Woodside Amusement Park
by Walt Hudson
I consulted several copies
of Amusement Business and found a want ad for
sideshow acts needed at Woodside Amusement Park in
Philadelphia, PA. Woodside was a large amusement park
located about 45 minutes from my home in West
were several advantages to playing the amusement park
rather than with a traveling carnival. I could live
at home, have no traveling expenses (except the carfare
to and from the park), and there would be no setting up
and tearing down the show each week. I would be playing
in an air conditioned building and not in a tent (which
might reach 100 degrees in the heat of the day). I could
go home from work each night where life would be more
So my third summer "with it", I was eighteen years old
and I decided the amusement park was the place to work
if I wanted to save money for my second year in college
the following fall.
Since school was still in session, I called my dad in
Philadelphia and asked him to call the park for more
information and, if possible, to book me as a magician
on the show. If that was not possible, he should try to
book my "indestructible boy" act which included
performing the human blockhead, lying on a bed of
spikes, and the iron tongue stunts. I could also do the
My dad called back a; few nights later with some
disappointing news. The sideshow manager had already
hired a magician, a kid by the name of Billy Ryan. I
knew Billy well. We had been in the same teenage magic
club, "The Sorcerer's Apprentices", a few years earlier.
Billy had a very colorful act.
In fact, he was the envy of most of the other club
members because he had beautiful large magic equipment,
which none of the rest of us teenagers could afford.
When we presented our annual club show, Billy was always
chosen to close the program because of his "flash" act.
I understood why the sideshow manager hired him. He was
a good entertainer and his act would be a big attraction
for the show. The indoor permanent location was perfect
for his large apparatus and illusions. The three or four
small tricks I did as a sideshow magico were nothing in
When I asked my dad if he was able to book me as the
"indestructible boy", he said the manager informed him
that he did not want any of the "kinky carnival stuff".
His show had to appeal to the family trade. I was
disappointed because I needed a job and I did not look
forward to the hard life working in a traveling carnival
My dad said the manager did not sound too encouraging
when he told him I had several other acts I could do.
However, he was willing to talk to me when I got home.
I wondered what kind of an act I could do. I needed
something that was not kinky and would not look like a
magic act. I thought of the Resista act I taught
Starflower the summer before at Coney Island, but it was
not strong enough to get rne hired. Besides, that act
was more effective when performed by a girl.
I went through Abbott's catalog looking for an effect
that I could afford and which would be different enough
to get me a job. I finally found what I was looking for
and decided what I would do. I sent for the trick at
As soon as school was over I headed for home and called
my friend Billy Ryan and congratulated him on getting
the job. I mentioned that I would like to work the spot
for the summer and explained what I would try to sell to
the sideshow manager. He was glad to hear from me and
liked the idea for the act. When I told him I would need
to borrow or rent one of his doves and a rabbit for the
summer, he said he would give them to me to use and that
he would not use any livestock in his act so that there
would be no similarity in what we did.
Billy also said he was surprised that I could not do my
blockhead act, because there was a fire eater on the
bill and that was a bit kinky. He said he felt I had a
chance to be hired because the act I planned to do was
unique and that they also needed an inside talker. He
promised to put a plug in for me with the manager.
The show opened officially for the summer on Memorial
Day weekend. I arranged for an audition about a week
before that and was depending on the arrival of the
Abbott trick in time to work up a brief routine. I do
believe in miracles because the trick arrived the day
before the audition!
The trick I ordered was "Hypnotizing A Rabbit." I
presented this effect along with the hypnotizing a dove
stunt and called myself the "Animal Hypnotizer." The
manager was impressed with the brief act; he had never
seen anything like it.
I told him about the oriental wax figure I had acquired
and the preposterous story I had made up to go along
with the presentation. He really liked and wanted it as
"Damn. I never heard anything like it. But you will have
to put a loin cloth around the naked figure. After all,
this is not Coney Island!" I could also pitch photos of
the figure if I wanted. I am convinced it was that old
figure that got me the job.
He hired me with the understanding that I would also
have to lecture for one half of the show and he would do
the other half. I was so glad to get the job I think I
would have introduced the entire show as well as doing
my two spots.
We had a strong lineup of acts and many featured freaks
came and went during the summer. In fact, Billy Ryan and
I were the only acts that lasted the entire season.
to be continued!
to Woodside Park
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