Buster, my brother, was older than me and Dad made him the 'Boy with the Elephant Skin' and to prove his skin was thick and tough, he would dance on broken bottles in his bare feet and walk up a ladder of swords.

As for the gaff of the glass dancing, you take three crates of empty beer bottles, break them into pieces about the side of a half dollar, then put all of the broken glass in a burlap sack and shake the sack back and forth. In doing so, all of the sharp ends of the pieces of glass are dulled by being scrubbed together.

By using a burlap sack, all the fine slivers of glass sift out of the sack, leaving only the clean pieces. Then you dump the gaffed up glass into a box 36 inches by 36 inches, sprinkle a little bit of powdered rosin on the glass, take off your shoes and socks, step in the box and start to dance.

The 'Ladder of Swords' was made out of old Civil War cavalry swords that had their cutting edge ground off and rounded, so that when you step on the sword with your foot parallel to the blade, it's like stepping on a piece of rope. You can step from sword to sword without breaking the skin.  As for me, Dad couldn't figure out anything for me to do in the show at that time, because of my age and my disability.

So, I roamed the lot at will, riding the rides and petting the animals at the Monkey Speedway. That's where they trained monkeys to drive little electric cars around a race track that resembled railroad tracks. Well, in a couple of weeks, the novelty wore off of riding the same old rides and seeing the gaffed up Monkey Speedway.

The carney we were with had eight weeks to play around Philly., showing neighborhood lots and almost each neighborhood had a movie theater that opened at 11am for a matinee.

I always had six bits or more in my pocket because the first thing I did in the morning was to check the shake spots around each ride. These were spots on the ground where the change in the rider's pockets would be most likely to fall. Some mornings, I'd pick up five or six quarters plus a few dimes and nickels. One time I found a watch.

I would tell Mom and Dad I was going to see the matinee show, then get on my scooter (made out of a roller skate and two by fours) and take off to the nearest theater, see the movies and be back home by three or four o'clock.

It so happened, at that time the radio and newspapers were crammed with stories about child molesters, kidnapping and kids that vanished into thin air without a trace.
It was Saturday and the neighborhood theater had been advertising a triple feature program for that day, three westerns, with my favorite cowboy stars, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson and Buck Jones. Naturally, I took off to the movies to catch the matinee.

Well, I stayed and saw the pictures twice. When I finally got back to the carny grounds, it was after dark. As I walked through the front gate, Buster came running toward me with a hot dog in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other, and said, "Boy, just wait till Mom sees you! She's gonna bust your keister, but good! She's had every carny on the lot looking for you, even the fuzz! Where in the hell have you been all day?"

As we walked back to the ten-in-one, I explained about the triple feature program and how come I stayed so long to him.

When Mom seen me, she grabbed me by the arm and banged me up beside my noggin a couple of times saying, "Where in the hell have you been all day and half the night, dammit, with all of us worrying ourselves half to death!"

As I explained how come to Mom, one of the off-duty cops that was on the lot walked up to us and said to Mom, "I see your boy's back, safe and sound, I'll call headquarters and tell them to call off the search."

Well, after the midway closed that night, they dismantled the shows and rides and moved across town to another lot for a big Polish celebration.  Owing to the fact that thousands of people were expected, Dad decided to put Ellen in a single pit show. He had access to several small twenty by thirty tents and it wasn't too much trouble for the fat girl show.

Mom still worrying what to do with me while she was working, decided to let Ellen look after me.

Well, she had me take all my clothes off. Then she put one of her dresses on me, tied a ribbon in my hair, rubbed a little rouge on my cheeks, put some lipstick on my lips and stuck my keister in the fat girl show where Ellen could keep an eye on me. She damn well knew I wouldn't dare go outside in front of all the carnies in that getup.

Well, Ellen, at the end of her lecture, would pass around an empty cigar box asking for donations to see her dance the Charleston and do the splits. She told me if I passed the box, collecting the donations and played the gramaphone for her to dance, she would give me part of the money.

So, I passed the box, wound up the Victrola and set the needle on the record for her to dance. We had been open about an hour when these two 'stewed' Pollocks came in to see the show After Ellen finished her routine, danced and did the splits, the two
drunks started needling me, saying, "You're a cute little fat girl. I'll bet you got a lot of boyfriends. How would you like us to be your boyfriends? Come on, give me a little kiss."

By then I was fed up with their crap and said "I ain't no damn sweet little girl, I'm a boy." One of them said, "A boy! You're telling a lie, little girl."

I said, "Like hell, I am, I'm a boy!" One of them said, "Yeah, how can you prove it?"

My reply was "Give me fifty cents each and I'll show you my boy thing." They each handed me a fifty cent piece and I pulled up my dress and showed them my little worm. Ellen was about to bust her guts holding back the laughter.

Seeing the marks were 'lushed up' and knowing Dad had a half man and half woman in his sideshow, I decided to try and con more money out of them. So I took another shot at them, saying "That ain't all! I got a girl thing, too! Give me another fifty cents and I'll show it to you."

Again, they each gave me a half dollar and I raised the dress, pulled my testicles up as far as I could, and showed them the crease below that looked like a girl thing.

One of them said, "What about that! A real hermaphrodite'." Then they walked out. About a half, hour later, they were back, with five or six of their friends, wanting to see my boy and girl thing. So I kept on collecting the money and flashing my boy and girl thing. About the third day, some of the marks would be standing at the ticket box, wanting to get in to see the hermaphrodite.

I heard Mom and Dad talking one night after the midway closed and they were checking the ticket sales for the day. When they got through checking the gross on the fat girl show, Dad said to Mom, "See there I told you the fat girl show would get some money here and you said it wouldn't be worth the effort to put up the show."

"Ellen's dings must be damn good, too. Fats just bought a BB gun, a three cell flashlight and a fire truck."

For the next two days, Mom watched the marks going in and out of the fat girl show and figured that something was going on inside that she didn't know about. So she got on a chair in back of the tent and peeped over the side wall.

Just as I was flashing, all she could see was my back.  Soon as the marks left, she raised the sidewall and came in, walked over to me and said, "William (she always called me William when she got peeved at me), what in the hell are you showing them friggin' marks anyway?" I answered, "I'm showing them my boy and girl thing, Mom." She said, "I'll boy and girl thing, you," and she drawed back her hand to bat me in the kisser.

Ellen grabbed hold of her arm and said, "Ella (that was my Mom's name), don't be too hasty about scolding Fats!   He's a damn sight smarter than you think."

She showed Mom the ding box with fives, tens and twenties, saying "Take a look at this and we've only been open two hours!"

Seeing all the scratch in the box, the cash register in her head must have started to ring and she said "OK show me your boy and girl thing. I know about your boy thing. I've washed it a zillion times, but I'd like to see that girl thing."

So I upped the dress, pulled up my testicles and showed the crease below. She looked at it for a few moments, then busted out laughing.

Then, as she walked out of the tent, she turned and said with a big grin, "I didn't know that I gave birth to a hermaphrodite. You guys shore got me fixed! Just don't outgross the ten-in-one and make your Dad mad, because you outsmarted him." And she added "Wait till your Dad sees this gig." Well, I kept on showing my boy and girl thing over and over for the rest of the day and night.

To be Continued


Posted here courtesy of Midway Publications - Copyright 1999 William T. Usher All rights reserved


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