John Robinson - 12/1/04
Before you read this interview I'd
like to share a few things with you. A lot of people asked why we
posted an interview with a staff member when I posted the
myself. Well, the reason
is a lot of people asked for it. They wanted to know just who the
webmaster was. Now we're at a point where a lot of people have
asked for an interview of John. So I put this interview
together. Although I'm asking the questions I think you'll see
that I didn't ask questions that would just benefit Sideshow
Central or myself. I asked real questions and received real
Q. Itís no secret that you had
a long-standing appreciation of sideshow and sideshow memorabilia
the Sideshow Central staff. What was your first experience with
A. My first impressions of the
circus sideshow was when I was about five years old. I was a fan
of the television show Circus Boy with Mickey (Braddock) Dolenz
who is probably best known for his role as a singer and a drummer
in the 1960's music group, The Monkees. I really enjoyed all of
his adventures. While other kids my age where watching Lassie, I
was playing circus performer with Corky, Bimbo his pet elephant
and the rest of the circus performers.
I also remember every fall when the
circus came to town. Posters would start appearing on all the
vacant buildings. As the days got closer for the circus to arrive
the excitement would build. I would run down to Wall Boulevard
and stand there on the sidewalk waiting for the first site of the
train to pull into the station. Then they unloaded the wagons and
animals to assemble them for the grand parade. With wide eyes I
watched with wonderment as the elephants, the clowns, and the fire
eater passed. I wanted so badly to join in the parade and be part
of the grand show as it passed.
Q. With that in mind,
what was it that truly got you hooked on sideshows?
A. Actually, I think it was the
high wire act. They had performers walk across Washington
Boulevard between some of the highest buildings in downtown Ogden,
There was a free show every year on
Washington Boulevard where the Talker would build his tip "you
you will be amazed, you won't believe, step right this way to see
the strangest sights your eyes will ever see, right on the
inside." There would be just enough of a show to get your
interest and have you wanting to attend the sideshow that evening
and every other show they would perform the rest of their stay on
the midway. The animals, the wagons and all of the performers,
even sideshow folks, would be parading down Main Street trying to
get a crowd for that night's performance.
Q. Does anyone else in your
family have the same kind of attraction to the world of sideshow?
A. Not really. My mother has
always told me stories of when she was a girl attending the County
fairs. The one thing she remembers is the, as she would say,
ďlittle deformed babies in the bottles.Ē
I have one daughter that, since she
has gotten to know Mark Frierson, really likes my collection and
tells everyone that itís hers when Iím gone.
My wife tolerates my collecting and
interest in the sideshow. But I have to say that every time I can
get her inside a show she enjoys herself even if she wonít admit
it to her friends.
Q. You have a very large
collection of sideshow memorabilia. How long have you been
working on your
A. I have been collecting
seriously for about 5 years. I have enough in my collection to
start a Dime Museum. Thatís what I hope to do when I retire from
my day job.
I have always been interested in old
museums and their collections. One of the best I have ever seen
with its old collection of mummies, old taxidermy and thousands
upon thousands of great displays was the Niagara Falls Museum
which closed in 1999 and most of that collection was sold to Bill
Jamieson who is well know for his collection of shrunken heads.
Q. That's a lot of memorabilia.
Do you remember what your very first piece was?
A. I started out with fossils.
I would pick them up outside my house in Roy, Utah. Since the
whole area was under Lake Bountiful there were many marine fossils
in the rocks just laying all over where I lived. I continued
collecting fossils and started to collect strange and old
This lead to freak sea-life like star
fish with many legs. Some of the star fish only had three or four
legs. Then came the Alien collectibles, as I was a fan of the old
B movies in the fifties and sixties the monsters, space aliens,
As I got older and had more resources
and places I could buy circus and sideshow collectibles, I got
serious and started to add many wonderful items to my collection.
Q. To date how many pieces
would you estimate you have in your collection?
A. I have never counted them,
but I would guess several thousand. The real answer should be not
enough. I would think most collectors would say that.
