I Was a Teenage Blockhead!

Part 1

by Walt Hudson  

 

I would like to start out by thanking all of the great people that have given their permission to use this story and their artwork in our "Good Old Days" section on Sideshow Central. I would also like to take a moment to let you know how it all came together.

 

Walt Hudson emailed me and offered to let us use his story "I was a Teenage Blockhead".  In returning his email I thought I should contact James Taylor since this article appeared in his publication Shocked and Amazed Vols. 2, 3 & 4 http://www.atomicbooks.com/43/shocked/index.html. James also gave his permission.

As I was reviewing the article, I really felt that the original artwork would be as important to the article as it was in the original publications.  So I contacted the artists and have received permission from Mark Frierson, Robert Kathman and Nicolas Wm. Aumiller to use their illustrations. 

 

John Robinson


 

"I Was a Teenage Blockhead" 

Reprinted with permission of 

Walt Hudson,  James Taylor, Mark Frierson, Robert Kathman and Nicolas Wm. Aumiller.

 

To write for “Circus Report,” as does Walt Hudson, it helps to be or have been “with it.”  The weekly is an important journal for the business, and your average rube – even your above-average fan – is going to be hard pressed to get it right.  Oh, I don’t mean the correct spelling of the names or using the English as some college prof. might; of course I mean you have to snag the true “spirit” of the shows.  And if that were Hudson’s only asset, he might get a tip of the hat from SHOCKED AND AMAZED for all he’s done, but you wouldn’t get the chance to read how he spent the first of several summers.  In the spirit of Dan Mannix’s STEP RIGHT UP! Follow Hudson in this first segment on how not to spend your summer vacation, unless of course you really want to drive steel spikes into the middle of your head.

 

The sideshow I was with was part of a traveling carnival that was playing six weeks of still dates in Philadelphia.  This enabled me to finish the school term before I started my summer vacation on the road.

 

Each day after school I headed for the carnival grounds.  During the still dates the carnival opened around 6:30 P.M. and closed around 11:30 P.M.,  Monday through Thursday evening and stayed open later on Friday and Saturday.  It opened at noon on Saturday.

 

I arrived at the lot and headed for the side show tent to set up my magic act on a small platform.  When the “Congress of Human Oddities” opened.  I stood on the bally platform outside the tent with one or two of the other acts while the talker gave his spiel to draw the crowd to buy tickets.  When I left the platform to do my act, another person from inside the tent would replace me on the bally.  As soon as I finished performing inside, I went out again.  This went on all evening long.

 

The inside show consisted of Serpentina the snake charmer, Wee Willie the 400 pound fat boy, Mr. Wizard (me) the magician, Bobo the human pin cushion, Roger the dwarf fire eater, Tessie the tattooed girl and the owner of the show, Doc Williams, who did the blade box.  We did not have an annex attraction yet, and at least one other working act or freak was to join us when we started our fair dates.  We had no inside talker.  Each act would perform and then introduce the next act and go out on the bally platform until it was time to return inside to perform again.

 

Tony Dee was our bally talker and he stayed outside all night.  Roger the dwarf stayed outside most of the time and would bang on a big bass drum to get the attention of the crowd.  This was called collecting a tip.  Muscles was our canvas boy and ticket seller.  Doc Williams’ wife, Emma, took tickets.

 

I arrived the third night on my new job and entered the tent and found Serpentina crying hysterically.  Tessie had her arms around her and was trying to comfort her.  I passed by Serpentina on the way to my platform and asked her what the trouble was.  “Oh,” she cried, “ Mr. King has died I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

 

“ Now dear,” said Tessie, “you have to pull yourself together.  You know how sick he’s been these past few days.  It’s better this way.  There was nothing you could do.  You gave him all your love.  Come on out to the trailer and I’ll get you something to drink.  Then you’ll feel better.”

 

“No, I’ll be all right.  Just let me rest for a second.”

 

I walked over to Bobo to find out who Mr. King was.  I had only been with the show for two nights, and I didn’t know anyone’s real name or anything about my co-workers.

 

Bobo informed me that Mr. King was Serpentina’s boa constrictor and that she had just discovered him dead in his box a few minutes before I arrived.  She was so upset because now she had no act.  Doc Williams entered the tent and went over to Serpentina.

 

“Now, my dear,  don’t worry about that dead snake.  I’ll have Muscles take him out and bury him.”

 

“But what am I going to do for a job? I can’t be Serpentina without a snake.”

 

“You’re not going to lose your job.  I need you.  You can work the Electric Chair act.  I’ll get it out of the truck.  You can also do the Blade Box.  Tonight you can stand on the bally with Walt.”

 

And so, just like magic, Serpentina was transformed into Miss Electra the electric girl and Mazie the human pretzel.  Being new to the business, I did not know what these two acts were but I would soon learn.  I set up my magic act and headed for the bally, and Electra/Mazie followed me onto the platform.

