"...I look forward to seeing Jim's Show and
always enjoy being with him.
He is one of the true, honest to God showman in
......Ward Hall January, 2005
We’re at the Florida
with Jimmy Zajicek. As our starting point I'd like to ask
you how you became interested in the world of sideshow.
I just always liked the circus. I would go to every fair,
every circus that came through, and the sideshows I always
liked all of them….and all that stuff.
Q: I’d like to get a little background. Where did
you grow up? Where were you born? What Year?
Illinois. Lived in Chicago until I was about nine or ten and
then my father moved us to Warsaw, Wisconsin.
Q: Was anybody in your family in the business?
Q: Before joining the industry
many of us
idea of what we wanted to do when we grew
up, what did you want to do and how did you become attracted
to getting in the business?
A: I always just wanted to be in the circus. I didn’t
know what, where, how, or why I just wanted to be in the
Q: What was the first circus you remember seeing?
A: Ringling Brothers, Barnum
& Bailey, at the
Chicago amphitheater, International Amphitheater in Chicago.
Q: What was it about the circus that you liked the
A: All of the color, the animals, the chameleon guys,
all that, everything.
Q: How long have you been working in the business?
A: Since I was, since 1979.
Q: How old were you then?
Q: What Circus was that?
Q: When did you get your first inkling that you might
want to do something in sideshows?
A: When I was a little kid we use to have carnivals
for muscular dystrophy, I use to put together a sideshow
every year in the backyard. Put up a camping tent.
Q: To raise funds?
A: Yeah, they
where I grew up in Warsaw, to raise funds for muscular
dystrophy, you would send in
they’d send you a carnival kit then you would put it all
together and then whatever profits you made you would donate
back to muscular dystrophy. At the end they would have a
party on T.V. for all the kids that had carnivals throughout
the neighborhoods in the city. Then they would be on T.V. in
a big thank you for everybody having their carnivals, and so
that’s what we did.
the first show you worked on was the Franzen Brothers Circus?
your first job?
A: Tech crew guy, set up and tear down. Fifty dollars
a week to set up and tear down the big tent.
Q: What were some of the other jobs that you had in
A: I was the electrician, truck driver, the prop guy.
I did a Rolla bola act, wire act.
Q: How did you get into performing?
A: I just wanted to be uh, the main thing was money,
I was getting fifty dollars a week putting up tents and I
thought the place to go to make the money was to be
So then I learned a bunch of acts, then I found out there
was no money in that either. So, then I just kept bouncing
around looking for a nitch. But also none of my acts were
ever really very good so I’d call up a circus and say,
“Hey, you need a rolla bola guy?”
“No, we got that booked.”
“You need a wire guy?”
“No, we got that booked.”
“Uh, you need an Elephant guy?”
“No we’ve got plenty of Elephant guys.”
“Okay you need a truck driver? You need an electrician? You
I always had to keep myself versatile to keep
Q: So the idea was to know a lot of different things so
that you could fit in wherever you went.
A: Right, I was the
jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
shows have you worked on?
A: Worked on a lot of shows. Yeah, just about every,
almost every show in the country at one time or another.
you first get involved with elephants?
A: I was working for
Brothers, he fired me seven times in one year. So on the seventh time I
said “well that’s a lucky number, I’ll leave.” So I finally
did leave on the seventh time. I was headed back to
Wisconsin and I was driving back on I-90
and I saw the Hoxie Brothers show, and they looked fresh so
I took a chance, followed them, and ended up in
where the show parked. It
so I went to sleep. When I heard the stake drivers in the
morning I got up, went out and went looking for work. Right
away they wanted to put me
the big top I said “Nah, I’ve done that already. I want to
learn something new.” Well the electricians need help so I
went over there, no they didn’t need help. They said the
elephant guys needed help. So I walked over by the elephants
and there was Joe Frisco
Merricash, and a big screaming match
going on right
amongst the bulls. I said “Hey I understand you’re looking for some help.”
“No we can’t use you, we can’t use you.”
I said “Well I just came off the
Franzen show, thought you needed an experienced
They said “Nah, we don’t need you.”
So I started to walk away and Frisco goes “wait a minute.
What did you do over there?”
I said I worked the elephants. He said “Franzen works his
I said “Yeah he works the elephant, but I pulled up the tent
and stuff with the elephant.” and I was lying because I
wanted the job. So they said “Oh, we thought you were just a
town schmuck, these are tough elephants here we need a guy
that has a little experience, yeah we can use you.” So they
put me on.
hour later I got slammed by an elephant, so I learned
exactly what NOT to do. From there
just went up and
I couldn’t get work,
always get a job as an elephant guy.
Q: What did Joe say when he found out you really
didn’t know anything about elephants?
A: He never found out. The hardest part is
job. After the
elephant slammed me, then I
knew what not to do and knew my limitations pretty good
right there. It was good I got slammed that first time, and
I stayed, rather than uh, you know the cards were laid on the table right
there, what I was getting into and I was willing to accept
that. I just had to pay more attention and be more careful.