Q. Do you have any particular
A. I have many favorites. So
it would be hard to pick just one. I really like my Feejee
Mermaid and enjoy collecting them and have several in my
collection. I also really like my shrunken head collection. I
have many gaffed heads that were made by Mark Frierson, Homer
Tate, Juan Cabana and from South America. I also have an
Alligator Man which is always of interest to folks that visit my
collection. I enjoy my banner collection. I could go on and on
so I would have to say my favorites would be my whole collection.
Q. What piece would you say has
the most interesting history behind it?
A. It is this little Tiger that
was originally acquired in Somers, NY billed as "The birthplace of
The gentleman that owned him said he was used in the 1950's in
traveling sideshows, possibly on the road with Clyde Beatty Cole
Brothers as "THE WORLD'S SMALLEST TIGER!" For years and years he
was exhibited in sideshows while he was alive, as being the
World's Smallest Tiger, caught on an African Safari by the World's
Smallest Hunter! After his death, he was stuffed and now for your
entertainment, right before your very eyes, HURRY! HURRY! STEP
RIGHT UP! He was once ALIVE on the inside!!
piece is one of my Feegee Mermaids. This particular specimen
toured the USA and Canada as part of a large Museum Show "Circus
Magnus" created by the prestigious Musee De La Civilization in
was scheduled to tour the world eventually ending up in Paris,
France. But after numerous engagements at major museums on this
side of the world, some of the contributors complained that their
'on-loan' exhibits were being held too long. The Museum therefore
ended the tour early. However it appeared in Chicago, New York and
other major US Cities as well as Canadian stops.
Magnus Tour was a large spectacular museum show featuring the
History of the Circus in Art, Actual Artifacts and Equipment. etc.
Mermaid was chosen by the Museum in Quebec as the sole
representative of the famous Mermaid exhibits that have been shown
since the 1500's including the world famous showing by P.T. Barnum
at his New York Museum in the 1800's. The exhibit itself is half
of a pair of Mer's that were created by sideshow and special FX
prop artist Doug Higley of California. The male half was purchased
prior to the Museum's selection by a showman and collector in
(Coincidently both of this style of creature wound up north of the
border. Truthfully they were not a 'pair' but had just been
created at the same time...one looked female and the other had a
more male appearance for some reason.)
Q. As your love of sideshow
grew you must have made some friends in the industry. Who was the
first person to really bring you into the behind the scenes
workings of sideshow?
A. I had met many of the great
folks over the years that worked in the sideshow, but I would have
to say Mark Frierson was my mentor. He took the time to introduce
me to many folks in the business. He spends hours with me on the
phone and shares his history. Mark has a great knowledge of the
sideshow. Another person has to be Ward Hall. When Ward calls me
he shares so much of his history. I have hours upon hours of
stories about his life in the sideshow and entertainment world.
Judy Tomaini Rock is another person I have great respect for. She
and her family have a great connection to the business. Judy's
parents Al the Giant and Jeanie the half girl are some of the
greatest folks who ever lived in sideshow history. Judy has
shared so many wonderful stories and has been a great friend.
Q. What kind of relationship
did you have with Mark and how did it originate?
A. My relationship with Mark
started out with me buying one of his gaffs off an online
auction. At the time I didnít know how busy he can get. I bought
a walking fish to add to my collection.
Some time passed before I heard from
him so I got his contact information and gave him a call. That
was the first contact I had with Mark.
Our relationship has grown over the
years and he has become one of my best friends.
Q. When did you become heavily
involved with the online sideshow community?
A. I was interested in some
information about some of the banners and gaffs I own. So I did
and was directed to Slims DG. I found a wealth of information and
support from the members of that group. As I became more involved
with Slims DG I began to email some of the folks in the group,
like Slim Price, Judy Tomaini Rock and others, for information
about sideshow history.
Slim had posted some of his stories
online and I became very interested in his history. It was about
the time Sideshow Central was starting.
Q. Were you surprised to find
that so many other people on the internet shared your interests?
