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