an important part in John Strong's sideshow. The
"Spider Woman" is one of his newer additions.
sideshow tent is a world of stories - the two Headed Woman who
is modeled after a young Jaqueline Kennedy, a five-footed dog,
a duck with a leg growing from its head. They all have
stories and John Strong knows them all.
Strong and his
wife, Candy, co-own John Strong Show, a sideshow in the style
of the classic 10-in-one shows that once crisscrossed the
country in countless numbers.
Strong began in
the sideshow at age 11, charging patrons of his father's
circus a quarter to see a stuffed two-headed cow, the same
that still occupies a spot in his show.
"I've had a show
every week, nonstop since I was 11," says Strong, 55.
vacations in this business. That's fine with the
Strong's and their crew of performers and roustabouts.
"My biggest thrill
is when we go places and find something unusual to add to the
menagerie", says Strong, seated on the stage inside his
striped tent, before the fair go underway last week.
Behind him on the
stage, a high-backed chair hides the swords Katya the Snow
Leopardess swallows for patrons. A bed of nails, a box
used for the sword trick and a box used by the spider girl are
set up on the stage that site about two feet off the ground.
There's just enough room between the stage and the small
museum of oddities to fit about 30 people.
The inside stage
show is a continuous show. Katya is known to perform
onstage sometimes for 12-hour stretches, acting as performer
and pitchman in one.
The world of the
sideshow, like that of the circus, is often a family affair
passed down through generations, but new recruits are welcome,
Strong says. The show, enticing patrons to part with
their money to go inside - from his dad and later his
The John Strong
Show lately has become a presence at Coney Island with their
Strange Girl Show and dime museum.
The show entices
passerby to part with their money as they walk by the
bannerline it catches their eye, with Strong's pitch in their
ears, they fork over $2 and find themselves on the inside
where they see wonders that amaze, disgust, perhaps even
But the show is also family friendly. Strong said he's
careful to keep the traveling show safe for kids.
wasn't a fan of young Strong's ambition to own a sideshow.
The circus was classic, family-friendly entertainment.
The sideshow was where the black sheep went, the outcasts.
But Strong wants
more oddities than anyone else. He's been amassing a
collection of the weird for decades.
Katya ran away to
join the sideshow, as they say. She met Strong while
taking a class to learn the sideshow arts in New York, and he
later gave her a job in the Strange Girl Show.
Katya is one of
the few female sword swallowers in the world. But she
also eats fire and walks on glass.
She's been in the
sideshow full time for five years.
"I really wouldn't
call it a job. It's more like a life,:" she says. "You
never know where you're going the next week or what's going to
Strong calls Katya
a "tremendous performer and pitchman." On the stage
during a show last weekend, she drew in a small crowd of about
12 with a relaxed, conversational act that combined sword
swallowing with electricity.
The hot, dim tent
lent itself to the oddities displayed there.
"Is the real?" one
youngster asked his parents, pointing to the mummified body of
a mermaid, staring at passersby from a glass case.
Blurring the lines
between what is real and what is illusion has been the
business of the sideshow for more than a century.
I like to make the
impossible, possible, says Katya. "Lots of people don't
believe the possible is possible."
Article by Briana
Wipf - Tribune Staff Writer Aug. 1, 2014
Richter - Tribune