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
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