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.
remarkable, wonderful way to go through life.”
Here’s Some Additional Information....
some additional information about Melvin’s home away from
home for 30 years – The James E. Strates Show.
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
every year. I believe that their northern most stops were
Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, and Hamburg, New York; East
Hartford, Connecticut and Brockton, Massachusetts.
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.
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
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.
is claimed that in all that time he never missed a
performance due to illness.
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)