It has not
been so many years ago that there were some four thousand shows touring with the
five hundred fifty carnivals in biz at that time. According to my
inaccurate research in 1950 there were 104 ten in one sideshows in north
America. There were over four hundred girl shows about forty five revues (white)
and 48 jig (black revues) and On and on. There were a lot of animal shows. The
Tracy Bros, who were dwarfs had a freak animal show that were all midget size
A small carnival would have six
rides and seven or eight shows. A medium size carnival would have ten to
twelve rides and ten to fifteen shows, a large carnival (the big railroad shows
would have twenty to twenty five rides and twenty to thirty shows. There
are over 3500 fairs in North America, each one was visited by a carnival, also
at that time about 35 big top circuses which each had a sideshow, an animal
menagerie and one or more pit (Single O) shows which often had an animal as the
The average farm at that time was
from 40 to 120 acres. Each farm had a family and they raised animals. When
the fair came to their town if they had had an unusual animal born they would
offer it to a showman at the fairs. Today the farms are huge corporations
with from 2500 to 10000 acres with no family living on the farm. The
diminishing number of farm families has changed many thongs. It has
certainly been detrimental to the county fairs, for it was those farm families
which were the exhibitors and midway customers.
Most carnivals today have forty to
fifty or more rides, medium 60 to seventy five and big one (example Reithoffer)
and Amusements of America each have way over 100.
The fair grounds in most cases have
not enlarged. Carnival owns a ride which takes mostly two or three men to
operate, all use a universal ticket, so the carnival gets 100% of the gross.
The shows only pay a part of their gross. Carnivals generally do not want
to put up fewer rides to make room for a show. It is simple economics 101.
Like animals who found there way to the showmen, It also was true of performers,
especially freaks who saw a show at their local fair and joined.
This was especially true of girls who joined the carnival shows to become
dancers... Show business today is a far different thing than it was fifty or
more years ago. Today it is difficult to keep shows on the road. I
will only do this for 21 more years, till I retire at age 100. Then I will
become a tourist..
There were also a lot of drag queens
in carnival shows then, because they were accepted in outdoor show business and
not so in general population.
Cordially, Ward Hall
Image - Crowds at a
sideshow viewing women and some men dressed in costumes of foreign
lands - Copyright by
the Courier Litho. Co. - LC-USZ62-24561 - Library of Congress Prints and
Photographs Division Washington, D.C