Lorette The Tattooed Lady

 

Lorette was born in Pineland New Jersey, she started getting tattooed by, I think it was Charlie Wagner in the tattoo shop on the Bowery in New York.  That shop was one of the best shops for tattoo art at that time.  Lorette is about eighty years old now so it would have been around 1923 when she was born.

When she got married for the first time she wasn't in show business and only had a few tattoo’s.  Lorette and her husband weren't getting along so she left him to go with the carnival.  She went to work as a dancer in a girl show.  In some pictures I have of her when she was quite young she had a beautiful figure, she worked in that girl show for several years.  After a few years she was getting too old to work in the girl shows though.

She decided since she already had a few tattoo’s to go get the rest of them.  She took all of her tattoo’s in five months and went out on the show as a Tattooed Lady.  I don't remember which show she started on but I know she has worked with Walter Wanous, Dick Best, Sam Alexander, I believe she worked for Sam at Palisade Park, I don't know if she was ever with the circus.

She
also went to work for a sideshow operator by the name of Kitty Kelly. A number of things have happened over the years that were very good for the sideshow business but Kitty Kelly wasn't one of them.  Kitty Kelly could stirrup more heat and cause more problems and burn a stop out so a sideshow couldn't go into it for twenty years.  It seemed as though they had a lot of problems with the local management and the law.  I actually have seen contacts in Texas where it was stated right in the contract "No Kitty Kelly."

After her first marriage Lorette married again to a man named Bob that had been a B-17 bomber pilot in the Air Force during World War II.  He had flown 142 missions over Europe.  When he got discharged they got married.  At that time they were with Kitty Kelly.  Bob always sold tickets for the show and she was the Tattooed Lady.  They were in some town in Arkansas and the show got raided.  They arrested all of them.  The police released everyone except for Lorette, she had just had a tattoo put on a few days before.  The tattoo was still red and inflamed so they thought she may have some kind of disease so they wouldn't turn her lose until they had run some tests on her.  After they ran the test and found she didn't have any problems they released her.

She went back to where the show was supposed to be and there was no show.  She had no idea where the show was.  At that time I had my show in Tulsa Oklahoma at the State Fair and she came into my show.  She told me her story and said she was broke so I put her to work on the show.

I think I already had a tattooed person in the show so she only worked out on the bally, it was a good bally.  She only worked for me a few days.  We had been making phone calls to find out where her husband had gone.  He didn't know where she was.  We found out he was working for Claud Bentley’s sideshow at the Texas State Fair which was only about a hundred and fifty miles from Tulsa.  So I put her on a bus and she went back down there to join him.

Then they went with the Byer's Brothers Show, it was a little show out of Coushatta, Louisiana, it was a little carnival.  Bob was a very good builder and he built a very nice sideshow and they operated that show for quite a few years.

Lorette came over and joined our show in nineteen sixty seven or sixty eight,  I think it was somewhere around there maybe.  At that time we had several ten-in-one sideshows on the road.  She was with us for several years, when I say with us she was not with Chris and I but she worked for our company on one of the other shows.

At that time we had Artoria, Mrs. Gibbons, I had to retire Artoria she was a dear sweet lady, but she was getting feeble and senile.  She would go to the cook house to eat and then she couldn't find her way back to the sideshow and other things like that.  I was very afraid she might fall on the stairs and get hurt.  On the show she worked just before she joined us, she had fallen and broke her arm.  It was in the morning before the show had opened.  That was on Dean Potters show.  Dean said “come on Anna we got to go to the hospital”.  “Oh No Dear” she said I can't go to the hospital now.  Dean asked her "why not?"  She said "we  have a show to give, the show must go on.  I will go to the hospital tonight after the show is over", she worked all day long with that broken arm before she had it set.  That’s the way she was, she was a trouper you couldn't believe her loyalty.  A wonderful lady!

Artoria didn't have to be out on the road.  Her husband, who had tattooed her, was Fred Gibbons.  He worked in the wintertime off season with the shows, and he worked in the oil field as what they called an Oil Field Ruffy in the oil fields in Oklahoma.  He was paid pretty good so they acquired a little money and bought property in Oklahoma, some acreage.

But they still went out on the shows until he died and then she went to work for Hubert's on Coney Island, no it was on forty second street in New York. She worked there for two or three years then she went to work with Dean Potter. After Dean’s show she came over to our show. She stayed with our show until I think she was eighty six.  I told her then that she needed to retire. As far as money went she didn't have to worry, she received oil royalty checks every month because they had discovered oil on her property in Oklahoma. She just loved being with the show and wanted to stay so badly.  It broke my heart to have to tell her to retire.  The only thing I could do was to tell her I wasn't going to take the show out that year so I don't have a job for her.  After that she went to live with her daughter but she really wanted to be with the show.

Well anyway I got off of the subject, we were talking about Lorette.  Before Artoria retired as I mentioned, Lorette worked on one of our other units.  After we retired Artoria Lorette came with us, she worked for us for a long, long time.  I don't remember when she started with the unit but she worked with the company for about thirty years I would say.  She retired in nineteen ninety five.  Her husband Bob was in charge of all the tickets, he became senile, no I really don't think senile just forgetful.  Bob’s health was not good so in ninety five I closed the show for a few weeks in the middle of the season and then opened it back up.  When they were with Byer’s Brother show, they had bought a home in Coushatta Louisiana.  After I closed the show they where headed back to there home in Coushatta and shortly after they got home Bob had a stroke, that was the end of her career she never came back to work then.

After Bob died I contacted her and asked her to come in and be in that movie the Last American Freak Show.  I brought some of my old performers together to make that movie.  She told me she would "love to be with the show but I can't drive that big motor home.  But I have a Buick and I can drive that.  Ward I can sleep on the stage, I use to sleep on the stage." (SMILES and LAUGHS) That might have been where she slept when she was just a young punk girl but not these days.  So I said we could talk about it next year, but she had a stroke and hasn't been able to go anywhere.

That’s Lorette the Tattooed Lady.

She and I personally had a lot of fun together.  Chris doesn't like to go anywhere and her husband Bob didn't want to go anywhere either.  He wanted to sit in the motor home.  He wasn't much for television but he liked listening to the radio and working on crossword puzzles.  So if we were somewhere like Philadelphia Lorette and I would take off and go somewhere like the Liberty Bell, museums, etc.  You know wherever we were at we would go see a show and go touring.  We were good companions. “It was a lot of fun, I miss her”.

Now she has a big home that sits on a large property.  It is probably three or four acres with a lot of fruit trees. She loves to get out and plant a garden every year.  In front of her house she has this big circular driveway, she use to brag about it she would say, “I have a hundred and fifty clay pots lining my driveway.  I have the most beautiful flowers, I never have to do anything to take care of them because they are all artificial."  (SMILE and LAUGHS)

I have the same type of driveway but it isn't as big.  I have twenty five plastic pots that go about two thirds of the way around the driveway.  I got the idea from her.  Last summer I had live plants in all of them.  When I went up country for those few weeks when I came back, without being tended, most of them died.  So I went to the variety store and bought all artificial flowers.  So I have all artificial flowers too!  (SMILE and LAUGHS)

 

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