Q: I understand you worked on
Tell me a little bit about that.
A: Yeah, I went there in ’82 and ’83. A bunch of us
that had worked on Franzen, I had left to go to the Hoxie
Brothers show, and then from the Hoxie Show I went to
Mexico and that’s were I learned Rolla Bola so then when I
got back to the states I wanted to book my Rolla Bola act.
So I called uh, I heard Big John needed an act so I called
him up and he hired me and then a bunch of other Franzen
people went over there too. I worked for
’82 and ’83 season.
Q: How did you get involved in the sideshow part of
it? What was the first
A: When I went to work for Big John he had a little
sideshow and his deal was he’d hire you as an act but then
you would have to do other things like that year I did Rolla
Wire in the show, and then I was the electrician, I
drove truck, and for extra money he said I could run his
little sideshow which went for a quarter. So I ran that and
that was my extra money.
Q: What did they have for attractions in the
A: In the sideshow I had a big pigeon alive, a little
dwarf cow, a couple pigmy goats, and then I would supplement
it with fire eating, and I’d do the blockhead. So I’d go on
the box, talk the box, in the ticket box with a microphone,
and then I would go in, after I got them inside, I would go
do the blockhead, eat fire, and come back out
and doing it again.
Q: They didn’t
bally it was done more like a grind show?
A: It was a grind show but it was live on the mic.
Q: What was the first sideshow you owned?
A: The one I have currently is uh, when I was working
the elephants for
I always liked sideshows. I was always friends with John
Jr., Ward, and Chris. So I’ve always had an
interest in it so I started collecting stuff.
I bought a small show from Manuel King when I
Show. I had the attractions so I finally
put it together and
wherever I went with the elephants on the
dates, wherever I could lay it down, I’d set it up. If I
couldn’t then I, I just didn’t, and then it grew from there.
do you bill
of the Unusual. That’s what I am, curator of the unusual.
Q: Where did that name come from?
A: Oh, I just dreamed it up.
Q: What type of attractions do you have in your
Tell me a little bit about the size of your show and how you
lay it down.
A: When it’s all up it’s a 95 foot banner line. 20 x
60 tent, there’s about 50 different attractions most of them
pickled or stuffed. I have a live
cow, which John Strong helped me find. A
two-headed turtle that John helped me find. An albino turtle and a
snake, and then a little horse I’ve added recently.
you have been doing some live ballys.
A: That’s going real good, that started last fall.
Ward Hall had called me up and said Chris and Pete where
going to come visit me and he said that if I built a small
bally platform, him and Pete would work the front of the
show for me while they were visiting. So I built the bally
and they got tied up with other things and never made it. So
I had the bally,
so myself and my guys said what the hell we’ll just do it
ourselves and that’s how it started.
Q: How is it going?
A: It’s going great! Now we use it more as a
supplement than as a main, as a staple, but it’s going
pretty good and we’re learning all the time.
Q: How did that first bally go?
A: It was a little rough but I had talked
the mic back on the John Strong Circus but it had been
probably sixteen years since I’d done that. So once I got
out there it was rough, nervous and everything
we go along it just gets better but it’s something you don’t
learn overnight. You’ve got to just keep doing it everyday,
everyday, everyday to develop it.
What differences do you see between working a fair and a
A: I really like the circus better because it’s a
controlled environment and it’s geared to make money. In a
fair there is a lot of competition a lot of noise and it’s
not very well, it’s not as controlled, they just wander
around. On a Circus they’re funneled onto a midway and the
traps, is what they’ll call them, are little shows or pony
rides and elephant ride and all that stuff. They get them
contained in an area and then hit them hard. Then they go in
the show and so it’s more controlled and you don’t have to
work the hours. It’s a
for like an hour before the show, half hour
intermission, and then you hit them
after the show. Where on a fair you can do less money or
more money but it structures out over twelve hours, it’s a
long grind. Where the circus is hit them
hit them fast.
Q: As in most businesses
develop relationships with the people you work with
and some of them even become friends. Who are some of the
people who have influenced you in the sideshow business?
Also the circus.
Franzen because he gave me my start even though he was a stubborn German
and I’m a stubborn Po-Hunk. We clashed a lot. Big John
Strong was a big influence to me, anything I wanted to try
he was for. He stood by me even after I never worked for
him again he’d always call me, find me work and help me out.
He was a really big; I used to call him my second father in
the business. He was a big influence on
me. Then just other guys that I
with depending on what avenue I was going. Ward and
Chris when I met them, they’ve always helped me out they
like the elephants and I like the sideshow they helped me
out quite a bit. There’s a lot of stories where they’ve
quite a bit, even with the elephants, they’re just regular
showmen. Great showman. All the elephant guys I’ve run
across, Joe gave me a start even when I lied to him. Gary
Johnson taught me the intricate parts of working elephants.
was a big influence later on. There are so many people it’s
pinpoint because each one contributed so much to
me that I could never repay
any of them.
