Old-Style Sideshow Aims to Shock, Awe!

 

She walks in beauty on hairy knuckles, stalking the corn-dog jungles of the Lorain County Fair in Wellington.


Gabora the Gorilla Girl.


On a lane of balloon-popping, ball-throwing, duck-dunking games of chance, a loudspeaker calls out with the urgency of a highway wreck, daring you to look.


"THIS BEAUTIFUL GIRL WILL BE LOCKED INTO A STEEL CAGE RIGHT BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES AND WILL CHANGE VERY SLOWLY INTO A FEROCIOUS 450-POUND GORILLA!!!"


Bright banners beckon outside the mysterious green tent of supposed monster metamorphosis. A fanged, roaring gorilla. Two bikini-clad women threatened by a giant ape. A naked nymph, wearing broken leg and wrist shackles, apparently escaping what the loudspeaker hints at as a "CRUEL INHUMANE EXPERIMENT!!!"


Gabora is one of the few remaining survivors of the days when your great-grandpa may have stared slack-jawed at "Flip the Frog Boy" or the "Alligator Skin Woman" in a traveling sideshow.
The Gorilla Girl was pulled from the magic hat of Akron-area prestidigitator Tim Deremer, 58, who launched his rolling menagerie of illusion 36 years ago while a student at Kent State University, shilling "Heidi the Headless Wonder" from the back of an old bread truck at carnivals and fairs.


He'd later build a full "10 (acts)-in-one (tent)" sideshow like the ones he had seen prowling midways of the macabre in his youth. He offered sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, human "blockheads" pounding nails up their noses and the "Spider Girl" with eight huge, hairy legs topped by a live human head" Heidi's, perhaps.


Gabora was created in 1976. Deremer said he'd seen other sideshow changelings come and go.  "Bona Lisa," whose flesh melted to bones.  The "Swedish Sex Change".. girl to guy, or vice versa


But he wanted something with the kind of shock that would scare your sweetie right into your arms. He considered a girl-into-werewolf act, but gorillas are real.  And Gabora is as real as you want to believe.


That belief is waning nowadays as the hundred or more sideshows that once toured the country decades ago have dwindled to fewer than a dozen, according to Bob Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.


"Those kind of attractions have gone by the wayside," he added, "although there's still a certain nostalgia and mystique to sideshows."


But John Robinson, of Sideshow World
www.sideshowworld.com Internet site, dedicated to Preserving the Past and Promoting the Future of Sideshow, said "there has been a resurgence of interest in this form of entertainment."  "I don't think it will ever be like it was, but I don't anticipate the midways not having sideshows," he said.  There's still an interest, and it's still the cheapest thing you can pay for at a carnival or fair."


"There are still people around who saw them as children and go for the nostalgia, but I also see younger people going, to be shocked and amazed" he added.


Deremer said amusement rides "cheaper to operate and more profitable" grew to dominate carnival midways and displaced the sideshows.


And though his $2 admission price has stayed the s
ame for the past 15 years, he said the increasing cost of gas, exhibit space rental and other expenses has reduced his profit margin to "nil."


Plus, the novelty of the sideshow has waned.


"Who'd pay to see the Tattooed Man or Iron-Tongued Girl when you can see more tattoos and tongue-piercings at any local mall?" he said. "TV reality shows are the sideshows of current times."


Then, too, he's just getting tired of the road. He's down to two acts, Gabora and "Myrna the Mermaid Girl." His once-usual 17-week tours are less than half that now.


"In my 20s and 30s it was fun, in my 40s it was a challenge, in my 50s it's a chore," he said.
Yet as soon as customers fill the dark canvas cave, he still gamely launches into the spiel he figures he's delivered 50,000 times before.


He reminds folks that no photos or video will be allowed as Gabora "under hypnosis and heavy sedation" reverts to her primordial simian self.


No worry, if the cage holds which it doesn't, to the clang of a falling cell door, ringing alarms, flashing lights and Deremer's shouts: GABORA, WHAT'S WRONG? GABORA, STAY IN THE BACK OF THE CAGE! STAY BACK! BACK! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SOMETHING�S GONE WRONG! THE CREATURE'S GONE MAD! EVERYBODY OUT! PLEASE EXIT QUICKLY!


Three small girls who had been slowly edging toward the exit during Gabora's hairy transformation suddenly made a squealing break for daylight.


Joining them, Dillon Wright, 7, of Wellington, swallowed hard and confessed, "My legs are still shaking."


But Teresa Vallance, 42, of Elyria, gasped as she convulsed in laughter, "Oh, my God, that cracked me up! That was so fake."


Still, David Velez, 38, of Lorain, said the show "reminded me of when I was a little kid, going to the fun house. You get a feeling of old times, before computers took over everything."


His son, Andre, 7, admitted, "I was freaked out when she came out of the cage."


Then he tugged on his father's shirt and asked, "How does she get locked up again?"


"That's a secret," his father replied."


"I think I know how . . ." Andre began.


"Shhhh," his father interrupted. "Don't say it. Other people might want to see it."


And so the sputtering sideshow torch was passed, one generation to the next, as the loudspeaker blared on: "FOR THE THRILL OF A LIFETIME, GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!"


Gabora the Gorilla Girl will be appearing through today at the Lorain County Fair and at the Geauga County Fair in Burton from Thursday through Sept. 1 2008.
99-4

 

Brian Albrecht - Plain Dealer Reporter853
 

Article posted on Sideshow World with permission of Brian Albecht

Photograph of Tim Deremer's Girl to Gorilla banner line courtesy of Kevin Gerrone


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