Last of a Sideshow Tradition
Bruce was working on becoming
professionally fat. He was fat
already but he wasn't one hundred
percent there yet. So every now
and then he'd fill a mayonnaise jar with
a five-pound bag of sugar, add a little
water to it to make a solution, and
drink in down. In the off season
he made firecrackers while sitting in
his living room watching TV. He
said he made $1000 a month that way.
Columbus Ohio, 1978 - Above Photograph
and Text by
- In Search of the Monkey Girl
While there is no shortage of fat men in
America, only one over the past few
decades called himself a professional.
Weighing 607 pounds, Bruce Snowdon was a
sideshow fat man from 1977 to 2003,
billed as "Harold Huge." His death on
Nov. 9 at the age of 63 marks the end of
a long, heavy tradition dating back
Hans Peter Schneider
The Last Sideshow
click link below to read
Death of a Last Sideshow Fat Man
Article by Marc Hartzman
He's so big and so fat it takes four
girls to hug him and a box car to lug
him. When he dances you'll swear
he must be full of jelly, cause jam
don't shake that way. And you know
girls! He is single and lookin'
for a wife, he'll make some lucky girl a
fine husband, why he's so big and fat,
he'll provide you with a lot of shade in
the summertime, keep you nice and warm
in the winter time and give you lots of
good heavy lovin' all of the time!
Spiel by Ward Hall
In a time when a fat person couldn't
sell a ticket on today's sideshow, when
being fat is consider an epidemic.
Bruce Showden was a one-of-kind showmen
and the smartest fat man ever to grace
the American midway.......
John Robinson Sideshow World
Bruce Snowden passed away in Nov. 9th
at a nursing home in Saint Petersburg
FL. He was 64 years old. He
will be buried in the Sunset Memory
Gardens cemetery in Tampa, in the
Showman's Rest portion (owned by the IISA).
Bruce's cousin contacted Ward Hall to
let him know that he had passed away
sometime in Mid October.
Bruce had been bed ridden for over a
year, in August of 2009 he was located
to a nursing home in Pinellas Co..
The nursing home reported that they
didn't have contact information for his
family. According to their
proceeds he was cremated and they would
hold his remains for 90 days.
Bruce had been in contact with his
brother weekly and his cousin a couple
of times a month.
When they were unable to contact him his
family did some investigation and found
that he had been in the nursing home
where he had died. They made
arrangement to collect his remains.
One of the last conversation Bruce had
with his brother he told him that he
wanted to be buried in the Showman's
Cemetery (Showman's Rest). Bruce
had been a member of the International
Independent Showmen's Associations (IISA)
for many years. His family
contacted the Cemetery Chairman where
the arrangements are being made to have
a ceremony in the early spring, where
his family and friends can gather to
celebrate his life.
from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.
He was an educated man with degrees in
physics and political science from a
major university. His father a wealthy
manufacturer. Bruno followed his
training for a few years but found the
jobs boring. He was abnormally fat, so
he contacted the editor of "Amusement
Business", Tom Powell, about finding a
job as a fat man with a show.
directed him to the World of Wonders
Show where he became a valued member of
our show family. Ward Hall
Interview with Bruce Snowden
May 2, 2008
with Ross Macrae / Wayne Keyser
Click here to listen to BALLYCAST
AKA "Harold Huge"
Banner paint by
That is sad news. He might be the last
of the Sideshow Fat Men......a part of
This IS sad news.. I am lucky enough to
have some of his papers he gave to me
and of most interest, names of towns and
cities he played and his impressions of
RIP big man. :-( Doug Higley
REALLY nice to me when I worked for Ward
Hall he will dearly missed and well
remembered because I am writing a book
and I will talk about Bruce the man who
was so nice to me and boy was he smart
Stephen Baker AKA
This news really saddens me. I got to
work with him two seasons with WOW. He
was a great guy with a unique sense of
humor. I'm glad to say I knew the man.
From left, Bruce Snowden, Ewan McGregor
and Danny DeVito star in director Tim
Burtonís fanciful drama Big Fish.
He was an interesting man.
