Before we go too far, let's get one thing straight. I flat out love the old Circus Side Shows. Nothing would make me happier than to visit a carnival or fair with a handful of back-end shows scattered around. I am still tickled pink to line up to see some poor girl born with a turtle's body or a curvaceous centerfold who has Isomehow ost her head and still manages to live through the miracle of science - made all the more amazing by the fact that this incredibly sophisticated medical equipment can be easily housed inside the confines of a small tent!
You say you have a full-grown cow with six legs? I'm right there, ready to charge inside with some loose pocket change clutched in my fist.
The problem today is not the shows themselves, it's the almost total lack of them. Today the Side Show or Back-End Show has almost completely disappeared, clearing the way for the multitudes of rides and games that are "considered" to be the lifeblood of the modern day carnival. Where once they were legion, now one has to actively seek out the few remaining Shows on the various carnivals. Like the Drive-In movies theaters, Grind Shows are slowly vanishing from American culture. This sort of extinction is simply not acceptable to the many fans of this type of outdoor showmanship, but how to combat it still remains a mystery.
Many carnival owners still cling to the term "Show" to describe their operations and they go one better by self-labeling themselves "Showmen". Yet a quick visit to most of these "shows" reveal neither a show or any showmanship. Perhaps we've begun to accept that a lot full of rides, games and grab-joints (fast food stands) constitutes a show of some kind. This, clearly, was not the case in the past.
One quick look through Joe McKennon excellent books, A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE CARNIVAL (volumes I -III), will convince anyone that things have gone mighty far askew since the old days of outdoor showmanship. Carnivals used to feature only a small handful of rides, (much harder to come by then because they were hand-produced) but the shows stretched out for miles. Shows of every kind and nature used to ring the carnival, bringing almost every type of live and not-so-alive entertainment to the hungry masses.
When motion pictures, radio and television did not reign as kings of the quick entertainment fix, it fell to the traveling carnivals and circuses to supply that much needed form of relaxation, amusement, and amazement.


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


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