Melvin Burkhart

The Man, the Magician, the Anatomical Wonder & Much More!


A Sound Tribute Part 8

by Richard Mullin

{And that’s where we end our carnival midway visit. The original tapes of this performance are presently kept in the archives of The American Dime Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.} (Mr. Burkhart passed away November 8, 2001 )

Carnival midway showman Ward Hall said of him: “Melvin was a great guy.  I never heard him say a bad word about anyone and I never heard anyone ever say a bad word of him.  A remarkable, wonderful way to go through life.”


Here’s Some Additional Information....


Here’s some additional information about Melvin’s home away from home for 30 years – The James E. Strates Show.


It was Slim Kelley’s “Museum of Natural Mistakes” during the 1960s and some of the 1970s that traveled with the James E. Strates Show, the Orlando-based travel-by-rail carnival midway, up and down the East Coast: with bookings in thirty different cities – Augustine, Florida; Savannah and Albany, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Belhaven, Statesville, and Raleigh, North Carolina; and Danville, Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia. They began stopping in Wilmington, DE, in 1965, and playing the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, DE, in 1969.  I used to see it at both those places.  I know they set up in Cumberland, MD, Clearfield, PA, Fredericksburg and Baltimore, MD, York, PA, Kutztown, PA, Norristown, PA, the New Jersey State Fair in Trenton, and they always stayed at least a week in Philadelphia every year.  I believe that their northern most stops were Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, and Hamburg, New York; East Hartford, Connecticut and Brockton, Massachusetts. 


So, a lot of kids grew up attending those shows just like me. Then during the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s it was called Sutton’s Circus Side Show Ten-in-one with the James E. Strates Show Midway, but a bunch of the same performers were in that show too. The Sutton tent show rolled up its banners for the last time at the end of the 1985 season. 


Over the years I saw William Durks, the Man with Three Eyes and Two Noses; Mildred Durks, The Crocodile Woman; Sylvia Porter, The woman with the largest feet in the world; Prince Arthur, The world’s smallest black midget on exhibition; Emmitt Bejano, The Alligator Skinned Man; Percilla Bejano, The Monkey Girl; Otis Jordan, The Frog Man or The Human Cigarette Factory; Gladia Stump, the Frog Girl; Esther/Lester, the Half-and-Half; Sealo, the Seal Boy; Flexible Freddy, The Human Corkscrew; Albert, The Rubber Skinned Man – the Human Corkscrew; John Bradshaw, The Human Pin Cushion (1974-1977); Dudly Baker, The Human Pin Cushion or The Pain Proof Man (1980-1981); Harold “Big Jim” Spohn, The 750 lb. Fat Man; Dolly Reagan, The Half Lady/ Half Baby; “Bengie” The Sword Swallower; Lady Sandra Reed (Spohn), The Albino Sword Swallower; Jack Bradburn, The Sword Swallower; Jeremiah, The Sword Swallower; Shelley Bradburn, a Tattooed Lady; Satana, The Fire Eater; a number of un-named snake charmers; and an ever changing array of nubile young women who would act like the Indestructable Girl, taking a part in the Blade Box Illusion.


Yet for thirty years, from 1955 to 1985, the ‘glue’ that held this show together was Melvin Burkhart, billed as the Human Blockhead, the Anatomical Wonder, the Funny Old Magician and generally the emcee of the show. 


 It is claimed that in all that time he never missed a performance due to illness.




BURKHART, C. Melvin, 94, of Riverview, passed away November 8, 2001. He is survived by his wife Joyce Burkhart of Riverview, three children, Tony B. Azadian, Glendale, Calif., Bonnie J. Burkhart Lang of Port Charlotte, Fla. and Murl ‘Dennis’ Burkhart of Webster, Fla.; one sister, Juanita Sanders of Lebonan Junction, Ky.; one brother, Col. Murl Burkhart of Louisville, Ky. and eight grandchildren.  A native of Atlanta, Ga., he has lived in Tampa area since 1949.  Mr. Burkhart has been an entertainer and a magician throughout his life. Arrangements by Blount, Curry & Roel, Garden of Memories Chapel. (TAMPA TRIBUNE, Hillsbourgh Edition, Tampa, Florida, November 10, 2001)


Images, John Bradshaw, Melvin Burkhart, Mike Wilson in hood, Ruby Rodriquez the Snake Charmer. courtesy of Mark Frierson


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