A. Was I surprised? Not
really. What is surprising to me is this thing called "cyber
space." I marvel at it every time I think of it. That how easy it
is to network with people of like minds. To network with the
community that years ago you had to be part of the sideshow to do.
But in todayís world it is very easy
if you know where to go. You can meet a lot of the people that
have worked and lived their lives in the business.
Over the years I have met many folks,
but because of the internet I have gotten to know and made friends
with people all over the world in the business. In the past I
couldnít have met most of these folks let alone had any kind of
relationships. My first contact with most folks has been via
email and as friendships have developed then we have more personal
contact over the phone and even getting to meet and socialize with
others in the business.
Q. Was there one website that
really sucked you in once you made your way onto the proverbial
A. Sideshow Central sucked me
in. It was just about the time I found the site that Derek asked
me to join the staff as their historian.
From there I have been more than
involved with the online World of the Sideshow.
Q. What one website do you feel
was the most crucial for keeping the sideshow industry alive on
A. I think it was Slims DG. It
wasn't quite a standard website, but it was where the community
gathered to share and help others in the business.
I wish Slims was still up and working,
it had the largest membership of any DG when it closed even to
this day. What a sad day it was when Joe took the site down.
Slims was a real time group you posted
and got feedback almost instantaneously.
I think that Slims and Sideshow
Central complimented each other. This is what I hope the new
Sideshow Central Yahoo group will become. A place where the whole
community will come and share? Give advice and help those that
want to learn. A place where not only the Showmen/women can come
but the fans and others that will help to carry the sideshow into
Q. What was it about Slims that
made it so important?
A. It was where the folks that
worked in the sideshow came to share. The show world's watering
hole. Slims was the place to be, to learn from the greats.
Where else could a person go to have
first person contact with Showmen/women and Performers like Ward
Hall, Todd Robbins, Jim Rose and there are so many others that I
donít have room to mention them all.
Q. Youíve moved on a bit since
you first started out and have now become a staff member of
Sideshow Central. When Sideshow Central first opened its doors
what were your initial thoughts on the site and itís
A. I thought "Oh this is
nice." It didnít have very much content but as I learned after I
was asked to be on staff that it was the original intent not to be
as expansive as it has become. The staff have always been great
even when I first started to have contact with them. Some before
Sideshow Central was online.
Derek was very helpful with a couple
of requests I had of him. I got to know Ses better after I was on
the staff. I had the pleasure of seeing his show in Las Vegas in
October. What a performer. He has so much energy it made me tired
just watching his show.
Q. Did you ever foresee
yourself becoming part of a website such as Sideshow Central?
A. Not at the time, but I canít
see myself not being part of it now.
Again Sideshow Central the site and
all the staff are volunteers. We do it because the past needs to
be saved and the future if it is to continue needs to be promoted
and thatís what we do.
We have a lot of freedom because the
site doesnít have stock holders and we donít have to answer to the
business world. We can do what needs to be done just because the
community wants it. Without everyoneís support Sideshow Central
would not have become the success it has.
Q. Now that you are part of
Sideshow Central do you look at the internet sideshow community
A. Yes. As I have become
friends with a lot of folks and got to know more about others the
community is very supportive. I know itís a hard life for those
on the road, but there has never been a time that I have needed
help that someone hasnít taken the time to help me, even when they
have been in the middle of their season, and all of you know how
busy that can be.
Q. What do you feel you have
contributed to the world of sideshow since joining the Sideshow
A. I hope I have been able to
help preserve the past. I hope that folks have found the stories
and resources we have posted on Sideshow Central to be helpful and
of interest. As well as all the other
staff members I have
invested a lot of time in Sideshow Central. I also hope
that what I have to offer in the future will help to
our mission of Preserving the Past and Promoting the Future of
Q. What is it like being a
staff member on a site that demands a lot of work for no pay?
A. I donít see it as work and
as far as the pay, I get more back from the folks in the community
than I will ever be able to give. I spend 8 hours plus a day
researching for Sideshow Central 7 days a week.
