Lady, Back Home!
Bob and Mae's
chimp show stayed with the carny two months, then left to
play some fairs in the Midwest. We hated to see them leave.
Later that fall we played spots along the Atlantic Coast in
the Carolinas. As usual, it was hurricane season. At the
time, we were on the outskirts of Wilmington, North
John Joe, an old vaudeville female impersonator who had been
in the carny business for years and years, and had worked in
Dad's ten-in-one as Serpentina, the snake lady, handling ten
and fifteen foot pythons for three or four seasons, was on
the lot with his big snakes in a single "O" grind show. We
talked about the old days when I worked as the half boy and
half girl. We had him over to our cook tent for supper a few
times and it was like a homecoming.
Well, come Thursday, and a tropical storm hit early in the
morning about daybreak. It wasn't called a hurricane but
there were gusts of wind up to seventy miles an hour. We
heard the Coast Guard's warning that the storm had spawned a
twister or two the night before, so we double-staked the
tent and rolled and secured the banners.
that it wasn't a hurricane, just a tropical storm but no one
expected a tornado. But we sure did get one. It blew the
Ferris wheel over onto the merry-go-round, blew the tents
down and turned trailers and trucks over. There was nothing
left standing but the office trailer and the flat rides.
Carnies were running around with blood running down their
faces while some of the women and kids were crying.
The main force of the tornado hit and was gone in less than
thirty seconds. Now, all that was left of it was a light
drizzle of rain. By then it was daylight.
As I viewed the midway, it looked as though a giant
bulldozer had went through it with its blade down.
Everything was quiet for a few moments. Then I heard someone
calling, "Help, help, help me! My God, someone please help
came from the direction of Joe's show (or used to be show),
across the midway about fifty feet away. I took off in that
direction. All that I could see of the snake show was a
twisted banner line and the tent flat on the ground with one
side pole sticking up.
As I walked toward the pole, I could hear the muffled cries,
much louder at that time. One of the ride boys walked up to
me and asked, "Did you hear that?" I said, "Yeah, it sounds
like there is somebody under the tent."
We lost no time getting the tent off Joe. He was on his back
with the side pole sticking through his belly into the
He looked up at us and said, "What the hell you guys gonna
do, just stand there and look, with your hands in your
pockets all day? Get this damn thing out of me, so I can get
up! I'm tired of laying here on my friggin back!"
I didn't know if it was the right thing to do or not but I
held him down while the ride boy pulled the tent pole out.
In a moment or two, blood gushed out of the opening. I took
off my "T" shirt and stuffed it in the wound to try and stop
the flow of blood knowing that it wouldn't do any good. I
then told the ride boy to run and get the Rescue Squad.
I sat on the ground and took Joe's head in my lap. As I
looked down he looked up at me and said, "I guess that I'll
miss the curtain call this time, Fats." Then he squeezed my
hand and said, "Dry up those tears! Damn it, don't you know
that old faggots never die, they just blow away! This is the
first time in my life that I've had something stuck in me
that I couldn't feel. Take care of my reps, they're yours
now." He squeezed my hand again, then closed his eyes and
went to sleep.
At the time, May was helping Jack's wife straighten out the
things inside their trailer and about a dozen carnies helped
to roll it back over onto its wheels. Luckily, it had no
Later in the day, they took Joe's remains to a local funeral
parlor. May helped me search through his things to see if he
had some relatives that we could contact. We found his
brother's address by checking some old letters. There was
also a telephone number.
I figured that because it was a five year old letter, the
number was worthless but it was the only lead we had, so I
called the number. Long distance told the man that answered
what had happened and then we talked for at least fifteen
minutes. Come to find out, the family had provided a
beautiful plot for each of the family members! The only
problem that remained was transporting his body up to
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We solved the problem by passing
the hat. Even carnies that had been wiped out by the storm,
chipped in and we sent Serpentina, the Snake Lady, back
To be Continued