Pt 1



Selecting a route for a show can be a difficult and arduous task. There is a weekly newspaper (make that Bible) called the AB (Amusement Business News) and in it one can find ads for all the major carnivals, their routes, and what exactly they are looking to book. Many carnivals still book independent shows and you must select an outfit that will be playing areas you want to play with business arrangements that are agreeable to both parties.

Usually the carnival wants 50-60% of your gross, dings for insurance and RV hook-ups, taxes, and other little charges that add up rapidly. POP (Pay One Price) days are killers in that the public buys a wristband that allows them free access to everything on the Midway. If the independent Grind Show owner is not allowed to sell his tickets independently of this POP he is sunk; kids will be flooding through his show while he is stuck with only a small percentage of the gate based on the tickets he sold on the last regular day (usually a bad week day). Receiving a poor location from the lot manager can also hurt the show and getting stiff competition from a more elaborate Ten-In-One or Gorilla Show next door can lead to veritable ruination.

The jumps between dates can be long and over many miles of bad road. The tear-down usually occurs late at night after closing or early in the morning with no more than 2 1/2 - 3 days in which to get to the next spot. Rain can shut down a carnival completely, and the economy of the town being played is a major factor to be concerned with also.

Many carnivals avoid booking shows because they take up the same space as a ride.


While a kid might ride the Tilt-A-Whirl three times, he will only go to the shows once.


Likewise, most shows can only muster fifty cents a head while rides generate up to several dollars per patron. Many carnival owners believe that audiences today are too sophisticated to be suckered into seeing a headless girl, but the stouter, more traditional showmen are convinced that no carnival is complete without at least one Back-End show.
As the standard Side Show and Grind Shows are being unceremoniously pushed off the dry lots of America, a distinct, unique, and valuable form of outdoor entertainment is being swiftly eradicated. Only the public can revive the interest in the Back-End shows and there is definitely a need for support from the paying audience. Carnivals should be reminded that many patrons frequent the Midways who do not want to go on the rides, but still seek entertainment. There are still people out there who wish to be amazed, chilled, and delighted by the marvels enclosed within the tents and trailers of the show owners. There are still incredible things to be seen in this world and at all costs the tradition and history of the shows must be preserved.

Hopefully, the day will never come when people sit around and trade stories of the way things used to be when the carnival came to town. When the Electric Girl and the Giant Rat could be seen for a half dollar. When Bigfoot, frozen in a block of ice, was displayed for the amusement of the curious and seekers of the unusual. This, truly a vanishing art form, can not be left to become dust on tomorrow's Midway. As showmen move forward, attempting to update their presentations and keep up with a rapidly changing future, I wish them all the luck one man can wish.

God bless them.


The Good 'Ole Days of the 1940s, (notice the Living Head illusion)


All stories are copyrighted Fred Olen Ray and posted here with his express permission,


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