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 tall.

 

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 friendly.

 

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 their homes.

 

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 deputy sheriffs.

 

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 monkey girl.

 

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 1936.

 

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 together.

 

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.  I'm peek-proof."

 

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 load."

 

Article by Jack Denton Scott Corpus Christi Caller-Times, July 28th 1957, Corpus Christi, Texas.

 


 

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