 

I enjoyed working the bally when we were playing still dates.  I used to get a rather awesome feeling on those early spring evenings as I stood on the bally platform and watched the carnival come to life.  From my vantage point above the crowds, I looked over the midway and could see, hear and smell the enchantment of this bizarre make-believe world.

 

During the fair season when we worked from noon until midnight, my attitude changed.  Bally meant extra work for all of us in the show, and one thing most of us hated was to stand outside in the sweltering heat for at least twenty minutes before returning inside to perform.  There were several stunts Tony Dee used to draw a crowd.  I remember the first night I was on the bally.  He was giving his spiel and told the people to be sure to remain where they were because he was going to bring out a snake with a golden tooth.  Then he turned to me and said, “Go on in, kid, and get the snake with the golden tooth for these good people to see.”

 

As I left the platform and entered the tent he continued to talk about the wonders to be seen on the inside.  I went in and asked Doc Williams for the snake.  He laughed and replied, “There is no snake.  Just stay in here for about ten minutes.  By the time you go out there again, the crowd will have forgotten all about it.”

 

Tony would do almost anything to draw a crowd.  One of his favorite bits was the vanishing coin trick.  He held up a silver dollar and told the crowd it would vanish before their eyes.  Then he placed the coin on the platform and had Mazie stand on it.  “Now I want you all to step closer because when she removes her foot, the dollar will vanish.”  The crowd pressed closer to the platform to watch the coin under the girl’s foot.  Tony continued with his spiel about the show for ten minutes.  By the time he was ready to ‘turn the tip,’ the crowd had forgotten about the coin.  If they hadn’t, it did not really matter; he had accomplished his purpose.  He had held their attention for the spiel and Mazie merely picked up the coin and walked into the tent.

 

Tony frequently used the Head Chopper Guillotine to draw crowd.  He chose a boy from the spectators and really built up the effect.  Just as he lowered the blade on the scared youth, he stopped and described a few of the acts to be seen on the inside.  He did this two or three times before actually completing the trick.  Tony worked the chopper during the dinner hour when some of the acts took off for a meal break.  The acts inside stretched their bits and Tony killed time with the chopper.

 

Another illusion we used was the Totem Pole Escape.  It was always set up on the platform, and if we were short of acts to bally (there was always a big turnover during the season), it was one of Tony’s favorite presentations.

 

We liked it because It meant the inside acts did not have to work the bally.  He used Mazie and Muscles.  Muscles dressed in a loin cloth and Mazie was in a scanty costume.  Muscles carried Mazie out, who kicked fiercely and screamed at the top of her lungs.

 

Muscles and Tony tied her to the totem pole as she continued to scream.  The sight of an almost naked guy and girl brought the crowds running.  Our damsel in distress managed to stop screaming and struggling as Tony gave his dramatic spiel.  Then, Mazie did her escape from the pole just as Tony turned his tip.  Muscles and Mazie walked hand in hand into the tent…until the next bally.

 

When we arrived in Ridley Park, Pa, Doc Williams was mad as hell.  Our Congress of Human Oddities show personnel was shrinking.  The annex attraction phoned to report she would not be able to join the show.  Wee Willie, our fat boy, quit the show at our last stand.  Some promoter had lured him away to pair him up with Dainty Dot, a fat girl.  He was framing a grind show to feature them both as “The World’s Fattest Married Couple – A Ton of Fun.”  Our 10-in-1 show was down to Mazie who worked the Electric Chair and the Blade Box; Bobo the human pincushion; Tessie the tattooed girl’ and me with the magic.

 

Doc called us all together and told us of the changes he was making.  “We are going to reorganize the show.  Tony Dee and Roger will still handle the bally, Walt will do the magic, but will do ten minutes.  I’ll work the Electric Chair and the Blade Box with Mazie.  Bob will continue to do his act.  Muscles, I’m taking you off the ticket box and making you ‘The Indestructible Boy’.  We will teach you how to lay on a bed of spikes (nailboard) and also the human blockhead (hammering nails up the nostrils). I’ve got a banner in the truck for the indestructible act.

 

“Tessie, you’re going off the main show to become our extra added annex attraction.  We’ll take down the tattooed girl banner.”  The annex attraction was housed in a partitioned-off end of the tent.  It was always an act that was not advertised outside and people paid as much to see the “blow off” as they did for the whole show.  Doc would give the attraction such a build up, almost everyone would pay extra to go in and see it.  And this money was found money.  The amount was not reported to the carnival owners.  Tessie looked a little concerned.

 

“Doc, nobody’s gonna pay extra to see a tattooed gal.  I’m not unusual enough for an annex attraction.”