I donít feel any demands, but I feel a
part of sideshow history. To be able to rub shoulders with the
great people in the business, to learn, to have the first person
contact with all the great folks.
Itís more than wonderful.
Q. Your role as our resident
historian has created a need for you to get in contact with folks
you may not have had a reason to have contact with prior to
joining the Sideshow Central staff. How do you feel about that?
A. I have enjoyed meeting and
getting to know the people in the business. I like people anyway
so contacting them was natural for me. I have learned so much
more about the world of the sideshow from that personal contact
than I have ever read in any book or seen in any documentary.
Q. Do you feel youíre looked
upon differently or are taken more seriously now that youíve
become a Sideshow Central staff member?
A. Yes, but I find it hard to
take myself serious. Itís like going down to the local park and
having everyone take you under their wing and you become part of
that group. Not just a person on the sidelines but a real part of
something wonderful. Something that I am a part of that what I
gain isnít the only thing. But I can give back and people respect
what Iím doing.
Q. What would you say is the
best part of being associated with Sideshow Central?
A. All of the wonderful people
I have gotten to know and become friends with. The history is
only part of it.
The freedom I have in doing my work
for the site is enjoyable too. I feel more comfortable because I
don't have someone looking over my shoulder all the time.
The support I get from all of the
other staff members and the support I can give them is another
part I enjoy.
Obviously, the next question is what is the worst part?
A. When Derek wants to close
down the site. Sideshow Central and the sideshow world have
become such a part of my life it would be a disaster if the site
closed. I have visited with several folks about when Slims closed
and they feel lost because of the friendships and contacts that
they have had with the folks they met there. Sideshow Central is
the same for me. I know that the relationships will continue but
the day to day contact goes away because thereís no need to have
Q. Sideshow Central has grown
exponentially since youíve come on board. Due to this fact you
have essentially taken over the role of our front man by getting
our updates and information out to the rest of the
community. How does that make you feel?
A. Itís a lot of work posting
all of the posters and banners on every vacant building all over
the country every week.
Actually, I really like the role of
front man. It keeps me in contact with more people and I enjoy
the front of the camera stuff.
Why did you decide to take on that role in the first place?
A. Because without advertising
nothing happens. If you're not out there selling your product, in
our case giving it away then most folks donít pay any attention.
As folks find out about Sideshow
Central they'll know what a valuable resource it is and will come
and visit on their own.
It also helps to meet new people that
are in the business and get them to share their history with us.
Besides all that it also allows Derek
to concentrate on the website itself without having to deal with
the promotion of it quite as much.
Q. Itís no secret that youíve
made some great contacts that led to new areas for Sideshow
Central since becoming a staff member. Youíve introduced areas
such as the Judy Tomaini Rock Series, One On One With Ward Hall,
the Slim Price Collection and most recently Show Talk With Lee
Kolozsy. These areas have been a big draw for Sideshow Central
and have brought in an entirely new demographic. How does it feel
to know your efforts are directly responsible for a part of
Sideshow Centralís current success?
A. I am willing to help in
whatever areas Iím needed. I do have a special place in my heart
for the historic part of the business.
Iím the lucky one when it comes to
being the historian because I learn much more that I will ever
give back. Does it make me feel good? YES. Not because of what I
do, but because of all the folks that take their time and talents
to share their lifeís experiences.
Q. In general, how would you
describe your place on the Sideshow Central staff?
A. Whatever is needed. I do a
lot of research personally with folks in the business, over the
internet and through books and other media. Not only do I find
historic information some of which has been lost or at least
misplaced for a time, but I help with links, photographs, contacts
and interviews with performers of today and yesteryear.
My place on Sideshow Central is part
of a family. A great group of dedicated people that feel the same
about our mission.
Iím also hoping our new section
Corny-Ville Comics takes off. I have drawn cartoons for many
years and to be able to use them on Sideshow Central is a plus for
Q. This is a tough question to
ask given the fact that Iím asking the questions, but what is it
like to work for me, the webmaster of Sideshow Central?
