John Bradshaw Passed Dec. 21st 2008 in Richmond, VA.


BRADSHAW, John O., 61, died December 21, 2008. He is survived by his mother, Oza R. Bradshaw; wife, Elisa Bradshaw; and two daughters. Service will be held Friday, January 2 at 11 a.m. at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 2341 Winterfield Rd., Midlothian, Va. In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to Operation Smile at or call 1-888-OPSMILE.


Memorial Service for John Bradshaw


Click here to read John's Interview on Sideshow World








John Bradshaw, 1945-2008



In a multithreaded life that frayed out Dec. 21, John Bradshaw wove together two disappearing folk traditions. He was a consummate blues guitarist, schooled by the long-gone legends of the music. He was also one of the last of the authentic sideshow talkers, a magician of words who charmed passersby into a carnival world of freaks and wonders, willing and able to eat fire or hammer a long nail up his nose as the professional situation required.


Bradshaw and his nephew, Ron Curry, a longtime sideman and founder of underground jazz and world music group Hotel X, gained a measure of fame in part by opening for old-time fiddler Speedy Tolliver on a WCVE concert broadcast from In Your Ear studios. They also once played a concert heard by perhaps a million people in the Philippines.


Bradshaw’s extraordinary acoustic guitar skills developed during the rich local coffeehouse scene of the 1960s, particularly at the Crossroads, a long-vanished folk and blues venue in the basement of a Franklin Street church. Bradshaw steeped himself in the tradition, seeking out the surviving architects of the music, Son House, Bukka White and Skip James, among others. Bradshaw once brought a Son House record to Son House’s home, Curry recalls, only to find the impoverished musician had no way to play it. So Bradshaw bought him a record player, and remembered the old bluesman listening to his own music and crying.


During Bradshaw’s blues performances, Richmond audiences occasionally got a glimpse of his sideshow talent. He was a well known “talker” — outsiders call them barkers — weaving a web of confidence and hyperbole to draw passersby into carnival attractions. For six seasons, from 1986-91, the Bradshaw Circus of World Curiosities revived a Coney Island, N.Y., tradition with an old-time mix of magic, freaks and human oddities. The star of his Coney Island show was the armless and legless Otis Jordon, aka “Frog Boy,” aka “The World’s Only Human Cigarette Factory” — able to roll and light a cigarette using only his lips.


Bradshaw was not only Jordon’s fast-talking promoter, but also his best friend and caretaker. He shared his family’s seasonal Coney Island apartment with his limbless headliner. 


It has been a long time since blues heard only by the kerosene lamplight of a Delta roadhouse, or that people would line up for the unironic thrill of a traveling freak show featuring the dim illusion of a pretty girl’s head attached to a stuffed spider’s body. Bradshaw brought the shadowy past into the brilliantly lighted present, making himself one of the last of a vanishing breed. He was the genuine article.


Above article is from the Richmond Style - Dec 31, 2008


The following is an excerpt from The World's Only an article by Nick Manhattan


John Bradshaw ran the ten-in-one sideshow that worked the summers there. One of John's performers was Otis Jordan. Otis was billed as "The World's Only Human Cigarette Factory" As John would say in the bally to the crowd gathering outside the sideshow entrance on the boardwalk, "It's amazing folks. Watch him roll a cigarette, light the match and then smoke that cigarette using only the lips of his mouth."


During the off season, John sold Ginsu Knives or something like that. He was probably a good salesman, but he thrived on his sideshow carny life more than anything. He loved bringing them in. The over-the-top hyperbole, winking at the crowd even as you emphatically proclaim, "It's all true, folks!! It's all real!!" He'd take the "slightly dishonest" buck over the so-called honest one any day.


But this presents an incomplete picture of John Bradshaw. To some he may have looked more like an exploiter than promoter of Otis Jordan. But even more than just a promoter, he was Otis's caretaker and close friend, his family away from home.


During the season, Otis lived with John and his family in an apartment they rented in Coney Island. Otis needed someone to take care of him most of the time. He could roll his own cigarette, but there are many things someone with no arms or legs needs help with throughout each day. I've seen a video in which an ignorant interviewer asks Otis how he made a living in the off-season. Straight-faced, Otis answered, "I drive a truck." But in fact, even though Otis had actually outfitted a car he could drive, in the off-season Otis had no income and was completely dependent on friends and family. By the time Otis reached Coney he was 50-some years old and had been around the sideshow block a few times. In less politically correct times he had been billed simply as "The Frog Boy."


One late-summer day in 1991, John was carrying his youngest child up West 12th Street toward the Boardwalk when a stray bullet from somewhere pierced the baby's leg. So after a six season run, "Bradshaw's Circus of World Curiosities" was finished with Coney Island. A short time later Otis died of kidney failure at family's home in Georgia.



JOHN BRADSHAW Unusual is the best way to describe the path of John Bradshaw. John spent much of his career as a sideshow talker, but always found time to play acoustic blues guitar along the way. He was fortunate enough to have spent time with Son House, Bukka White, Elizabeth Cotten and Sleepy John Estes to name a few. He plays 6 and 12 string guitars as well as National Steel guitars.



It has been my pleasure to have share many jackpots with John, he is a great showman and a great man.  John was always happy to share and loved the show.


The last time I visited with him he was enjoying his time doing his jam auctions.  We have lost a good friend, an amazing man and a great showman.  John and his family you are in my prays.


I know he will be on that Great Midway in the sky.


John Robinson

Sideshow World



It was a shock and great sadness that we learn the demise of John Bradshaw.

Throughout his adult life he had been a close friend of Chris Christ, Dick Johnson, and myself. He had been working as a recruiter, and organizer with Chavez in the formation of the farm workers union in California, when he contacted us and came to Gibsonton to join us in the spring of around 1970 (I don't remember the exact year). It was his first experience with a sideshow. A very intelligent man who quickly learned all aspects of the sideshow. He was a fine performer, a very good manager, caring husband and father, who has many friends who will miss him, for his willingness to assume tasks, for his lasting patience, and fine humor. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family. May God
Rest His Soul,

Sincerely,  Dick Johnson - C M Christ - Ward Hall



I'd known John Bradshaw for years before I actually met him face to face, and when I and fellow SHOCKED AND AMAZED! honcho Kathleen Kotcher finally did, it was at a fair south of Richmond. John was running his sideshow-by-way-of-jam-auction at that point, and I learned more about how a show - any show - could be run that afternoon & evening than I'd probably learned in all my years watching shows before or since. I told him then that he was one of the few showmen about whom I could honestly say he could sell you the clothes you were already wearing, but that was John. Some years later, I finally got around to asking him if he'd be willing to come up to Baltimore to my (now-defunct) American Dime Museum and perform, as all the showfolk did for that place, for free. And he drove hours up from Richmond, got stuck in horrible traffic, made it to the show just minutes before he had to be on, and when I thanked him over and over for doing what he'd just done in the spirit of "the show must go on" and for doing it for nothing, to boot, he looked at me and with that huge smile that never seemed to leave his face, told me "I was wondering when you were going to ask me."


Rest easy, John.


James Taylor



John we talked just two weeks ago and I really cant believe you are gone! You will be remembered as a true showman who was always honest caring and always willing to tell stories! You were a great friend to me and I will really miss you!

Kevin Gerrone


I just heard and I can't believe it. John was a super nice man and was willing to share any knowledge he had. When I was a kid, I went to a Sideshow at a fair down south. I had never been in a Sideshow before and I couldn't wait to see the show. I'll never forget seeing Otis Jordan do his Human Cigarette Factory act!!! After the show, I talked to Otis and he literally changed my life forever (he told me, "Son, if I can do this in my condition, You Can Do ANYTHING!")'s why I own the Freakshow now . This show was John Bradshaw's show, so for me, he was an important person who supplied my first Sideshow experience. Not too long ago, I bought Otis Jordan's Human Cigarette Factory banner from John...I also bought his Coney Island Sideshow entrance banner. John couldn't have been cooler about selling them and sharing his stories of the good old days. He had nothing but good things to say about everyone, especially all the folks in Coney Island. I don't know what to say other than we have lost a Great Showman and a Good Man. I hope you Rest In Peace John and I know you are already Framing the BIGGEST CIRCUS SIDESHOW IN THE SPIRIT WORLD!!!!

All my Love to you

Todd Ray



John was the very first outside talker I ever saw. He was out at Coney Island USA in the early-mid 1980's. He also worked the inside. I must have seen the show at least a hundred times as a kid, and I bought a wonder mouse or a Chinese finger trap every time. Not to mention coming up and looking at Madam Twisto in the blade box and paying for that extra added attraction...the one that's not included as part of the show...the feeding of the snake.

I'll never forget his booming voice and Southern drawl. This was so foreign to a kid from Coney.

Rest in Peace.




I was a friend of John's, we met in 2007 on the way to the Sideshow Gathering in Pennsylvania. I got a ride there with him and Bob Blackmar, and on that ride he told story after story of life on the road. As a young sideshow performer myself, it was a very inspirational car ride. I ended up rooming with him at the hotel and there he showed me his old scrap books from the days when he ran his own show, told me stories about Otis Jordan and even gave me one of his old pitch cards and some magic wonder mice on top of that! When he spoke about the old shows and Coney Island, I felt like I was there. I felt like a little kid again, seeing a sideshow for the first time. During the course of the next few days we talked and joked, gossiped about what was going on in the world of sideshow, we talked about Jam Auctions and pitching and his dream of moving to the Philippines and pitching there. He gave me his "seal of approval" that weekend and it has really meant a lot to me.

John had such a colorful history, he was friends with most of the sideshow greats, he knew so much and had so many stories to share. Sadly the stories he didn't get to tell, won't be heard. The ones he did tell though, will be forever remembered by his friends and passed down to other generations.

I will always remember John as a passionate, caring person that had a hunger for the strange side of life. He affected so many people in his lifetime, including myself. He was an inspiration to me and everyone in the business. John Bradshaw, will be remembered as the man that started the Coney Island Sideshow, a show that is now world famous. Without John's contributions to sideshow, who knows what shape the business would be in today, he helped peak the publics interest, therefore giving guys like me a job. The sideshow community thanks him for that.

John will live on in the hearts of showmen, sword swallowers, blockheads, glass eaters and fire breathers, historians and fans of the strange.


His legacy will continue.

Brett Loudermilk



I first met John in about 1975. I went on the road with and worked on his sideshow for two seasons. We stayed friends al this time. I had just talked to John on Friday December 19th and he passed away on Sunday December 21st. All was good with him that Friday. His wife Elsa called me Saturday and said John was in the hospital and wasn't expected to live another day. John's kidney was failing.
John made being on the road fun for his crew everyday. Anybody reading this know how hard it is to be on the road.  We had barbecue's behind the tent from time to time.  It was great. I remember at one spot we were setting up the banner line. John keep spotting it and making us move a pipe back..another one forward. Finely he said. "If any mark doesn't to come in to our (it was always our and never his show) show for a lousy buck because this damn banner line can't get straight than I don't want to do a show for them the stakes in"


John told me this story. I won't add names.  He was working a show and the show had some kid that picked up trash around the tent and was a "gofor" One day before the show open the owner told the kid to do something.  Well the kid didn't move fast enough for the owner, so the owner hit the kid and the kid fell down.

John went over and decked the owner.  Than he stood over the owner and said "If I ever hear or see you hit this kid like that again I'll beat the shit out of you.

Than John took the kid to town and bought him lunch.

That's the kind of guy John was.  If he saw wrong doing he stood up to the plate and fixed it no matter who it was that was being picked on.

I had just sold a shrunken head for him.  He was having some  financial problems.  I don't know what his wife and daughter are going to do. So here is their address and I ask you all to rally to their lost and help them out with anything you might be able to send them. That's right I'm asking for a "ding"  well not a ding but what ever noise a bill makes going into a can...$5.00 $10.00...$20.00 or an old rusty $100.00.... please give what you can.  Lets do this for John.

Elsa Bradshaw
2025 Denton Dr.
Richmond Va. 23235

Come on guys...its Christmas.


Don Driver


Mr. