
I would get down on one knee with the reptile in my hand. By
this time, the marks would gather around the bally. And I
would say, "My friends, anytime you see a reptile with a
long, thin, pointed head like this one has, you can rest
assured that it belongs to the nonpoisonous kind of
I would put the
yellow bull back in the box, and take out a fixed rattler
(one with its fangs out), and add, "But if you see a snake
with a flat wide head like this one has, beware. Now, a lot
of people think that the long, forked tongue that a snake
sticks out is a stinger, not so. God has given the reptile
that long tongue or feeler to feel its way through the short
and stubby grass. When it goes blind, and a snake goes blind
just before it sheds its skin, which is two or more times a
year, at that time it gets a new suit of clothes."
"Now, although inside we have one of the largest collections
of reptiles in the eastern part of America, we do not
feature the snakes. The thing that we feature is Rose, the
Strange Cannibal Girl from Bohemia, a small, uncharted
island off the coast of South Africa. She has long arms like
a monkey, claws like a lion. She's not white or black, she
is copper, like a penny. As for brains, she doesn't have
any. Her head goes to a point, she has eyes big as silver
dollars. What a pair of lungs she has, listen to her holler
(at about that time, the geek pulls the grunt and it sound
like a lion's roar)."
"She will take a snake, bite off its head, peel off its skin
and eat just like you would a banana. But, snakes are hard
to get, so we feed her live chickens, but they must be
alive. She will not eat anything that is dead."
At that time, the whip down boy, now in behind the bally
with a live chicken, holds it up high so the marks can see
And I say, "Right now, it's feeding time. You will see her
keeper throw that live chicken down into the pit. She'll
grab it, bite off its head, suck its blood, then eat it
bones, feathers and guts right before your eyes in one of
the most drastic scenes you'll ever see!"
Now, if you have a weak stomach, or a weak heart, or are
pregnant, please don't come in, because you'll throw up,
have a heart attack or a miscarriage and we don't want that
to happen in here."
"I'm going to have her keeper take the chicken inside and
get ready to feed her. Tickets are now on sale! It's fifty
cents for adults and twenty five for children. The marks
would line up getting tickets to see the wild girl eat the
The geek show made money but very little rubbed off on me. I
guess Dad figured that I was still a little kid and too much
money would spoil me.
By then he was hitting the bottle, or I should say bottles,
because he was a two fifth a day man. I don't know where he
got that broad he ended up marrying but she and I couldn't
see eye to eye. That was the horseshoe that made the ringer.
To be Continued