Q: What did your family think about you going into
this type of business?
A: At first they thought it would be a novelty, I’d
be out there a year or two and then I’d
come back. In fact, when I first left the high school to go
back to join the circus between my junior and senior year my
father drove me down to the birthplace of Ronald Regan;
liked to hire farm kids, I wasn’t a farm kid. City kid; tall
skinny. I went there and he told my father before he
“Don’t worry you’ll see him in two weeks. He’ll be back, he isn’t going
years later I’m still here.
Q: You seem to have a real love for the elephants.
Why did you
elephants and start
working the sideshow?
A: Uh, the times changed and I pretty much basically
got pushed out. Elephants are pretty much being pushed out
by animal rights
legislation, and stuff.
After working for
there was really no place I could go that I would have the
had there. I would be going
backwards. Except for a couple places I could maybe work. So
I just decided I had a pretty good run with the elephants.
And even though I miss them immensely it’s time to move on
and that’s why I just went full steam
Q: Did Mr.
Cuneo own the
A: Yeah, he owned all the elephants I worked.
Q: How long did you work for Mr.
A: Nine years.
influence how you do business?
A: Big influence because, before I always worked for
somebody, here I worked for him but when he’d send me out I
was in charge of everything. I took care of the payroll, I
took care of his expenses, I’d have to send him the daily
sheets. It was like running his office and making all the
decisions on the road. He was at the home office. If I had a
problem he would give me assistance. But basically he hired
me to solve all of his problems with those elephants on the
Q: Sounds like he gave you a lot of responsibility.
A: A lot of responsibility. Had a semi-truck,
elephants, hay, feed, all of the equipment. You know, I’m going down the road with millions of dollars
of equipment and animals. He’d send me the contracts and I’d
go fulfill them. I’d have to take care of all the little
details. Make sure I had the help, make sure I bought the
feed, do the accounting, send him the money, everything. He
actually taught me how to run a business basically.
Q: Many of us don’t have any idea
takes to care for
elephants. Could you give us a little idea about the
difficulties in handling
A: Basics with elephants is that they are unlike any
other animal. They’re like a kid that never grows up. So
imagine having a kid that never grows up and every waking
moment, every sleeping moment, you have to account for them
first before you can account for your own needs. Everybody
sees the elephants in the ring at the circus that’s five
minutes out of the day. The other twenty three hours and
whatever minutes in the
devoted around them. You can’t go to the bathroom without
accounting for them. You can’t go eat without accounting for
them. You have to be, it’s like having a little infant.
Q: It becomes like a family?
A: It becomes like a family ‘cause they are so smart,
they’re so intelligent, they have so much personality. You
know, a dog is smart. An elephant can learn over 95
different words, and phrases, and variations of that. It’s
debatable. A lot of people think elephants are the smartest
animal on earth. I think they are smarter than people, but
the only thing that even comes close is maybe a dolphin or a
primate, and that’s debatable.
Q: You have a
beautiful banner-line set up here at the
State Fair. How many feet do you have set up?
A: Here I have 80 feet.
Q: Who are some of the banner painters you have used?
A: The main banner painter I have is Bobby
and he’s an old show guy from way back. He used to paint the
Beatty show, a circus painter. I use Jim Hand a lot. He’s an
old circus painter. He used to paint the Hoxie show and a
multitude of other shows. Then I have a
coming up, he’s in his 40s and he did a little work on
it. Brent Driver out of
Kansas he splashed some paint on there. I tried to get all
the old circus painters because I know the circus guys more
than I know the carnival guys. I like the circus paint. It’s
a little different style and I just like it. So I try to get
all them old guys. Any guy I can find that painted circus I
try to get them on there. I like to have a lot of different
paint splashed on there.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: Uh, The banner lines are big enough and
everything, maybe a bigger tent. But basically just upgrade
the inside. I always try to keep it clean. Get better
cabinets maybe. Better attractions when I can find
But basically the big expansion is over from when it first
started. It’s going to stay about the same size as it is
now. The only thing is I’ll try to upgrade the quality of
Q: Do you think you will be staying in the sideshow
A: Yeah, I’ll be staying in it for awhile. Until it
either kills me or I kill it. One or the other.
Q: Are there any other things you’d like to add
before we close?
A: Uh, no. It’s an ongoing saga.
Q: Anyone you’d like to thank?
A: I’d like to thank everybody that ever helped me
with anything I ever did in show business. I don’t know how
it is in the carnival, but in the circus they are very
when you are a newcomer. Even I learned
a guy joins the
first day he’s saying “Finally the good lord sent me to
where my life calling is. The circus, this is it. This is
where I am going to be! I’m finally here” and then the
second day they’re on the circus they’re wandering around
with three tennis balls trying to juggle. “I’ve got to get
an act; I’ve got to get an act. This is my life.” Then the
third day they’re saying “F" this I hope I never see another
circus again!” Then they’re down the road.
Q: Three days,
A: Yeah, usually it’s a
Q: Thank you Jimmy. I think
Interview by Rick West