"Beals is the
maddest freak that ever landed in Saint John. His lips are as
large as those of an ordinary cow and when he laughs there is an
opening which could easily take in the end of an ordinary square
loaf of bread."
July 20, 1896
Dartmouth knew Edward (Sky) Beals. That's why people noticed
when he went missing in 1896.
Rumours flew that
Sky had joined a circus sideshow. The man, who claimed he was
born in Africa, had been exploited before. A photo of his face
had been used for a postcard labelled, "Ten cents a kiss."
That was considered
funny a century ago, a time when people with deformities or
unusual appearances were exhibited in travelling circuses known
as freak shows.
Sky Beals was often
seen at the Halifax market where Preston residents sold mint,
herbs, wild cherry bark, berries and mayflowers, along with
handcrafted rustic chairs and benches. By all reports, Beals was
a gifted singer who could earn some coins by singing his
favourite hymn, Roll, Jordan, Roll.
Sky hadn't joined
the circus. But he was indeed on a summer tour with an upstart
travelling variety show. The theatrical venture was the
brainchild of a young Dartmouth impresario named Charlie
McNellen had a
history of failed get-rich-quick schemes, including a fruit
stand at the Public Gardens. But Charlie's grocery career was
brief. He retired soon after an unpaid supplier punched him
senseless. Charlie pressed charges against his assailant and won
a $6 settlement in police court.
Charlie's fancy then
turned to love his love of money. He began courting the
17-year-old daughter of a wealthy Halifax family. His $6 was
enough to lavish a few days of big spending on the girl. The
smooth-talking Charlie convinced her that he had inherited
$10,000 from a Boston relative, but the couple was intercepted
by constables in Sackville, N.S., as they attempted to elope.
resolved to give up his reckless lifestyle and show some adult
responsibility. That's when he quit his job at a local rubber
stamp company and started his very own freak show.
some local talent, including a boxer and piano player. Sky Beals
would be his star attraction. Charlie fitted Sky with a calfskin
costume and billed him as the man-faced calf. A Shelburne
resident he nicknamed "Pig-face" rounded out his human ensemble.
Charlie also had
a bizarre collection of stuffed animals and a few live rabbits
without ears or legs. Some colourful posters were printed and
the troupe went on the road.
Charlie had a hit on his hands. In Truro, the likeable Beals was
a popular attraction. News of Sky's show business success made
its way back to Dartmouth. For once in his life, Sky had a good
income and was eating well. He was delighted to be christened
The dime show stayed
profitable as it passed through Amherst and into New Brunswick.
After appearing in Moncton, the odd menagerie attracted large
crowds during a week-long stand at an uptown store in Saint
But in McAdam
Junction near the U.S. border, the show started to fall apart.
Nobody cried when the piano player quit. Even after the boxer
split, the show still had promise. But it was curtains for the
McNellen Variety Show when an angry taxidermist repossessed a
two-headed chicken. Showman Charlie disappeared, leaving Sky and
Pig-face to fend for themselves.
Beals found himself
back in Saint John wandering the streets followed by a constant
horde of boys. Beals couldn't understand why his pay wasn't
accepted by Saint John merchants. To his way of thinking, his
$10 bill was as valuable as anyone else's money.
But it wasn't. The
sly Charlie had paid off Beals with a worthless ticket from the
Louisiana lottery. Beals quickly found himself under arrest and
a guest of the Saint John jailhouse. He was released and began
walking back to Halifax.
through Moncton, Sky raised some grub money by singing in the
streets. He was arrested once again. The Moncton police released
him to continue tramping to Halifax. After another night in jail
in Kingston, N.B., he wandered into New Glasgow, where he was
promptly arrested and thrown in jail.
In Amherst, a farmer
reported Beals for stealing one of his cows. Beals denied the
charge but still spent a night in jail. The judge ordered Beals
out of Amherst and instructed the town to provide train fare
back to Halifax. Weeks after being abandoned in New Brunswick,
Beals finally arrived back in Dartmouth.
Shortly after his
return, Beals hurled a stone at some boys who were teasing him
on Portland Street. He missed. The stone smashed the window of
Conrad's butcher shop, likely earning Beals another night in
jail. Nevertheless, for the smiling man named Sky, there was
still no place like home.
Bruce MacNab is a
journeyman carpenter from Dartmouth who has taught
apprenticeship and communications at NSCC.
Article from The Halifax Herald Limited
Feb. 7th 2010
Edward (Sky) Beals. The caption for this photo said Beals
could eat a pie in two bites. (N.S. Archives)
This photo reveals a carefree attitude in Edward Beals, who
was exploited by freak show operators in the late 1800s. (N.S.
Archives and Records Management)