 

“You leave it up to me, Tessie.  By the time I’m finished with you, everyone will be coming in to see you.  Now while I tell you what to do, Bobo, go to the truck and get out the nailboard and the new banner.  Walt, you and Muscles take down Tessie’s banner. Then, Bobo, I want you to teach Muscles how to do the nailboard and blockhead acts.”  That evening we opened the new show and everything went smoothly.  Muscles did a great blockhead and nailboard act.  It gave him a chance to show off his super physique.  He worked the act like he had been doing it for years.

 

But the highlight of the evening was Doc Williams’ presentation of Tessie, our new annex attraction.  “Now folks, I want everyone to step down to this end of the tent.  I’m going to tell you about an extra added attraction we did not advertise on the outside.  I want you all to move in closer so you can see and hear what I’m talking about.”

 

All the people crowed closer to Doc, “ And now I would like to present our star attraction – Miss Tessie.”  Tessie came out from behind the canvas wall and I hardly recognized her.  She looked sensational!  She had on a blonde wig, complete stage makeup and false eye lashes.  She was dressed in a beautiful blue robe trimmed in plush ostrich feathers.  She wore a rhinestone tiara, earrings and necklace.  She was sprayed with cheap perfume.  She looked like one of the strippers from the girlie show.

 

The robe covered her body so none of the tattoos were showing.  She had no tattoos on her lower arms or legs or neck, so she could wear street clothes and no one would know of her epidermic art museum.  Tessie gave everyone a great big smile, winked at a couple of the guys in the crowd and went back behind the canvas.

 

“Now, while Tessie goes behind the wall to get ready for her act, I’d like to tell you what you are about to see.  She looks like a beautiful young gal.  Well, she is.  All except for her body.  When she removes her robe, you are going to see one of the strangest bodies in the world.  That’s what I said! There is no woman in this tent, in this carnival, or in this city with a body like Tessie’s.  Some of you won’t believe what you will see.  Some will find her body so repulsive you will turn away, but you will remember this strange sight as long as you live.  When you view her bizarre body, you’ll know why no man has ever asked her to marry him."

 

“Because this is not a family attraction we cannot permit anyone under the age of 16 years to enter the tent.  Now I can see we have a lot of red-blooded young men in this audience, and after you have seen this gal’s body I want you to ask yourself whether or not you would want to date this poor creature.  Would you want to sleep with her? Now this is a sex attraction and everything will be revealed on the inside.  The cost is only 25 cents and only those over 16 years of age may enter.  This way please.”

 

With a build up like that, who could resist?  Everyone crowded into the tent.  Kids lied about their age and went in.  It really didn’t make any difference because Tessie wore a bikini under the robe and there was nothing at all offensive in her presentation.  I helped Doc collect the quarters.  When all were in the annex, they gathered around Tessie who was still in her robe.  Doc began his second pitch.

 

“Now before Tessie reveals her strange body to you, we must insist that no photos be taken.”  There wasn’t a single camera in the crowd.

 

“Tessie was examined and photographed by doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical center just six months ago.  We obtained negatives of those shocking photos and have made prints for those of you who want a photo to remember this event and to show to your friends.  Because, believe me, they will never believe when you describe her body.  Because of the nature of these photos we cannot sell them to you.  We have sealed each photo in an envelope, and we ask that you do not open the envelope until you leave our main tent tonight.  We do not want the children in the tent to see these photos.  We do not want to get into trouble with the authorities.  We ask a silver donation of 10 cents for each photo and you may pick up an extra photo for your friends.  Walt will pass among you with a box of these sealed envelopes, each containing a medical photo.  You can take the envelop yourself and drop your donation in the box.  Thank you.”

 

They crowded around me and took their envelopes.  When all had purchased their photos, they turned back to Tessie, who removed her robe and went into her lecture about the tattoos.

 

Doc Williams was a great talker.  He knew how to sell an attraction.  Nothing he described was untrue; he just let the crowds imagine what they wanted to about Tessie’s body.  By sealing the post card size photos (which cost less than a cent each), he continued to play on the curiosity and imagination of the spectators.  I was beginning to learn what the side show business was all about.

 

Our engagement ended on Saturday evening and we tore down.  Luckily, we did not have a lot of inside props to pack.  The electric chair and the blade box were the largest pieces of equipment we had.  When the tent was cleared of the props and platforms, we took down the banner line.  Next, the side walls of the tent and the poles and, finally, the top.  Everyone worked and we hired several local boys to help us.  When the truck was loaded we pulled off the lot and drove all night to the new lot.

 

We had only one large truck and Muscles and Bobo took turns driving.  Doc and his wife, Emma, had their own house trailer and Mazie and Tessie traveled together in their trailer.  I rode in a car with Tony Dee and Roger, the dwarf.

 

The new lot had been staked out before we arrived by the lot man.  He placed wooden markers in the ground indicating where each show was to set up.  Once or twice the lot was small and we had to shorten our banner line by dropping a banner off each end.