The Following is an interview
James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed On
and Off the Midway
SIX GALS TO HUG HIM and a BOXCAR TO LUG
There's a seminal moment in the BBC
production THE LAST AMERICAN FREAK SHOW
in which Bruce Snowdon, aka Harold Huge,
Big Bruno, Howard Huge, etc., is just up
and outside in the early a.m., before
the show starts at the Ward Hall/Chris
Christ World of Wonders. Even there in
Perry, GA, it's not exactly 100 degrees
in the shade, not this autumn morning.
And Bruce stands in all his voluminous
glory, buck naked, getting ready to
bathe the only way perhaps this last
remaining fat man on any midway can when
he's on the carnival lot: with 50' of
green garden hose.
There in the early sun, the
chiaroscuro behind the shows and the
showmen's trailers, Snowdon is
transformed into the fattest man on
earth. It suddenly doesn't matter
whether he weighs the full 712 lbs. the
banner claims out front. For all you
care, he weighs a ton, and you're some
mere bug about to watch a true
sideshow wonder revealed: how the fats
keep clean. The minute the night-cold
water hits him, you find out: with great
difficulty and no small amount of
adventure. "I usually like to let the
sun impart a little solar energy to the
hose before I do this," he says, by way
of explaining to the cameraman the
obvious shock when the water first hits
Well, I suppose that BBC director got
what they wanted. And through the rest
of that documentary, Bruce does his
lines with the dutiful attention of the
real trouper. Not a character you'd
recognize when comparing him to the
Bruce Snowdon you'll meet when you visit
the real show, but a character fit for
the documentary anyway. In the flesh
(and lots of it too, make no
mistake), he's infinitely less stiff,
less formal, but no less knowledgeable.
About a lot of things. Paleontology.
Medicine. New York City history. Illegal
fireworks for Chrissake. You name it,
Bruce has read it. The primary
occupational hazard for the sideshow
performer, especially the freak
performer, is boredom. Doing the same
act over and over. Day after day. Show
after show. One tip after the other. And
when you're the fat man, especially in a
museum show like that run now by Hall
and Christ, there's precious little to
do if you've got no inner resources.
Bruce has inner resources.
Either that, to paraphrase the "Billy
Reed-Horrors of Drug Abuse Show" Bruce
mentions during his interview, either
that or he's a damn good actor. Nah. He
really knows all this stuff. And
loves to philosophize on it. And
he's very much the fin de siecle
philosopher, blase and cynical at times,
priding himself on being a keen observer
of the human condition. That, of course,
is what Bruce Snowdon has all the time
in the world to do. Read and enjoy the
Seventy-some years ago, the view from
the platform (and from the tip too, for
that matter) was significantly
different. In those days, between the
world wars, you wouldn't just go to see
a lone fat in a sideshow. You'd go to
see a fat review. A Congress of
Fat People. Fat families. Tons of fun.
Acres of human flesh. How fat were they?
They were really fat.
But of course the crowd would have
been only marginally different, in
spirit anyway. Go read Celesta Geyer's
("Dolly Dimples") book DIET OR DIE. When
she met her mentor, "Jolly Pearl"
Stanley, the advice Celesta got could've
been pure 1990's: "You know, honey,
everyone laughs at you now. Don't you
think it would be a good idea to make
them pay for their fun?" It didn't take
Celesta long to pick up on that advice.
Within weeks she was on the show with
Jolly Pearl, polishing her act. And
before it was over, she'd become the "It
Girl of Fat Girls" (so dubbed by Clara
Bow, "The It Girl" herself), and she'd
learned the two most vital lessons for
any sideshow performer: "...when you
enjoy doing this work, your audiences
reflect that enjoyment" and the
ever-important advice about pitchcards
(or any pitch item for that matter),
that "There's real money in these
pictures." Now there's the
sideshow equation at its best.
Bruce learned that equation pretty
early on as well, and he may yet be the
last fat to employ the knowledge on a
midway. That knowledge was much in
evidence when I interviewed him in the
Hall & Christ World of Wonders show at
Winter Haven, FL, the roar of the midway
outside, Bruce holding forth with his
gravelly voice inside on subjects many
You've been with Ward Hall's shows a lot
of years haven't you?
I've done a number of things. For a
number of years I was an illegal M80
bootlegger. We used them to settle our
"backwoods firearms interactions."
When you were a kid?
