Nine miles south of Tampa, just off U.S.
Route 41. Gibsonton, a place most
people would find hard to believe, lies
dreaming in the Florida sun. The
president of its Chamber of Commerce, Al
Tomaini, who has also been fire chief,
stands eight feet four and a half inches
in his size-22 shoes and weighs 356
pounds. One of the law enforcement
officers is his best friend and fishing
companion. "Colonel Casper Balsam,
who is just a smidgen over three feet
Giants, midgets, pinheads, tattooed men,
bearded ladies, women lugging big snakes
instead of handbags saunter around
Gibsonton as if they owned the place -
and they do. Because Gibsonton is
the carnival capital of America, the
place where freaks and show people live
when they aren't on the road.
The population peak of 1,000 is reached
in mid-winter when the show folk come
back to Gibsonton to rest, fix up their
houses and gardens, mend fences and
relations with their neighbors.
Eddie Le May, a carnival concessionaire
and "cook house" operator, discovered
the town when it was nothing but a dirt
road over 30 years ago, moved there
because fishing in the broad Alafia
River was the best he had ever found,
and the scattering of people who lived
thereabouts were good-natured and
As Eddie has talent with words, his
subsequent raves about the place brought
curious carnival folk who came to
investigate, stayed with Eddie and his
wife Grace, until they could find a
place to park their trailers or build
Al Tomaini liked the fishing and the
Alafia River so much that he converted
mud flats and old shacks into a modern
trailer camp, put up a restaurant and
crated "The Giant's Fishing Camp."
He donated the town's ambulance, became
fire chief, designed the community hall
and had himself and his tiny pal,
Colonel Casper Balsam, sworn in as
Although there are normal people Eddie
Le May, for one, who is still considered
town father and prophets, in and around
Gibsonton, it's citizens like Gilbert
Tracey and his wife (midgets, who have a
circus act that involves trained midget
animals, a dwarf donkey, a white-faced
Hereford and a Palomino stallion) and
Bobby Jean Taylor (the Dog-Faced Girl)
who are the aristocrats and real pillars
of Gibsonton society.
The town's wheels are turned by them and
by other stalwarts like the
alligator-skinned man, Emmet Bejano and
his charming wife, Priscilla, the
bearded lady, sometimes called the
Al Tomanin's wife, Jeanie, was born
without lower limbs, and was billed as
the acrobatic half-girl at the Great
Lakes Exposition where she met and fell
in love with the towering Tomaini in
Gibsonton may be the only town in the
world where freaks are considered normal
and normaley is not a social asset.
But it is a town with hear: When
"Happy Dot" Blackhall, the 602-ound fat
lady, was ill a couple of years ago,
Jeanie somehow got over there and kept
house for her friend until Dot was able
to get up and about again.
Gibtowners (the carnival crowd shorten
the name to Gibtown! pitch in and help
one another build their homes, cut their
grass, tend the sick, aid the needy.
When a civic need arises, such as a fire
department, the whole community pulls
Gibsonton sprawls over 1,000 flat acres
which are spotted with 9-- houses, two
churches, several grocery stores and
other assorted places of business, a
tiny post office, three trailer parks,
and the hub, The Giant's Fishing Camp.
It's a conservative Republican town.
In the last election the 800 registered
voters all went GOP.
It's a stop-and-stare town, too.
People passing by on Route 41 can't
resist the temptation to park their cars
and take a look at the strange people of
Gibsonton. While I was there last
spring at The Giant's Fishing Camp, a
middle aged, mid-western couple came in
the TV repair shop where Al Tomaini was
tinkering with Colonel Caper's ailing T
set. They stared at Al said,
grinning. "They just wanted a peek
at the giant. I don't mind though.
Most Gibtowners are. There are so
many of their own kind living in happy
harmony in the little Florida town they
have made their own that they find the
rubber-necking from passing tourists
amusing. "We just stare back,"
said tiny Mrs. Tracey. "This is
our home. These people who look us
over as if we aren't real are funny.
Sometimes they make me laugh right out
Article by Jack Denton Scott Corpus
Christi Caller-Times, July 28th 1957,
Corpus Christi, Texas.