Sideshow visitors to
the Cole Bros. Circus in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 18th 1946,
were greeted with this wall of garish posters proclaiming the
"unbelievable sights which awaited them on the inside.
With exaggerated words and pictures the banners listed the
sideshow attractions. that season show goers could view the Cole
Bros. Circus snake enchantress, the armless boy, the world's
smallest midget, magician, Punch and Judy, Mexican bell ringers,
fighting lion, world', greatest mystery, mentalist, Chinese
jugglers, Mexican musical act and a ventriloquist.
In the days of the large tent circuses, the sideshow was more than
a gimmick to keep the crowds interested between shows. It was a
money maker. Frequently patrons came only to see the "freaks" and
never bought a ticket to the big show. Most circus owners agreed
that the take from sideshow ticket sales often supported the
company from day to day.
In spite of their popularity, sideshows were once subject to legal
restrictions. Several states had ruled it illegal to exhibit
strange or unfortunate people to the public. In enforcing these
laws, it is said that many local officers arrested sideshow
managers and used the power of the law to exact payoffs.
With the advent of the new indoor circuses, the sideshow has
virtually disappeared from the American scene. Only at the Clyde
Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, the largest touring tent circus in the
country, can the unusual sideshow sights still be viewed by the