Woodside Amusement Park

Part 6

by Walt Hudson

 

 

Eikee Yamagoti was the only oriental act I have ever worked with. She was hired and showed up about a week after Princess Yvonne, the midget stripper, left our show (because of the accident). Eikee was billed as The Snake Enchantress. I thought she would be like the rest of the snake charmers I had worked with the past two summers. There was Mazie, who did a short dance with a small boa constrictor around her neck, in Doc Williams' "Congress Of Human Oddities." And there was Micki Wiski, who worked with her sister and mother, in the "Strange Girls" show, who also danced with a snake.

I knew Eikee wouldn't be doing an act like the one Zino and Zero did in their "Wild Jungle Girl" show that was on the carnival I traveled with the first season I was out on the road. This was a family show and raunchy acts were out.

I was surprised to discover that Eikee's act was more educational than it was entertainment, per se.

She had two large boas each housed in a glass fronted box (about the size of a large steamer trunk). The snakes were each about fifteen feet long and so heavy that she could not pick them up without help from at least two men. Eikee also had a large, thick and shimmering rock python that she draped about her shoulders while she lectured. She related the reptile's natural habitats, feeding habits and other interesting facts. She also spent time answering any questions the marks asked. Because she was a native Japanese, she spoke English very slowly and with a heavy Japanese accent, which made her presentation very charming. She also wore the traditional Japanese kimono and she was a classy lady.

I was talking with her one day and she said she had come to this country after World War II as a Japanese war bride and had become a sideshow act through a series of fateful events.

When she arrived in the United States with her serviceman husband, she spoke practically no English. She fell in love with her Army husband when his unit had occupied Japan. She was, as were all Japanese women in those days, a very subservient wife. She knew little about the U.S., but had imagined it in terms of photos she had seen and stories, she had been told about the larger cities.

When she arrived here she found out I that her husband was a poor farmer who lived in the back hills of Kentucky, well away from the cities. In fact, the nearest farm was about five miles away!

It was a very lonely life for her, isolated from everyone but her husband's family. The only contact she had with others was on Sunday when they went to the little rural church or on Saturday whten they went into town for supplies or to see a film. People stared at her and talked abut her behind her back. Mixed marriages were not readily accepted in those days and especially one with a girl whose homeland had been an enemy of the U.S. just a few years before.

Eikee said that she had been in this country for about a year and every day just dragged by. Her isolation from her family, friends and culture became almost unbearable. Her husband had little interest outside of farming and she had nothing in common with his parents. Weekends only meant being stared at by strangers - who all looked alike to her. Loneliness turned to despondency and she thought the only way out of her depression was to kill herself.

The event which saved her life was the state agricultural fair that she and her husband attended one August. Her husband was exhibiting some of his prize animals and they attended the fair for a four day stay. One of the grandstand attractions was a variety show that featured a troupe of Japanese jugglers and acrobats. She was so happy to see "someone like herself" she practically burst with joy. She went backstage to meet them and was thrilled to learn where they were from in Japan. She was overjoyed with her new-found friends and spent all day with them when they were not performing. She explained her unhappy situation to them and they invited her to join their troupe as an assistant.

On the day before the fair was scheduled to close, she stole away with them when they left to go on to their next date. She never said goodbye to her husband and was surprised that he never came after her or never tried to locate her. Perhaps he knew how unhappy she had been and didn't know what to do about it and this was the easiest way out of the mistake they had both made.

When the fair season was over they joined with the Mills Brothers Circus and, while working with them, she earned extra money working in the sideshow as a snake charmer. She eventually left the circus and went out on her own.

When she worked with us at Woodside Park, she traveled with a good looking young American guy named Troy. She said he was her manager. He took care of the big snakes and ran the "ding" for her.

Besides her salary, she made extra bucks with two successful pitches. She would pose with the marks for a photo with the python around her body or let them pose alone with the snake. She sold dozens of photographs each show.

She also pitched "bugs." "Bugs" were chameleons which Eikee bought wholesale from an animal supplier in Florida. When a new supply of chameleons arrived, she and Troy would sit backstage and tie strings around the lizards' long tails so that when they sold them the marks could hold onto them. The lizards would jump away unless there was something to grasp. The body of a chameleon was about four inches long and their tails were almost as long as their bodies. They had long tongues used for catching insects to eat.

The selling point in the pitch was the fact that they had the ability to change the color of their skins. When placed on a colored cloth their skin would adapt to that color. When not on a specific surface, their natural color was a greenish brown. Eikee also sold little collars to place around the chameleon's neck. This collar had a small chain and a safety pin attached so that the animal could be worn as live jewelry.

The chameleons sold for fifty cents each and they were packaged in little boxes. The collars were ten cents each and a box of scientific chameleon food (meal worms) sold for twenty-five cents.
Instructions for the care and feeding of the chameleon were enclosed in each box.    

Troy really took charge of the pitch and sold the photos and gave the spiel for the "bug" sales. The Snake Enchantress stayed with our show until it closed on Labor Day weekend and then she headed south for the fair season,

 (To Be Continued)

 


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