 

Doc hated to do this because the vividly colored and pictorially illustrated banners helped to bring the people in to see the show.  We spent Sunday setting up the show and rested until Monday night’s opening.

 

I became close friends with Bobo, the human pin cushion and Muscles, the human block head.  We were all about the same age and hung around together when we weren’t working.

 

Each Monday we would check out the new lot together.  A carnival is composed of little units, each completely separate from the others.  New shows and games frequently appeared at a new location and old ones didn’t show up.  The owner of each show booked onto the carnival.  He paid a privilege for the space.  It could have been a flat fee or a percentage of the ticket sales.  On the fair dates the owner paid so much per foot for the space to book his show.

 

The three of us walked down the midway, heading for the two new attractions that had booked on for the week.  As I walked between Bobo and Muscles, I felt like I was between two bodyguards.  Bobo, whose real name was Vergil, was one tough kid.  He had a Southern accent, but I never found out exactly where he was from.  He had been in and out of foster homes and had been in trouble with the law.  His last home was a juvenile delinquent detention center.  He ran away from there a year ago and joined up with the sideshow. This was his second season on the road.  It was several weeks before I found out how and why he became a human pin cushion.  He enjoyed doing his act, which I found rather repulsive to watch.  I asked him once if he wasn’t afraid of getting an infection from the large hat pins he pushed through his skin.

 

“Naw,  I make sure I wipe them off with alcohol before and after I use them.”

 

His only show apparatus was a package of cotton, a bottle of alcohol and six long hat pins.

 

He was glad our side show was heading south.  We would end up in Florida in October where he was going to spend the winter.  That’s what he had done the previous season.  He lived in Miami and did odd jobs.  He also hustled on the side to make extra money.  (I didn’t tell anyone that by October I would be back in high school for my senior year.)

 

Muscles was tough.  His muscles had muscles.  He had a pair of fists like sledge hammers.  He had a foul mouth and couldn’t say five words without uttering an obscenity.  He didn’t care about anyone or anything.  The only thing he was interested in was sex.  He spent all his spare time chasing girls around the lot and hanging around the girlie shows.  He was the only guy I ever knew who had a perpetual erection.  He was a potential trouble maker, as we found out before the season was over.  He was hired on as a canvas boy and handy man.  Bobo taught him the block head act and the bed of spikes.  He performed them well and began to think of himself as the star of the show.

 

The first grind show we stopped at was a show housed in 20’X20’ tent.  It had four large banners – two on either side of a single ticket box.  The show was called “The World’s Strangest Babies.”  Each banner pictured a small freak baby: the frog baby, the lobster baby, a two headed baby and a Cyclops baby.  “They didn’t ask to be born!”  “Children of forgotten fathers!” “Drug abuse baby!”  These slogans, and others, helped to sensationalize the attraction.

 

Everything was done to lead the public into thinking they were going to see live babies.  They were not live – nor were they real.  They were made of wax or rubber and were exhibited in large medical jars filled with colored liquid.  These “pickled punks” were set up on a table inside the tent and displayed with articles and photos about real freak fetuses that had been reproduced from medical journals.  There was practically no overhead and no salaries to pay as it was a one man operation.

 

As we approached the show the owner, a young man in his twenties, and his wife were starting to put up the side wall of their tent.  They were having trouble because the canvas was heavy and wet.  They must have loaded in the truck wet when they tore down at their last stand.

 

“Let us give you a hand with that,” I said, as I offered them our services.  “Sure would be appreciated. My name’s Slim and this here’s my wife Millie.”

 

Millie smiled. “We had to pack’er up wet last night.  We were with the C&W Shows over in Doylestown, PA, last night and it poured rain for three days.  Didn’t even make our nut.” (The “nut” she referred to was their operating expenses.)

 

“Well, I’m sure you’re going to have a great week here,” said Muscles as he went over and took the canvas out of Millie’s hands.  “I’m Muscles.  I am the human block head over at the ten-in-one.  Be sure to catch my act.  I think you will find I’m different from anything you have ever seen.”

 

He was staring at Millie in the eyes.  I don’t think Slim knew what Muscles was really after.

 

We finished putting up the sidewall and, after some small talk, headed down the midway to check out the other shows.  Slim invited us to come back and see his exhibit.

 

We passed the “Streets Of Paris” girlie show and two of the show girls,  Cup Cakes Cassidy and Bunny Boobs, were sitting on the bally platform playing cards.

 

“Hi, ya, Muscles,” called Cup Cakes.  “Come on over.  We’re getting some sun tan.”

