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 Philadelphia.
There 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 comfortable.

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 inside lecturing.


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 comparison.

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 sideshow.


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 once.
 
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 an attraction.

"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!

 

Photograph

Entrance to Woodside Park
                              

 

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