A. Well, well I guess this is
my chance to get even with "Derek Rose."
Derek has a great talent for web
design. He works very hard as a team member. You know how some
folks have to have it all their way. Derek's not like that. He
works with all of the staff members to reach our goals, to serve
our visitors and to have fun while it is all spinning out of
But the final product is there for the
whole world to see and it is a fine product.
Q. Has your idea of who I am
and what I do changed since you first saw my name out there on the
A. Yes, I just thought you were
one of those web guys that sat behind their computer all day and
created things. Since I have been on the staff I know
you're just one of the web guys that sits behind your computer all
day and creates things. But you also have a family and are a
great husband and father, a wonderful friend and have amazing
Q. What about the rest of the
Sideshow Central staff?
A. Great group of folks,
supportive and always there when they are needed.
Q. Were you surprised at the
amount of work that actually goes into the site behind the scenes
once you came on board?
A. Again I really donít see it
as work, but it does take a lot of time and dedication to put all
of the information and history on Sideshow Central and keep it
fresh and keep folks coming back for more. If itís not alive on
the inside or in other words updated almost daily, then why bother
to visit often. Sideshow Central is always fresh and alive.
Everyday I look forward to what is new on our midway.
What were your very first thoughts when you realized just what
goes on behind the scenes?
A. Eee Gats what have I done to
myself. No, itís interesting to see how much work goes into a
site like Sideshow Central. But the end product is well worth the
Q. There have been a lot of ups
and downs and even possible closures of Sideshow Central
throughout its growth.
Youíve stuck in there the whole time though. Why?
A. I enjoy working with all of
the folks in the sideshow community which include all of the staff
at Sideshow Central. With all the staff being volunteers it is
only our love of sideshow that keeps us all working.
Sideshow Central has become one of the
most important resources on the internet for Showmen, Performers
and Fans. I know there have been many times of frustration and
that the site has come close to closing.
But most importantly it is still here
and growing everyday.
It has been the many folks from the
community that have supported the site by sharing their
experiences, stories and lives with us. Thatís what is
important. Thatís what keeps me going. Itís the history, itís
the friends, itís all of it.
Q. When you step back and
actually take a look at Sideshow Central as a whole what are your
feelings about the site?
A. I really think itís not what
I think, but what the folks that access the site think. If they
are pleased then I have done my job and it has all been worth it.
I really enjoy Sideshow Central. I like the site and hope to keep
it fresh well into future.
Q. What do you feel is the
single most important aspect of Sideshow Centralís continued
A. The folks that contribute
their experiences and stories. Those that share the schedules and
links. The Showmen/women, Performers and Fans that visit
everyday. Thatís what will keep it Alive well into the future.
Q. What are your thoughts on
the future of Sideshow Central?
A. Well if it isnít shut
down....I think it has a rich future. The role Sideshow Central
plays is it can be the vehicle to transport the information and
history into the future.
Q. Finally, what impact do you
think Sideshow Central has made on the online sideshow community?
A. I think Sideshow Central has
not only made an impact on the online community, but it has
carried itself into the whole world of the sideshow. Sideshow
Central and itís success has been in direct proportion to all of
the folks that have invested themselves into it.
I would like to thank everyone in the community for all you have
done to make us what we are today and will become in the future.
Interview by Derek Rose
In Feb. 2005 Sideshow Central was retired and offered for sale. Derek
and the other staff made the decision not sale the site, and
because of my great love and investment in the world of the
sideshow, Sideshow World was born. I have made the
commitment to "keep the candle burning" as Slim Price would ask
all of us to do. With all the wonderful support from the
community Sideshow World remains the greatest show on the
internet and is a place where Showmen/women, performers and fans
alike can come learn and keep the show Alive on the Inside......
John Robinson Sideshow World
Each month we will try and
interview a new performer for the site. Because of the logistics
of it face to face interviews are tough to come by. A good
percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail
or telephone. If you are interested in being interviewed for the
drop us a line.