 

“See you guys later,” he grinned, as he headed for the platform.  We passed the black girlie show, “Hot Chocolate,” and waved to Diamond Tooth Billy Arnett, the owner, who was washing down one of the outside panels of the show.  Diamond Tooth was also the star comic with the revue and got his name because he had a diamond set in the front of each of his teeth.  When he smiled he really sparkled!  When the spotlight hit his face his mouth lit up like it was full of tiny electric light bulbs!  I often wondered if they were his real teeth or if he had a pair of false teeth made up with the gems set in them.  Of course, I never asked him.

 

Bobo and I headed down the midway toward the “Wild Jungle Girl” show.  “Wonder what kind of attraction it is?”  I asked.

 

“Probably some geek,” answered Bobo “Haven’t seen a geek this season.”

 

“What’s a geek?”  (I had never heard of the word before.)

 

“A geek’s a guy who bites the heads off chickens, rats and live snakes!”

 

“What?  Come on, Bobo! That’s disgusting!  Where would they get a person to do that?  And who would pay to see it?”

 

“Where do they get any of us from?  Why do any of us do what we do? All I know is that last season I was with a show for a while that had a ‘wild man’ show that was a geek.  A couple of places we played, the cops closed the show down.  But in some of those small backwoods areas the ‘marks’ crowed in to see the old guy rip open them chickens with his teeth and drink the blood.”

 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I shuddered.  I would never pay to see such an attraction, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else running a show like that.  A person would have to be mentally ill to perform such an act and no decent person would want to exploit such a person.

 

We arrived at the “Wild Jungle Girl” show, which was a small grind show about the size of the “unborn babies” show.  It was a pit show housed in a 20’X20’ tent.  In the center was a 5’ square enclosure.  The walls of the enclosure were 4’ high and the spectators looked down into the pit to see the attraction.  The front of the tent was left open so that people passing by could see the spectators inside looking into the pit.  This would arouse their curiosity and they would also go in to see the jungle girl.

 

We walked up to the skinny young man in the tent who was fastening the last piece of the wall to the pit in place, using pin hinges.  “Hi, we’re from the ten-in-one.  My name’s Bobo and this is Walt.”

 

The guy looked up. “Pleased to meetcha.  We just joined on today.  I’m Zero.  I own this here show.  We were with the American Expo Shows for six weeks but we wanted to head south so we switched.  Hear this is a good outfit.”

 

I joined the conversation.  “We’ve been out about ten weeks and have no complaints.  Had a couple of rainy spots but, generally speaking, business has been good.  Here, let me give you a hand with that.”

 

I reached over and took the ends of a large canvas tarpaulin he was shaking out like a bed spread and we lined the pit with it.  Next, Bobo and I went with him out back behind his tent and over to his enclosed pickup truck, where we unloaded two large crates.  One contained two large boa constrictors and the other about a dozen smaller snakes.

 

The small truck was used to carry the show, and I assumed he used it to pull the small house trailer parked beside it.  I looked around but didn’t see the jungle girl anywhere.  We brought the crates into the tent and then followed Zero out front and helped him raise the banners on either side of the entrance to the show.

 

One flamboyant banner depicted a beautiful gal dressed in a scanty jungle costume, and she was wrestling with a huge boa constrictor.  In the other gaudy banner, she was biting the head off of a snake while a group of frightened native boys watched.  We had no sooner raised the banners when Bobo asked, “What ya got here? A geek”

 

“Hell, no! Never even seen one.  But got a good money maker here.  Come back when we open and see for yourselves.”  He thanked us for our help and we left to get back to our tent to set up the evening show.

 

Around 6:30 pm, I finished checking my props and called across the tent to Bobo, “O.K., now’s our chance to check out the jungle girl.”

 

As we approached the tent we heard Zero’s spiel.  It was excellent and the tent was crowded with people.  At first I couldn’t understand why a girl in a pit with a few harmless snakes could be so fascinating and such a crowd-drawer, but it didn’t take long to find out.  Zero was a clever operator and ran the show to milk extra money out of the “marks.”

 

He had a fairly attractive but tough looking girl dressed in a two piece costume in the pit with four or five large, harmless snakes.  The girl would sit there and play with them, coil and uncoil them around her body.  Every once in a while she would let out an ear-piercing scream.  This was always an attention-getter.  She also had a thick piece of rope she kept coiled beside her and she would throw it at the crowd peering down into the pit.  Most of the spectators thought it was a snake and that she was throwing it at them and they would jump back in fear.  A few who were really scared would run out of the tent.

 

This served as another attention getting gimmick.  There was always one boy who would run out of the tent yelling when she threw the rope.  (He was one of the carnies who acted as a ‘shill’ or stooge.)  This, then, was what the ‘marks’ usually saw.  However, Bobo and I stayed around for about a half hour and found that the exhibition got raunchier.  If the tent was filled with men and boys, the jungle girl worked a ‘ding’.  A ‘ding’ is an extra charge to see something that was not originally advertised.  Several times each night, when the pit was surrounded by men, the shill in the crowd started a suggestive conversation with the girl.  When the ‘marks’ got sufficiently excited the shill (or even a legitimate customer) would suggest that the girl remove her costume and cavort nude with the snakes.  The gal would agree provided that each person who wanted to see her would pay and extra 50 cents.  She had the shill collect for her and it was a rare occasion that a single man or boy did not want to see the extra added attraction.  When the money was collected the gal removed her costume and performed.

