I Was a Teenage Blockhead!
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
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
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
"I Was a Teenage
with permission of
Robert Kathman and Nicolas Wm. Aumiller.
last we left our hapless hero, Walt Hudson, he had become
the only 16 year old with his very own two-headed pickled
punk. Well, okay, a bouncer, but he did get his little
gift after one of his friends, Muscles the Indestructible
Strong Man, was brained by the owner of the freak baby
show for trying to force himself on the owner's wife. Walt
had already survived the death of Mr. King, the show's big
snake, he learned all about gathering a tip, found out
that a workaday tattooed woman can be the blow-off to the
show if you pitch the act right (and if you've got nothing
better to give the marks in the annex), and discovered sex
on the midway in the form of the Wild Jungle Girl. Not bad
for a kid working the show every day after high school.
Rejoin Walt now as he readies to hit the road again and
become the human blockhead he was born to be.
It would be difficult and unlikely for
an outsider to roam about without being
noticed or heard. Every one felt
uncomfortable thinking that the thief
was one of our group.
our final installment, we rejoin oar hero as Tessie the
tattooed girl and Mazie discover they have been robbed.
Who could have done such a terrible thing? Could it have
been the half and half Lorry-Lorraine? Was it the Gypsy
fortune teller? Perhaps it was the senior citizen high
diver? Will Walt solve the crime before he has to go back
to high school?
"It must have been last night after we closed. Mazie. Rose
and I went over to catch Grandma Carver's high diving act.
I must have left the trailer unlocked. I can't remember."
Mazie joined in, 'They took all of Tessie's money. About a
hundred dollars. I had my money hidden so they didn't find
Tessie and Mazie left to check with Rose to see if
anything was missing from her trailer and I stayed to wash
and shave. When I finished. I left the trailer and found
Emma, Doc, Tessie and Mazie talking to Rose. Rose had also
been robbed, probably around the same time as Tessie. Doc
and Emma were in their trailer and Grace was in hers, so
they were not disturbed. Rose had a dog tied outside her
trailer who constantly barked at strangers so whoever
broke in had to be known to the dog because those in the
other trailers did not hear any barking. Rose said she
lost quite a bit of money and, although she never said how
much, I know she was always giving private readings and
made out well financially.
The way our cars, trucks and trailers were arranged, close
together, in back of our tent, it would be difficult and
unlikely for an outsider to roam about without being
noticed or heard. Everyone felt uncomfortable thinking
that the thief was one of our group. During the rest of
the day when two or more of us got together the
conversation turned to the missing money.
When we opened on Monday, it seemed everyone was pissed
off. Mazie and Tessie had a lover's quarrel and were not
speaking to each other. Doc Williams was complaining
fiercely to the carnival's owner about a show that was
booked and placed directly across the midway from our
"What the hell's the idea of booking another ten-in-one on
the same show?" Doc was roaring as I walked into the tent.
"Now calm down, Doc," the show owner replied. "It's not
the same show as yours. It's a five-in-one and much
smaller than your show. They have no freaks and won't be
competition for you. The fair committee insisted on at
least five live shows, so we booked them along with a
I left the tent while they were still arguing and went
over to check out the new show, "Strange Girls".
The show was operated by a guy and featured his wife and
two teenaged daughters. He had two fully illustrated 8' by
10' banners on either side of the bally platform. Inside
at one end of the tent was a platform where all the acts
were presented. These included sword swallowing, dancing
on broken glass, the iron tongue act, a snake charmer and
a bed of spikes which was the only act that was a
duplicate of ours. The Girl In the Fishbowl was used as a
I walked over and introduced myself and found Ricki Wiski
and his family, who were from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to be
very friendly. The mother, Micki, appeared to be young
enough to be the sister of her two daughters, Nicki and
Vicki. All three gals were voluptuous lookers and I was
sure the show would do good business. The sisters seemed
interested in what I did in our show.
I told them I would introduce them to Bobo and when I
described his pin cushion act they were fascinated.
took her bow? from the waist? and all eyes watched her
torso and wondered what kept her boobs from falling oat of
the top of her costume.