No, I wasn't a kid.
I guess it's dangerous regardless when
you make them.
It's very easy to explode right in your
face if the mixture isn't right. It can
tear you apart if it detonates.
I know you got busted for making them.
What's the story with that?
It didn't come to trial for a year. I
was willing to plead guilty since I was
just going to get tossed on probation. I
go to see the probation officer. "How
are you?" "I'm still making M-80's."
"Oh. Okay. See you." This guy, this
probation officer, he's got 800 coke
freaks, a thousand junkies, one M-80
bootlegger. Needless to say the M-80
bootlegger got, "Oh? Don't do it again."
When it was over I got a note saying,
"Congratulations, you have successfully
Meanwhile you hadn't seen the guy but a
couple of times in months.
When did you hit the road for the first
I went out the first time in '77. This
is a freaky story about how this
happened. I had put on a lot of weight
between the time I was 20 and 25. I was
up to about 450 in those days. I went to
the local library, and I was poking
through some old circus books and I see
this one picture about a sideshow, maybe
circa 1905, and I'm looking at this fat
man and I'm saying to myself, "He can't
weigh more than 350 pounds." Now, I ask
myself, how the hell would I go about
getting into a sideshow? I'd never even
seen a sideshow in my lifetime.
In the late '70s the industry was a very
pale ghost of its former self. Instead
of thousands, there were maybe dozens
left then. So I figured, logically,
there's got to be some sort of trade
journal for the carnival industry. It's
Amusement Business. And I'm
looking through the AB. Taking a
lucky stab, I wrote the editor, Tom
Powell. And Tom Powell happens to be a
very good friend of Ward Hall. Bingo. I
had the job.
What does your family think about you in
My mother's met Ward Hall. She knows I
like it. I think now she considers me
less unfortunate than she did. I think
she wanted me to be a lawyer or
something like that. The way things are
going now, she's really glad I can feed
myself on the job. That's the thing
about lawyers: About three-quarters of
them are incompetent; three-quarters of
them end up starving to death. You've
got some guy, his grandfather was a
junkman. His father tried to make it as
a lawyer, but Junior had a real straight
head. He kept his grandfather's
junkyard. Running a junkyard these days
is very, very respectable. You're a
recycler. "Recycling modules," not
So what kind of things have you done in
[Grins and rocks back and forth,
sloshing his belly like a waterbed.] I
have a routine about how I eat 50,000
calories worth of food at a time. I
probably only eat about twice as much
again as you do. You might be able to
eat one TV dinner with dessert. Instead,
I'll eat two TV dinners. But I don't eat
25 chickens and a barrel of beer, 30
pancakes, 2 dozen eggs, 16 pounds of
bacon. That could kill a sperm whale,
never mind a human being. Two things:
yes, I do like to eat too much and I'm
not very active. I also have a tendency,
of course, to "be heavy." I probably am
the heaviest man who ever lived in my
family, but not by more than a century.
My father used to bounce up and down
from 250 to 350 and back again. And when
he was on the way down, life in that
family was hell. He was one of those
people that, if he was miserable, he
wanted everybody else to be
miserable. If there's a bitchy type of
human being, it's somebody on a diet.
You're driving down the street and you
cut somebody off, you just drive in
front of them, they might snarl at you.
But every now and then, it's a lot
worse. They're the ones on the
How does your season go? What is your
business year like?
Most generally we go out in May and
stay out until about the end of October,
the first part of November, then call it
quits. You're on the road for almost 9
months out of the year and you're pretty
doggoned tired and you want to get back
home, kick back and relax. Until
recently, I went to Maine, but uuggh!
You get cold. I can't hack those Maine
winters. As far as I'm concerned, they
can keep their snow and their pine trees
and all the rest of it. I want sun and
palm trees around me. If I never see the
place again it'll be too damn soon. When
you're my age, the cold hits you two
ways: one, it's arthritis; two, it gave
me a case of the flu. Or it could be a
fungal infection from the moldy old
house. You know, it becomes bone dry in
the winter time. It could be the heater
misbehaving. You get headaches and chest
congestion. You could end up with carbon
monoxide poisoning. All sorts of lovely
things it could be. When I got sick up
north, somebody said to me, "Maybe you
should go to a hospital." I said, "What
I got is a bad case of Maine." Another
thing that was bothering me then was my
prostitis. But I take this antibiotic
that's strong enough to wake the dead. I
know this stuff will cure anything.
