Sideshow Blowoff - Annex


I am interested in finding out some historical information on the sideshow blowoff.  Do you know where it got it's name and when and why it originated?  -  Jeremy of Albany, NY


Jeremy,  as far as the name goes it's mostly sarcasm as in "Blow Them Off."  The true origins of the blowoff or annex are a little sketchy but the goal of most blowoff's was to empty the top to allow a new group of people to be ushered in.  It also created a way to generate additional money.  The blowoff attraction was housed in a partitioned-off area usually at the back end of the top.  Some shows even offered two blowoff's with one at each end.  Inside there would be an act or attraction that wasn't advertised on the outside.


The way it worked back then, and still today in most cases, was once the main show was finished a lecturer would build up the blowoff to get as many people as possible to enter.  At the same time, the talker would turn the tip and refill the house again. There was always a tip being built.


The blowoff was meant to clear the top so the next show could start and at the same time bring in more money.  Such noted lecturers and performers as Jack Woods or Melvin Burkhart were wonderful at this. They would give such a build up, that almost everyone would go into the blowoff.


Usually the blowoff was sexually oriented like the Half and Half but not always. Some of the more popular acts and attractions seen in a blowoff were Pickled Punks, Human Pin Cushion or Alligator Man.  At one point Ward Hall had Schlitze the Pin Head in one of his blowoff's.  In general the blowoff was never as evil as they made it sound though.


As an interesting side note, P.T. Barnumís American Museum in New York City attracted large crowds as it became one of the most poplar museums in New York. As the attendance grew it created a problem because people would take their time viewing all of the exhibits in the museum.  This raised concern for Barnum and his manager due to the fact that the longer the crowd stayed in the museum the less tickets they could sell.


To try and alleviate some of the overcrowding Barnum posted a sign with the word "Egress" painted on it at the top of a stairway which lead down to a door. As the people arrived at this point in the museum they would see the sign and think it was another exhibit.  When they went down the long staircase and through the door they would find themselves back out on the street.


Although this didn't offer any additional money directly like a blowoff does it moved the crowds through the building faster.  This in turn lead to more ticket sales which added to Barnum's purse. - Sideshow World


Some information and assistance provided by Ward Hall & Slim Price


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