Vicki and Nicki wanted to meet him, so I arranged for us
all to get together during the afternoon. I had a good
feeling as I left that this was going to be an interesting
and rewarding week for the four of us. Bobo would be glad
to hear I was setting us up with the gals.
By the time I returned to the tent Doc and the carnival
owner had parted. Now it was Tony Dee who was complaining.
"I don't know how in the hell they expect me to talk at
'Tony, you always do a great job on the bally. What's the
problem?" I asked.
"What's the problem? Are you blind? Look at our location.
They got the Scooter Cars in front of us and a Loop To
Loop ride on one side and that damn Motor Drome on
the other. When they all get going there will be so much
noise no one will hear anything."
The owner of the Motor Drome, Speedy King, had signed
on for the rest of the season. It was noisy. It was loud.
It was damn noisy and loud! When they started revving the
motorcycle engines on the bally it was impossible to hear
much above the deafening din, and there were several
ballys every night. Then, when the actual Wall Of Death
show began, it was worse. Those of us inside the tent had
to turn up the volume on our microphones to be heard.
I enjoyed the "drome" show and I managed to see it several
times during the week. It was thrilling and worth the
50cents they charged for admission. (Those of us who were
"with it" never paid.)
Speedy's spiel went like this: "A thrill a minute! A mile
a second! Don't miss the opportunity to see these two
exciting daredevils. Beautiful Miss Louise and handsome
Hairy Harry ride the Wall of Death! Racing and driving
around a board wall! Daring deeds to shock and thrill you!
One slip could mean disaster and death!"
Motor Drome was the only show that wasn't under canvas. It
was a circular wooden structure about 30 feet tall. The
inside of the drome resembled the inside of a giant wooden
barrel. The riders, Louise and Harry, started out on a
small slotted path around the circumference of the circle,
then zoomed onto a small banked track, about four feet
wide. From there they would rush up the sides of the
wall-- a harrowing 90 degrees.
The "marks" stood around on a circular platform and peered
down into the drome, their heads swiveling in unison as
the cyclists crisscrossed, weaving in and out, missing
each other by inches.
Viewers were protected from out of control motorcycles by
a steel safety cable that stretched around the top of the
"barrel." They whipped around the drome like they were on
a race track, within inches of the cable, close enough to
make the crowd duck back from the edge slightly. Louise
did some of her perpendicular riding side saddle and some
of it "no hands." And when Louise and Harry rode parallel,
she reached across to put one hand on Harry's shoulder
while waving her other hand all the time racing round the
barrel at a 90 degree angle. It was sensational!
The drome show also worked a "ding." After they presented
their short but dangerous act, Speedy would announce that
because of their precarious employment neither Harry nor
Louise could buy life or accident insurance (a lie) and so
for an extra fee they would perform a really dangerous
stunt. The money collected would go to the daredevils.
Then Speedy would send around two tough looking guys to
collect the donations from the marks--who almost always
contributed out of fear rather than sympathy. Speedy kept
never saw them perform Micki's routine, both Bobo and I
could vouch for the fact that the gals would have made
good sword swallowers.
the week, Bobo and I saw much of Vicki and Nicki. In fact,
we saw all we wanted to see. We spent just about all our
free time with them. We would even look across the midway
and wave at each other when we were on the bally platform.
Ricki Wiski ran his five-in-one bally like a girl show. It
was different from ours in which Tony Dee ran
continuously. Ricki cut down the number of performances
the gals had to do each evening. They did one complete
show to our three or four.
Ricki would bang on a bass drum and call out the gals, one
at a time. They each came out in beautiful costumes,
smiled at all the marks and Ricki told of the wonders
these strange gals would perform. Then he turned the tip
and the gals went inside.
Once the crowd followed them into the tent the show did
not begin. Instead, Ricki returned to the platform and
called out the gals again and repeated his bally. Again he
turned the tip and another large crowd entered. If there
was a large number of people in the tent, the show began.
If not, he would bally a third time. Finally, usually
after three ballys, the show would start. His wife, Micki,
was the inside talker and she introduced Nicki and Vicki,
who took turns doing the acts.