 

As a sixteen year old kid I was amazed at what I saw.  Bobo and I kept our eyes in the pit.  After about two minutes they cleared the tent.  As we left the tent Bobo could only say, “Damn! Now that was a show!”  I agreed.

 

We arrived back at the “Congress of Human Oddities” and Doc Williams was waiting for us along with the others.  “Where have you been?  Never mind.  All of you get on the bally platform.  We are open for business.

 

Each of us grabbed some prop to hold as we walked up onto the platform.  We were all there except Tessie who was now the annex attraction (so she did not have to bally).

 

As I stood next to Muscles on the platform and watched the crowd gather in front of our show I quietly told him about the sexy jungle girl.  I knew he would enjoy the raunchy attraction.

 

He smiled and said, “I already met her before dinner.  Had a private show.  I ain’t hungry now!”

 

Tony Dee turned the ‘tip’ and we headed into the tent for our first show of the evening.

 

When I finished my magic act I introduced Bobo.  “Thank you, folks.  And now if you will turn your attention to the young man on stage three you will be further amazed by Bobo – The Human Pin Cushion.”

 

His act was not for the squeamish or faint-hearted.  He removed his shirt and began.  First he pierced both ear lobes with long hat pins.  Next, he shoved a large (6”) pin through his lower nose.  He wiped some alcohol on his inner forearm and jabbed another pin through the flesh.  He started to bleed as the skin was punctured and many people turned their heads.  The most gruesome bit he saved for last.  He slowly ran two 12” needles through the nipples on his chest.  Even the tough guys in the audience turned their heads at this feat of masochism.  I knew that he had had holes pierced through his nipples that were permanent because when he wasn’t doing the act he wore rings through them.

 

Bobo introduced Doc Williams who presented Mazie as Miss Electra, the girl in the electric chair.  Bobo removed the pins, put on his shirt and joined the bally out front.  Mazie sat in a large wooden replica of an electric chair.  This was a magician’s illusion.

 

“And now, ladies and gents, I will turn on the juice.  Thousands of volts of electricity will pass through Electra’s body without harming her.  Now, watch when I touch her fingertips with this gasoline soaked torch.

 

Doc barely touched her fingers when sparks appeared at the tips and the torch exploded into flames.  “Now, to further prove her body is charged with electricity, we will light this 32” fluorescent light bulb.”

 

He handed one end of the bulb to Electra and the bulb lit up.  Then she waved her hand back and forth across the bulb and it would blink off and on.  He turned off the switch and Miss Electra stood up and took her bow.  “ladies and gentlemen, on stage number two we would like you to meet Muscles – The indestructible Boy.”

 

The crowd moved down to the next stage where Muscles stripped to the waist and displayed his magnificent torso and began his bed of spikes act.  He showed a 15”X30” board full of four-inch long nails.

 

“You will notice that these are real steel spikes.  Each and every point is razor sharp.  Here, young lady, feel how sharp they are.”

 

Muscles placed the board on the stage floor and proceeded to lay down with his back on the board.  Mazie came over and stood on his chest.  The spectators were impressed.  When Muscles stood up he showed his back, which was full of hundreds of indentations where he had lain on the nails.

 

“You can see where each and every spike tried to penetrate my back – and yet, there is not one puncture wound!  And now, for my block head act.  Please examine these 5” spikes (nails).  They are solid metal.  Watch!”

 

He began one of the grossest acts I’ve seen.  He placed the spikes into his nostrils and drove them up his nose.  It wasn’t uncommon for one or two of the women in the audience to gag and run out of the tent.  After the nails were all the way up his nose with the heads of the nails filling each nostril, he took the claw of the hammer and slowly withdrew the nails.  More people shuddered as he did this.

 

“Thank you, folks.  And now if you will go to the platform at the end of the tent you will meet Mazie – The amazing  Pretzel Girl.”

 

Doc Williams was waiting with the coffin blade box.  Mazie climbed into the box and laid down.  The box just large enough to hold her.  The sides were fastened and Doc pushed wide metal blades through slots in the box.  The blades went in every possible direction so that there appeared to be no room for Mazie to be in the box. 

 

“Now, folks, you see why we call her the amazing pretzel girl.  She is able to twist her body into such a shape that she can remain in the box even though it has been divided by thirteen large metal blades.  They go in the top and exit the bottom.  They go in the front and exit the rear.  Yes, she is in the box!  A $100 reward to anyone who proves this box is empty.  In fact, I want to invite each and every one of you to come up on this platform, pass by the box, and look into the box through the openings in the top."

