INTRODUCTION PT-5

 

Inside the tent, usually poorly lit and stuffy with the overpowering smell of old canvas, the performers did their acts, sometimes winding up by offering a souvenir photo card of themselves for a quarter. These cards have now become valuable collectors items, and are sold and traded by the avid fans of this rapidly dissolving media. As mentioned earlier many of the acts depicted outside were performed by only a handful of people inside. At one of Ward Hall's shows I saw his midget attraction, Pete Terhune, do several acts, including the Iron-Tongued Wonder (apparently putting a steel hook through his tongue and then lifting a bucket of sand with it!). Likewise Ward Hall once framed up a Pygmy Village show that promised six big acts. Little Pete was the show's only pygmy (called an Albino Pygmy no less -Pete's a Caucasian!), but he did, in fact, perform six acts. Remember, Hall's bannerline specified six acts, not six pygmies!

However, the Human Oddity and Working Act show never held the appeal for me that the Grind Show did. Maybe they seemed safer, more in control, and what they offered was usually more exciting and unbelievable than the Side Show.

In Sarasota, my childhood stomping grounds in the mid-1960's, I saw a Wild Jungle Girl (an ordinary black lass with a great costume and bad manners) and even a Werewolf! Now, even as a kid I knew there was no such thing as a Werewolf, but the artwork outside (this show, like the Wild Girl, was housed in a trailer with barred windows in which to look through) was so spectacular I just had to go inside to see what was in there. This kind of alluring artwork is, of course, the key to successful showmanship. It creates a sense of urgency - a "must see" feeling in the public. Or at least it's supposed to.

Inside the gloomy trailer was a man wearing a pretty good Wolfman mask and furry matching gloves. While the mask was good, it was the very same one offered for sale by Don Post Studios to youngsters like myself on the back cover of Famous Monsters Magazine for around $39.95. To his credit, the guy did jump up out of nowhere and scare the bejesus out of me, so I guess I did get my fifty cents worth.

I once saw a Torture Show which exhibited small models of Biblical atrocities inside a dark walk-through trailer, but even as a youngster I was not easily impressed. Likewise, my brother John (who really preferred the Freak Shows) and I went in to see the "Giant Killer Korean Rats - Scavengers of the Battle Field!" Outside the artwork depicted a troop of bloodied screaming soldiers wrestling frantically with the large carnivorous rats, while their more fortunate companions lay dying amidst the relics of war. Inside was the placid Capy Bara, in fact the world's largest rodent. It had no tail, looked a little like a miniature horse and openly dined on lettuce and carrots. I still think the show owner should have at least placed a human skull or some bones in the cage to give it a little more credibility. Giant Rats are still being displayed today, at one point being touted as originating in Viet Nam and later from the sewers of Moscow (can the Desert Storm rats be far behind?). The public really despises rats and it's become a good perennial attraction, even though, thanks to National Geographic's TV Specials, the bloom has long since fallen off the Capy Bara rose.


What I would like to accomplish in this work is a record of limited sorts of the Grind Shows   of yesterday, and more importantly to me, those of today and the people who own and operate them.

We will look at the artwork and the exhibits. Where the shows have been and where they are going. We will hear from some of the principals of this elusive and sometimes mysterious business, and on the creation and operation of my own attempt at becoming a Grind Show owner with my TERRORS OF THE AMAZON show. It is time someone took a good lingering look at this form of true Americana before it disappears completely, taking with it a unique style of entertainment which today is struggling to survive.
Sit back and enjoy the show and as the "Fearless Young Showman" David F. Friedman would wish you - "Dry lots and Red Ones!"

 


 

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

 

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