The show was well presented. Music was played in the
background as the gals worked. Costumes were attractive
and brief and the gals changed them each time they
appeared to perform. That was no big deal they just
removed part of the costume they were formerly wearing!
Mother Micki introduced Nicki who started off by dancing
on broken glass. Nicki appeared and after a few dance
steps, removed her slippers and jumped into a tray full of
broken glass. She Ground her feet into the hunks of glass
as she did her bumps and grinds.
She then stepped out of the tray and showed the bottoms of
her feet, which were unscathed by the glass. With a smile
and a wink she went behind the curtain. This entire act
lasted about three minutes.
The 24"x24" square tray with 2" sides contained real
broken glass. The pieces used were thick and heavy, the
pieces being made by smashing up beer and cola bottles.
Several jagged bottoms of bottles surrounded the edges of
the tray. The large pieces of glass in the center of the
tray had their edges and points filed, rounded and sanded
down so none of it was sharp and stepping on it was not
dangerous. It was about as uncomfortable as walking
barefoot on a gravel path.
Micki next brought out Vicki who presented the nail board.
The routine was the same as Bobo's bed of spikes but much
more eye appealing to watch. Micki had no trouble getting
a teenaged boy up to stand on top of Vicki's torso as she
lay upon the spikes. Of course. he removed his shoes
first. Micki drew quite a few laughs with her by-play with
the kid. In all honesty, it was a much better presentation
than that of Bobo's.
Afterwards, Vicki took her bow -- from the waist-- and all
eyes watched her torso and wondered what kept her boobs
from falling out of the top of her costume. This act ran
about six minutes.
Micki took over the stage and did a good non-faked sword
swallowing act. I have never seen a sword swallower work
the act like Micki did. Her act wasn't the best sword
routine I've seen, but it was the most interesting because
she actually explained how to swallow swords as she
performed. Micki had several swords displayed on a
velvet-covered board but only used three of them in the
act. The blades were about 13", 15" and 18" long,
respectively. They appeared to be narrow cavalry blades
which had been cut down for her to use. Besides a sword
board she had a large blow-up of an X-ray photo of a
person actually swallowing a sword so the spectators could
see that the blade really went down the throat.
Micki began her routine: "Ladies and gentlemen, you will
notice these blades are not sharp. The edges and points
have been rounded off and are smooth; other wise the sharp
edges would cut my throat and the pointed end would
puncture a hole in the lining of my stomach."
get too hooked on this freak show business or you'll never
be about to get out."
She then picked up the first sword and slipped it down her
throat. Then she slowly removed it from her throat and
wiped it off with a soft cloth. The sword was then
replaced on its hooks on the display board.
"It is not hard to swallow these blades, but it does take
practice. The secret is overcoming the retching reaction
you get when the cold steel enters your throat. Notice how
I throw my head back so that my throat and esophagus are
in a straight line and when I place the sword into my
mouth and down my gullet it won't touch anything until it
hits the stomach."
She placed the 15-inch blade down her throat and then
"You will notice that I wipe the blades off before and
after I swallow them. This is to make sure there are no
particles of dust on the blades which could make me retch
or scratch my insides. I also wipe the blades after I've
used them to remove the stomach fluids which would corrode
the nickel plating on the blades."
For her finale she picked up the three swords and
swallowed them all at one time! Micki presented a brief
but impressive seven minute routine. She had taken the
marks into her confidence and they appreciated it.
Nicki returned in a briefer costume and worked the iron
tongue bit. The act lent itself to a risqué presentation
as she apparently shoved a four inch iron hook (really a
bent piece of coat hanger) through her tongue. Next she
hung an iron bar suspended on a chain onto the hook and
swung it back and forth.
Vicki, the snake enchantress, concluded the show with her
snake dance using a thick, shimmering boa constrictor
draped around her shoulders. While Vicki was performing,
Micki left the stage and went to the other end of the tent
to prepare for her annex act, which was the Girl In The
Vicki concluded her snake dance and left the stage and
Ricki called all the spectators down to the other end of
the tent. He gave his spiel.
