The Sword Swallower & the Fat Man


When we produced the big sideshow for Ringling in 1973, we wanted a fat man and fat lady. Joann Winters from upstate New York had been in one of our shows so we brought her to the Washington, D.C. circus. Billed as Jolly Dolly, she had a pretty baby face. She didn't weight all that much, but because she was short, she looked good, had a pleasing personality, and was pleasant to work with. However, she seemed to keep losing weight. Finally, when a customer walked up to her and asked her where the fat girl was, it was decided to transfer her to the ticket department.
Her fat man partner on stage was Harold Spohn, also known as Big Jim. In his lecture, he claimed to have been a "fessional" wrestler. However, I think that was a figment of his imagination. Harold was most amiable. One year he spent the winter as my house guest. By the next winter, he was the guest of Dick and Mavis Johnson, who operated some of our shows. Dick had converted a building on his property which had at one time been part of an egg company, into a
comfortable apartment. I think Harold missed the fine food prepared by Mary, my cook at my house. One day he despair, he stated, referring to his apartment, "My mother said if I stayed in this business I'd end up picking shit with the chickens".
Harold had a heart attack when the show was playing Canfield, Ohio. The hospital in Youngstown reported his weight was eight hundred and twenty pounds.
While on our show, he met and married Sandra Reed, an albino girl who learned sword swallowing. She became one of the best. One winter when Chris and I were in Rome, the city was posted with thousands of posters advertising a theatrical production.
The posters pictured a reverse negative photo which had been taken of Sandra swallowing a sword by the renowned photographer Diane Arbus. The photo had nothing to do with the play. It only proves again what a small world we inhabit.
Sandra and her sister Doreen, who was also an albino, joined our show when it was at Henrietta, New York. They worked out so well, that the next year we also employed their sister Rita, performing with the illusionist, their mother, step-brother and his wife on ticket sales. All have since passed away except for Rita, who moved to Arizona and Sandra who has her son with her at her home south of Tampa, Florida. When Harold died, Sandra quit and even a lucrative movie contract was no enticement to her.


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