 

“See the unbelievable, unusual position she is in.  For this we ask a silver donation of 25 cents as you come up on the stage.  This box belongs to the pretzel girl, and she does not receive a salary but depends upon your generous donations to earn her living.”

 

This was a lie.  By the end of the week the donations amounted to two or three times the money Mazie or any of us earned.  Just about everyone paid to see the expose.  The show concluded with the presentation of Tessie, in the annex.

 

The entire show was continuous.  It wasn’t the greatest show, but it was worth the 25 cents admission fee.  However, we still did not have a real freak to feature and we needed another working act if we were to be strong enough for the larger fair dates on our route.  It was Friday night, two weeks later, our last week with Mark’s Combined Shows.  Doc called us together after the last show.  All of us except Muscles, who was nowhere to be found.

 

“When we close tomorrow night, we leave this show and will travel 400 miles to join Prell Shows.  We will be starting the fair season and will have a few new acts joining us.  I have maps with the routes marked for those of you driving.”

 

Suddenly there was a tremendous uproar coming from down the midway.  There was shouting and screaming.  We looked out of the tent and saw several carnies running in the direction of the “World’s Strangest Babies” show.  Lights around the area began to go on.

 

We all followed the crowd towards the tent.  Just as we arrived, an ambulance followed us down the midway with its siren screaming and lights flashing.  Bobo and I pushed through the crowd and into the tent.

 

It was a wreck.  Broken bottles and unborn freak babies were all over the ground.  The table that had held them was broken into pieces.  Millie was crying hysterically.  Her dress was torn.  Her husband, Slim, was standing beside her with a wild look on his face.  In his hand he held a bloodstained tent stake.  At his feet amid the mess lay Muscles.  His shirt was torn and his pants were half off.  His head was split open and blood was pouring out.  I could not tell whether he was unconscious or dead.

 

When the ambulance took Muscles away, he looked more dead than alive.  The police took Slim and Millie down to the station for statements.  Bobo and I told Slim we’d clean up the mess in his tent and put the unborn specimens back in his trailer and tie down the tent.

 

As I headed back to our ten-in-one tent, I couldn’t help but wonder about Muscles who was in the local hospital.  What if he died?  What if he lived?  Our show was leaving town after tomorrow’s performance and by Sunday we would be 400 miles away.  Who would take care of arranging his affairs?

 

I woke up about 9:00 A.M. on Saturday morning and went over to Tessie’s trailer to wash up.  She let me use her place every morning.  During the day I used the public toilets (donikers) on the carnival grounds or walked to the nearby gas station.  When I came out, Emma Williams had coffee and donuts ready for breakfast.  Tessie, Mazie and Bobo joined us.

 

“Where’s Doc, Emma?”

 

“He took Muscles’ sleeping bag and other belongings to the hospital.  One way or another, he won’t be on the show anymore.”

 

We looked at each other.  Here it was Saturday, our biggest day and we were down to three people on the inside show.  Bobo, Mazie and I were the only acts left.  Not much to offer the public who wanted a ten-in-one.  Doc Williams drove up and parked behind the tent.  He jumped out of the car.

 

“Got some good news.  Muscles will be O.K., but he’ll be in the hospital for at least another week.”

I thought to myself,  “Those lucky nurses.”

 

Doc called for all of us to meet in the main tent.  “Now that Muscles is gone, I’m going to reorganize the show for today’s performance."

 

“Bobo, you’ll continue with your human pin cushion but you will also do the bed of spikes.  Roger, you’ll come in from the bally and do your fire eating act.  We’ll call you the World’s Smallest Human Volcano.  Mazie, in addition to the electric chair and blade box, you will be Serpentina again.  Zero is going to lend us one of the jungle girl’s boa constrictors.”  Mazie was elated.  You would have thought someone had given her a diamond ring.  “Tessie, you’re still in the annex.  And, Walt, you will do the human block head act.  Bobo will teach you how.  O.K., everybody, that’s the way we will run today.  I have two new acts joining us in Winston-Salem and one of them is a real freak.”

 

I felt that I was becoming a real freak when he told me I had to learn the block head act.  I hated watching Muscles do it, and now I had to learn it since Muscles was no longer with the show.  Bobo brought out the equipment for the act which consisted of several six inch nails and a hammer.

 

“There is nothing to it.  Watch. They don’t go up your nose into your head.  It just looks that way.  There’s a hole just inside your nose that goes back over the roof of your mouth and down your throat and that’s where the nail goes.  See, it goes in easy.”

 

He pushed the nail into his nose slowly.  It did go in easily all the way and only the had of the nail remained at the opining of his nostril.

