INTRODUCTION PT-2

 

Even small rural areas were stopping places for the roving shows, many of which moved almost exclusively by railroad. A visit to the carnival would provide quick, cheap enter-

tainment to suit just about everyone's tastes. For mere pennies the customers could line up to see a live Wild West show or a high diving exhibition performed by young, beautiful girls in daring, for the time, bathing attire.

Exotic animals from the far corners of the globe and death-defying motorcycle stunts were a common sight. Mystifying magic and revues depicting the shameless harems of India and Baghdad delighted the curious. There were the Pit Shows wherein midgets wrestled giant snakes and ancient mummies were displayed.

The most curious and strong of stomach could find an incredible exhibit going on inside the Side Show or Freak Show where live acts were performed continuously on stage. Here one could see the Human Oddities, those people whom life had dealt an unfair or extraordinary fate. The Fat Lady, the Pop-Eyed Boy, the Human Skeleton, or one of the "working acts" - those acts wherein a special skill was required as opposed to a peculiar physical deficiency- like the Fire Eater, the Human Pin-Cushion, the Human Blockhead - who would pound a six inch spike up his nose, or the Sword Swallower.

Initially displayed as single attractions, (known in the business as a "Single-O") these amazing acts were later linked together into one grandiose show called the Ten-In-One (Ten acts under One tent). Walter K. Sibley has been credited with the novel idea of stringing several diverse attractions into one giant exhibition back in 1904. For a time they were called "String Shows", before transforming into the more common nick-name, Ten-In-one, although some shows featured as many as 16 acts under their top.

As author Don Boles pointed out so well in his excellent book, THE MIDWAY SHOWMAN: "To build a show, you must have something to exhibit..." There simply had to be something inside the tent to pique the public's interest. While it is certainly true that the brightly illustrated banners displayed outside the shows were almost always going to be more entertaining than what was held inside the canvas, the show still had to deliver the goods or there would be "beefs" (customer complaints) to the carnival owner and trouble would certainly follow soon after.

What many people outside the business do not realize is that most carnivals are made up of many independent show people (sometimes referred to as "carnies"). All shows own some of the rides, games and grab-joints, but  there are many independent owners and operators who book their machinery, food or games onto the carnival, splitting, or "cutting" the money generated with the carnival owner for the privilege of doing business on their lot.
 

All stories are copyrighted Fred Olen Ray and posted here with his express permission,

 

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