About half a dozen pills will cure
anything. I think northern winters just
don't agree with me anymore.
So is it pretty tough staying healthy on
Out on the road you have to be careful.
My way of handling it is TV dinners and
throwaway silverware. If silverware's
the tiniest bit dirty, you're going to
get bacteria, then you're going to get
diarrhea. This is not a good place to
have diarrhea. Plus I take vitamins.
But, this summer I think its been
lovely. You get into some of these tents
with the sun hitting on you it can be 60
degrees outside and inside the tent it's
in the upper 90's. And you sit in here
for 11-12 hours. Summers, legitimately,
I'll go through a case of pop a day when
it's in the 90's. Open a can and pour it
down your throat and whoosh it's gone.
It's out your skin like a bad habit. But
the rain is worse. Especially on a dirt
lot. On this one it's nice because they
have sand down on the ground. Some
places it's a mixture of dirt and clay.
Two inches of dirt turns into six inches
of mud when it rains.
I heard you had a rain storm your first
Yeah. Thank God I drove down here. I
would have hated to get off the bus in
that. The temperature was in the 40's,
there was 30-40 mph winds. The rain was
streaming into the truck. Thank God I
had about 4 sleeping bags on.
How do you find dealing with the
There are some fairs that are known for
their obnoxiousness. Like Brockton is
the fair from hell. Brockton,
Massachusetts. Until recently, they used
to sell beer for about a buck for a 12
ounce cup. And the selling criteria was,
"Old enough to reach up with your money,
pick up your cup of beer and toddle off
with it, you're old enough to drink." So
every kid, every 14-15 year old weenie
that lived within 50 miles, would drive
to Brockton to get drunk at their
fairgrounds. There are few things more
objectionable than about ten 16-17 year
old teenage boys with their bellies full
of beer. They all think they're the
wittiest things on the face of the
earth. Fortunately, you can take them
apart easily. They all invariably say,
"How big's your penis?" The first way
you can rip their heads off is to ask
them, "Do you always go around asking
strange men how big their penises are?"
The kid will half the time turn about
the same shade of red as that snake box.
It really terrifies the average American
18 year old boy to think that his
friends will think he's a homosexual.
You were with Ward's shows back when he
had the big 10-in-1, back when he had
more acts. The acts here are pretty much
just you and the pincushion. What's that
There are a series of acts that are
generically called "Torture Acts." Sword
swallowing, human blockhead, another one
called iron tongue, fire eating and
pincushion. Pincushion is the one that
really involves physical discomfort. You
take a hat pin and WHAM! That one will
guarantee that people will talk about
it. But Ward even has a hard time with
it. You know it's real sideshow if Ward
Hall can't stand it-he goes "Eeeww!"
When we had the 10-in-1, the guy who did
the pincushion, he got up to do the
ding. Prayer pennies and miniature
bibles, all sorts of junk. He walked up
there to peddle them and you'd look down
and you'd see the drops of blood.
That's pretty spooky. Right up there
with the geek acts. I guess you don't
see much of that anymore either.
There's this guy out on the road called
"Billy Reed." He's in a wheelchair and
there's this python and the schtick is
he thinks this python's his best friend
and he sticks its head
in his mouth.
Ward was saying that you really packed
them in here last night.
Last night .....last night was really
rocking. It was one of the biggest spots
we've drawn. I had a wad of one dollar
bills like this, maybe 72, and about 50
five dollar bills and a $20. When you
get money in here like that, you are
really in a poor area. Up north you're
going to have maybe one five dollar bill
and a ten and you're going to have a
shortage of one dollar bills. There's
more money up there.
In the acts you have seen in the past,
what are some of the best ones you've
seen, ones that stick in your mind and
make you say, "I'm really glad to be on
the platform with them"? I know you were
on the shows with Otis Jordan, the Human
He worked pretty hard. You know what
those thalidomide babies look like? He
had German Measles and they did the same
thing. His arms were little bitty stubs,
his legs were little bitty legs. He'd
take a rolling paper and he'd hold the
paper with his tongue, put the tobacco
in it and put the business into his
mouth and what would come out would be a
finished cigarette. He'd tuck the
cigarette in one side of his mouth, pick
up a kitchen match in his lips, strike
the kitchen match and light the
cigarette. He'd cook his own food too.
