When I first got into the carnival sideshow business, not knowing any better I worked the Midwest. Iowa, the Dakotas Nebraska and Kansas. I think every carnival in that territory had an AT Show (Athletic Arena), They were Not sideshows and were never referred to as such.

 

They were the AT show. They were so popular with the Towners that most AT Show operates didn't own equipment, because the carnivals would all have an AT Show frame up. They were very simple and Spartan. A three banner front with no bally cloth below the banners. Small bally platform with no bally cloth, a ticket box and a string of light bulbs across the top, The tent was usually a thirty by thirty foot top with eight foot high sidewalls the center poles were offset to allow about a I6 foot ring. The Ring had no bally cloth around so it was visible under the ring were some dirty mattresses and blankets as this is where the athlete would sleep at night.


Although the operate and the carnival profited greatly from the AT Show, "the boys" from three to maybe six were not paid much, so they often helped put up and take down rides to earn extra money. Generally they were farm boys who had some school wrestling or boxing skills who joined the shows as they considered it glamorous and exciting way to escape the humdrum life on the farm. Of course since they were well built and usually attractive young men there were plenty of local girls available in each new town. The operate was usually the front talker, and referee. On the bally they would make a challenge to the locals offering a money prize for those who accepted and would be able to pin the show boy. If they couldn't convince a local to cooperate and either win or lose as instructed for either money or a promise that they could travel with the show. The challenge made and accepted, the Towner would be brought onto the bally and the tip would be turned.

 

Sometimes the operates wife would be the ticket seller, and frequently the wife would operate the "Kooch" Girl Show with the carnival, in which case one of the wrestlers would jump from the bally into the ticket box. Once the audience was turned inside they would remain standing for the match which would usually last less than five minutes, The performers would all return immediately to the bally, where the loser, in the first match would be the Towner. Who would loudly complain that the show boy cheated and he demanded a rematch. The audience would be rehashed, paying to go back in to see their hero take on the other guy. This type of action would be repeated time and again all night till the Towners either had enough or ran out of money. Sometimes the AT Show would continue for a time after the rest of the carnival closed for the night. There were a few independently owned AT Shows with nice equipment and there own transportation, which would hopscotch into the better county fairs. The carnival owned shows didn't have a truck or trailer for the AT Show they would just throw the meager equipment into a ride truck.. Most of the boys also drove the carnival trucks on the jumps.


Farm boys all learn to drive trucks at an early age. There was always quite a turnover of "the boys". The glamour would quickly wear off. Most of them had a girl back home, and they would get homesick for mothers home cooking. This would especially happen at harvest time when there help was needed on their families farm.

 

I don't remember most of the names of the operates or the buys, however Sonny Myers from St Joseph, Mo. was first an AT Show wrestler, then had his own AT Show then he bought the AT Show and carnival from another AT showman, Gust Karas who had a professional wrestling territory office. Another was a Greek boy who went from wrestling and boxing to owning one of the finest indoor circuses in the country. To Packs was out of St Louis Gust Karras had started in show business and was the wrestler in the concert (after show) on Robbins Bros. Circus from Iowa. Jimmy Canos went the same route and owned an Indiana based carnival till his death just a few years ago, I cant recall the name of the AT Show guy that later owned the Olympic Shows carnival, Probably the best known of the dozens who made that progression was James E Strates Sr. who owned the huge James E. Strates Shows, the last railroad carnival, now operated by his son and grand-sons. Strates professional name was "Strangler Lewis" By the end of the I950's all states had an athletic commission,  which instituted many regulations such as a medical doctor must be present at all matched. It was the commissions which put an end to these colorful characters and lucrative operations. The last AT Show I saw was in I989 at the October Fest in Munich Germany. It had a gorgeous neon trimmed beautiful solid paneled front, a huge walkover bally stage with eight or ten wrestlers in gorgeous wardrobe and the talker and referee in tuxes. It was a Real Big Time Class Show.


The bally was still the same type with a challenge to the local boys. I appreciated that several of the challengers were U S military men. That first carnival I was on had six standard major rides, three kid rides and six shows: AT Show, Mickey Mouse Circus, Snake Show, 2 Girl Shows and note on one SIDESHOW which the ten in one is the only "sideshow" other carnival/ midway shows are known by fair and carnival managers by their descriptive name.

 

They still reserve the title SIDESHOW for the ten in one.

 

Ward Hall

 


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