"And now, folks, if you will step this way you will see
the strangest gal of all. Behind this canvas wall you are
going to meet Minnie the Mermaid. See this little
half-girl, half-fish, alive and living in a fish bowl.
Guaranteed to be alive or your money back. Only 25 cents.
Now is the time to see this rare creature."
He pulled back the canvas flap and Nicki and Vicki
collected the annex money from the crowd as they paid and
The large fish bowl was sitting on top of the cabinet.
Inside it the marks saw an eight inch long Micki, dressed
as a mermaid. They gawked at the tiny, half nude fish gal
as they walked past the bowl and out of the tent. They had
seen a good show.
When the tent was emptied, Ricki Wiski went back to the
bally platform and started the whole process over again.
Both Nicki and Vicki told us that all three gals could do
every act and often switched routines for variety.
While we never saw them perform Micki's routine, both Bobo
and I could vouch for the fact that the gals would have
made good sword swallowers.
It was the last week in August and my first summer as a
sideshow magician was just about over. I would leave
Saturday after the last show.
Emma, Rose, Grandma Carver and I were sitting out back of
the tent on a Friday evening. It was about half an hour
before show time and we were trying to cool off after a
day of one hundred, windless, muggy degrees.
"I can hardly wait to do my act tonight," said Grandma, as
she looked over at her 80 foot high ladder which was the
highest structure on the fair grounds.
"It might be a few degrees cooler up there. But the water
in the tank has been sitting in that hot sun all day and
it will be like jumping into a warm bath. I won't let them
pour gasoline on the water and set it on fire tonight.
Just too damn hot. The marks will just have to be
satisfied with my jump."
"Believe me, they will. There's not a single one in the
carnival who has the nerve to do what you do, Grandma," I
said to the seventy year old high diver.
"I may be the oldest high diver in the business, but I'm
not the best by a long shot. No sir. Gimpy Lewis deserves
Did he jump from a greater height than you do?" I asked.
fact, his ladder rarely topped fifty feet. But Gimpy was
the most unusual because he only had one arm and one leg!
It was really a sight to see."
I imagined it was.
Emma joined in, "I remember him. Real good lookin' guy.
He quit the high diving business when he was about 40
years old. Work was too strenuous, having only one arm and
one leg. Then he joined up with Col. Lou Alter's side
show. Lou billed him as the Human Pogo Stick."
I asked, "What kind of an act did he do in the
"Did a tight rope walking act."
"A one-legged tight rope walker?" I asked in disbelief.
"He really didn't walk the rope. He kinda hopped from one
end to the other. It was a real novelty."
I was sure it was. Rose changed the subject and asked me,
"Walt, have you enjoyed your first summer with the show?
Think you would like to return?"
"I have never had a summer like this one. Every day
something new happened and I have learned so much and made
so many new friends. I am going to miss all this. Going
back to school will be a real drag. I'll be sitting in
class studying while you will all be out playing fair
dates until November. I wish I could stay. Maybe I should.
I can always go back to school late."
Emma joined in, "No, you don't! You belong in school when
it opens. And, let this old gal give you a piece of
advice. Stay in school, learn as much as you can. Go to
college. The future belongs to the educated. Don't get too
hooked on this freak show business or you'll never be able
to get out. Get a real job. One that has a future to it."
Rose agreed. "Emma's right. You are a smart kid. This life
may be O.K. for a summer job while you're young but you
don't want to end up like Tony Dee or Muscles or Bobo. Too
many carnys are running away from something or hiding out
from someone. Too many are just drifting with no goals in
their lives. You've got a. future, kid. Get out of
"Well, Doc's making a good living."
Emma replied to my comment. "Yeah, some seasons. But
others are terrible and we hardly have enough money to get
through the winter. If it's too hot or too cold, too wet
or too dry the marks don't come. If there's a drought, the
farmers have no money to spend on rides or shows. There
are too many things we can't control that determine
whether we make it or not. Doc is 65 years old and we
haven't saved a cent. And not because we haven't tried.
We just can't. By the time you are Doc's age you should
have saved enough to retire and enjoy your older years.
Get married, raise a family and own a home. Live like most
of the marks do. We live like gypsies."
