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 out
 
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 roust.

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 the ground.

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 variety."
 

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 it.

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 chicken alive.

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

 

Posted here courtesy of Midway Publications - Copyright 1999 William T. Usher All rights reserved

 


If you have information about William T. Usher please email us at the Sideshow World

 

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