 

“Of course, you don’t make it look so easy.  You pretend to hammer it in for the effect.  Look!”

 

He took the other nail and pushed it part way into his nostril and picked up the hammer in his other hand and tapped the nail with the hammer until it was all the way into the nose.  It was far more effective than just pushing it up, and it made the whole thing more gruesome to watch.

 

“Now, once the nails are in the nose, turn your head at all angles so they can see them.  Next, take the claw of the hammer and grab the heads of the nails and pull them out slowly.  Be sure you make a face like you’re in pain.  It really grosses them out.  Now, here, you try it.”

 

“O.K., but first do you mind if I use some of your alcohol to wipe off the nails?”

 

I tried it and I was surprised to see how easily the nails slid into my nose.  It felt like I might sneeze at first, but I didn’t.  They slid out even easier.

 

“One last thing.  Walt.  Don’t ever call ‘em nails.  They’re spikes.  Sounds better and more dangerous.”

 

And that is how I became the human block head.  And, I must admit, that after a couple of performances I really enjoyed it.

 

I decided to go around and see the many friends I had made during our tour with Mark’s Combined Shows.  Everyone would be busy tearing down after the last show, and I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.

 

My first stop was Zero’s “Wild Jungle Girl” show… better known as “the snake in the snatch” show to the insiders.  Zina, the snake girl, was not around but Zero was.

 

“I’ll miss watching the expressions on the marks’ faces when they leave your show, Zero.  I’ll never forget the first time Bobo and I saw Zina.  It was an eye-opener.”

 

Zero laughed.  “I give ‘em a good show.  It’s a real education for some of the boys!  They talk about this show more than any other on the midway and that includes the ‘Streets of Paris’ and Diamond Tooth Billy’s ‘Hot Chocolate’ revue.”

 

“I’m surprised you get away with what you do.  Can’t understand why you haven’t been raided by the cops.”

“We have, but not while we’ve been with Mark’s Combined.  We pay the plenty to make sure the cops leave us alone.  Not much trouble in these hick towns, but once we hit the fair season we have to play the show legit.  No raunchy stuff.  Zina’s got to keep her pants on!”

 

The “patch” Zero was referring to was Monty Higgins, our “fixer” or “legal adjuster.”  Before we opened a date, he approached the chief of police or the legal authorities in the small towns where we played and paid them off in big bucks.  This provided police protection for the raunchy show operators and the concessionaires who used crooked wheels to bilk money out of the marks.  It cost money to make money… even illegally.

 

“Walt, you are going to enjoy playing the Prell Shows.  A great organization and Doc Williams is one of the best operators around.  You are lucky to have your ‘first time out’ experience with him.  He won’t cheat you and you can trust his word.  But you have one helluva jump ahead of you to make to join that show.  We’ll miss seeing you and Bobo hanging around.  What happened to Muscles?”

 

I headed for the “World’s Strangest Babies” show.  When I got there Slim and Millie were setting up the freak babies on a newly constructed table.

 

“Hi, Slim.  I am glad to see you are able to patch things up for tonight’s show."

 

“Yeah, not too much damage done.  A couple of broken bottles and busted table, but that’s all.  I got two new babies today.  Look.”

 

He reached into a packing box and took out two large medical jars.  One had a two-headed baby in it and the other a small fetus with one eye.

 

“Ain’t they beauties?” asked Millie.  “We just got them in from a wax studio in Chicago.  Don’t they look real?”

 

“They are fantastic,” I replied.  “Much better looking than any of the other punks you have.  What are you going to do with the old rubber two-headed baby you have?  Would you want to sell it to me?”

 

Slim spoke up “Walt, if you want the little thing you can have it.  You can clean it up with some detergent and put it in a new bottle and it will be as good as new.  I’m not selling it to you.  I’m giving it to you because you have been so helpful to Millie and me during the past weeks and we appreciate it.  Especially how you helped us out last night after my ruckus with that bastard, Muscles.”

 

“What happened at the police station?”

 

“Nothing much.  I told them how I walked in the tent and found Muscles forcin’ himself on Millie.  I got so mad I picked up a tent stake and let him have it.  I would have killed the bum if you all hadn’t stopped me.  Anyways, we appreciate you and Bobo putting the show away and cleaning up for us last night.  The cops let us go after an hour.  They said Muscles didn’t want to press charges, and I’m sure they want to see us out of town as soon as possible.  They don’t want to waste their time with carnies like us.  Millie, go get Walt the two headed punk.”

 

I thanked them and told them we were leaving the show after the last performance and that I hoped our paths would cross again.  I headed back to the ten-in-one with the first oddity I would come to own.  I planned then and there that I would acquire at least one curio a year for my collection.  Maybe some day I’d frame my own show.  I was really feeling good!  After all, how many 16 year old kids own a two headed baby?  

 

                                                                                                                                To be continued!

 

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