Rose interrupted, "I'll tell you something else, and you
don't have to be a fortune teller to know it. The days of
the side show are numbered.
It won't be too many years before shows like this will
cease to exist! Each year it costs more and more money to
run a show, and with the population increasing people are
going to need houses, and the lots where carnivals now
play will be turned into housing developments. Mark my
word . . . this is a dead end business."
"I won't let them pour gasoline on the water and set
it on fire tonight, Just too damn hot The marks will just
have to be satisfied with my jump."
Grandma spoke up. "Another thing just startin' are the
shopping centers that are appearing on the outskirts of
the cities. People are building homes in the suburbs and
need places to shop. There go the grounds used for
carnivals and circuses. I played the grand opening of a
strip of stores last spring about twelve miles outside of
Columbus. Ohio. Don Castro built them and called it the
Town and Country Shopping Center. I was with the Floyd
Gooding carnival and thousands of people came from
downtown Columbus. We were so busy I had to add an
afternoon performance. Extra police had to be summoned to
help direct cars. There will be places for a carnival to
set up for a few years more but the days of the large
traveling shows are numbered just like Rose says."
I listened . . . but I didn't hear them. I didn't want to.
I had just experienced the most exciting summer of my life
and I didn't want it ever to stop. All I could say was.
"I'll think about it, but I'll probably be back next
It started to rain around 11:00 P.M. and it became a
ragging storm during the early hours of the morning.
Water began to run into the tent and I was glad I was
sleeping on top of the platform. After a very restless
night I awoke to find it was still pouring out. The sky
was dark and it was going to be an all day rain.
At noon the weather forecast on the radio was for another
24 hours of heavy rain. That was dismaying news because
Saturday evening was tear down night and everyone hated to
tear down in the rain on a muddy lot.
Around three o'clock in the afternoon, the carnival owner
announced that the show would not open that evening. Even
if it stopped raining the ground was so soaked from the
deluge of water that it would not be possible to "dry it
out" by covering it with sawdust, wood chips or straw in
time for the evening shows.
Doc Williams decided there was no point in my hanging
around any longer. "Walt, you might be able to get an
earlier bus out of this burg. Get your stuff together and
I'll take you down to the depot."
Doc and I got into his car but we had trouble getting on
our way because the back tire kept spinning in the mud.
Bobo, Bob and Tony Dee got together and pushed and shoved
us out. The whole gang was standing under the tent top and
waved goodbye as we pulled off the fair grounds. I felt
sad as I waved back.
Doc drove me into town and I got on a Greyhound bus to
Washington D.C. There I transferred to bus heading to my
home in Philadelphia. As I rode along the many miles I
felt sad when I thought about all the friends I was
A parade of faces of the dozens of people I worked with
passed in my thoughts: Zero and Zina, Slim and Millie,
Muscles, Roger the dwarf, Tessie, Mazie, Larry Lorraine,
and Nicki and Vicki (the gals who taught Bobo and me how
to do more than just side show tricks).
One thing I contemplated as I rode the many miles was who
could have been the thief who broke into Tessie's and
Rose's trailers. Although we never found out and no one
was accused, I deducted that it must have been Larry
Lorraine. She and Tony Dee were the only two around our
area after the show closed. All the others were accounted
for and Tony Dee rarely went behind our tent and nothing
had ever been missing during the weeks he had worked with
us before Larry Lorraine arrived.
Then my thoughts flashed ahead and turned to my friends
back at home. Wow! Would I have a lot to share with them
and I had photos to back up my stories. I could show them
the human block head act and the nail board routine I
learned because I planned to make up both of these stunts
when I got home.
I arrived back in Philadelphia and started my senior year
in high school. There was so much to do that thoughts of
the side show were placed in the back of my mind for a
I remember that around the end of October I wrote to all
of the people I worked with in the Congress of Human
Oddities. I had most of their winter addresses and for
those who didn't have a permanent address I sent them a
note in care of Billboard, the showman's weekly
newspaper. In all, I must have sent about twenty-five
notes to the folks I had learned to like so much. Not one
of them wrote back.
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