Woodside Amusement Park

Part 7

by Walt Hudson

 

After Princess Yvonne, the midget stripper, and her brother Hans left suddenly as a result of her accident, our show was without a real feature attraction. We still had Billy Ryan with his illusions; Eikee the Snake Enchantress; and Virginia Dakota who smoked cigarettes through her eyes. I was doing my animal hypnotism act and also exhibiting the Chinese wax figure.
 
After a couple of days of making phone calls our manager reported that he had talked Susie the Elephant Skinned Girl into returning to our show. She had been with us when we had opened in May but had left about the middle of June to join a side show at Coney Island. I figured the manager must have offered her much more money than she was making at Coney to get her back.
 
Susie was really the star of our show. She had the strangest skin of anyone I've ever seen. Her entire body was covered with a thick, heavy, gray-colored skin which resembled the hide of an elephant. I do not. know what the medical term for her condition is but . she..was, born with it and none of her brothers or sisters shared her unusual epidermis.
 
There were a few other people in the side show business with a similar condition and they called themselves "alligator skinned" people. The only three alligator people I remember seeing were Emmett Bejano, Esther Blackman and a fellow who called himself Toney. None of their skins was as thick or as gray as that of Susie's. Their skin was more scaley. I am sure the dermatologists of today have classified this condition and may even have ways of treating it effectively.
 
Susie dressed in a two-piece bathing suit so the "marks" could see a large portion of her body. Her lecture was short. "I was born of normal parents and none of my brothers or sisters have this condition. I have had X-ray treatments so that my face is the only part of my body that is not covered by the thick gray skin you see on the rest of me. I have no pores and I cannot sweat. I rub my skin several times a day with ice in order to breathe. I have been examined by leading physicians in this country and none of them can help me. There is no cure for my condition. I have these brochures for sale which contain a brief story of my life as well as three different photos of my body."
 
The "marks" were fascinated by Susie and often asked questions and offered solutions for her skin problem. Some suggested doctors she should visit; others told her about home-made remedies to cure her condition. I remember one guy who said that he had had a large area of his arm that had been covered with warts and that he had applied Preparation H on the arm for several days and the warts had disappeared! He suggested that Susie might want to try this.  


I do not know how factual her spiel was but I did see her lubricate her body several times a day with baby oil. Offstage Susie was Charlotte Vogel. She was a very pleasant girl to converse with. She was an avid crossword puzzle worker and, when not onstage, she would spend hours doing puzzles. She had quite a collection of puzzle magazines and would always ask anyone reading the daily newspaper to save that day's puzzle for her.
 
One day we were talking backstage and Susie told me about the time she was working at the side show in Coney Island. This one "mark" came to see the show three or four times a week and stayed to see the performance over and over again.

"He would always remain at the rear of the crowd but when I came on he would push his way to the front of the platform and stand there with a grin on his face while I gave my lecture. When I pitched my brochures he always bought two of them. That would be about a dozen or more each week.

"This went on for about a month. It got so everybody in the show recognized him. They'd come backstage and say that the 'Grinner was out front.
 
"The crazy thing was that after I left the stage he would return to the rear of the crowd and stay there until I reappeared. He never bought another act's pitch items.
 
"Then one day when I went down the street to Nathan's Hots to get something to eat, he came up and started talking to me and paid for my lunch. Next he started waiting for me outside when the show closed for the night and offered to walk me home. I had rented an apartment a few blocks away for the summer months. Then one night, out of the clear, he asked me to marry him! He said I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Can you imagine that?
 
"I wasn't interested in him and I told him that I was already married to a guy who ran a side show which was out on the road and that 1 would be joining him in two weeks."
 
"He seemed so disappointed and, after that, he stopped coming around. I heard that he was visiting our rival side show down the street and was putting the make  on  Lena  the  Leopard Skinned girl.
 
Some people!   The guy must have had a skin fetish!"         
 
Susie was with us for the month of August  and then took off for another show. She never had trouble getting a job and played in most of the large carnivals (and amusement parks that booked side shows). I often wish 1 could have spent more time with her. Her life experiences would have made a fascinating book.
 
I last saw Susie at the Greater Allentown (PA.) Fair in the late 1960s. She was working as a "single-o" (a show that had just one attraction). The show was called The Swamp Girl and it was housed in a truck. 
 
The truck was parked lengthwise and there was a platform along the side of it with stair steps at either end. Customers walked up one set of stairs, across the outside body of the truck which had a large glass window mounted in it, and down the other set of steps.
 
On the inside of the air-conditioned truck was Susie who was asleep on a mattress on the floor. She had her biographical summary printed up and glued to the window. She looked comfortable inside the cool truck, compared to those of us outside in the one hundred degree temperature, looking in.
 
The "marks" walked across the side of the truck and then down the other stairs. The outside of the truck was painted with a jungle/swamp motif. There was a taped bally, with jungle sound effects in the background, telling all about this strange jungle girl with the skin of a swamp lizard! Susie had gone from being an elephant skinned girl to a lizard skinned girl!
 
Susie (Charlotte Vogel) died February 2, 1975, in New York City. Her photos appear in just about every article and collection of human oddity material.

 


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