This college professor, a writer, came
to the show a few years ago. He was very
much upset by this old black guy.
Yeah. It was very obvious. People think
there's so much discomfort. I mean, we
like it out here. It's something
we like to do. But I could no more get
that through his head than I could push
my finger through that center pole.
I suppose it's good that that
professor's not the only one writing
about the shows.
Have you read any of Joe McKennon's
books? He's got an encyclopedia now. In
totally exhausting detail he posits that
the industry-the modern carnival
industry as we know it today-started in
1893. Chicago World's Fair. My suspicion
is that it goes back much further than
that. Probably the real organized
carnival is less than 100 years old.
Prior to that it would have been a
sideshow for the circuses. You'd have a
big name circus show and off to the side
you'd have a sideshow. For circus
people, it's rough. The hours aren't the
best in the world. I mean it's a
vacation on the Riveria for carnies
compared to the circus. A circus jump,
you set up one day. You set it up in the
morning, tear it down tonight and then
go to bed. Jump to the next spot. If
you're lucky you get some sleep there. A
lot of carnies aren't moving that much.
The prejudice against carnivals in
general goes back a long way. The games
maybe more than the shows.
They've been writing articles-like
Walter Gibson wrote articles in the
1920s and this gets repeated-an expose
of carnival midway games. It's an
on-going process, something that gets
repeated every couple of years: "Oh,
we're going to expose the games." That
and the cops will make a big whoopee by
raiding them. No way are you going to
change them. There are always going to
be ways to make it harder to win. But
most of these games are on the
up-and-up. They depend on the fact that
your average American citizen has the
athletic ability of me. I have a hard
time throwing a baseball into a barrel
sitting from where I am. The average
American could do no better. Anyone who
drops 100 bucks in one of those goddamn
joints-to me that's stupid. Some guy
will go in these joints for a teddy bear
and he'll blow a week's pay trying to
get it when he can go to the Toys-R-Us
and buy one for $50 that's 4 feet tall
and much better construction. They're so
desperate some of these people. They'll
spend all their money. You'll say to one
of these guys, "Well-the boss isn't
around. You give me $50 for this toy,
I'll sell it to you." And they'll do it!
There's the basis for the television
show The Price is Right. Most
people don't know the value of things.
They'll have an advertisement for
washing machines-I bought one a couple
of year ago for between $450 and
$500-and you'll get people off the
street, average citizens, and they'll be
saying things like, "$1,600, uh, $200."
The closest call will be $900.
I guess, "That's entertainment." How do
you think the shows will be remembered?
In '76, the Smithsonian Institution
created a full-size carnival for one
night. It made you wonder.
I'll be watching some television special
and you'll see those grainy old movies,
the 1890's. It's weird. You just don't
get that strange feeling when you read
text about the Victorian days. Five
hundred years from now, what will people
be able to do, just by pressing on some
buttons or working from a keyboard?
They'll be able to access the [Ward]
Hall and [Chris] Christ tapes and look
at them just like they're alive. I think
about this: You get this feeling you're
being watched by the next 10
How do you think they're going to
perceive your act?
It's hard to tell. They are going to
wonder why anybody could be this fat
I've talked with Bruce any number of
times since this interview was
conducted. During one of our
meetings-always in the show, him as big
as a tool shed, sitting in a chair
that's just wide enough to hold him
squeezed in-he told me he wondered about
all the future generations and what
they'd think "looking down the well of
history" at all us here at the bottom.
Of course he was talking directly about
the sideshow biz of today, but if
there's a bigger question for
everybody, I don't know what that
question could be.
Images by Joe
Snowden's Banner Hall & Christ Show
York, PA 2000
not sure what I'll do," said Bruce
Snowden, 57, the 400-pound "fat man"
who goes by the name "Harold Huge."
"It's like asking the bartender of
the Titanic what he's going to do
when the ship's already at 45
Tent Folding -
Washington Post Oct 20, 2003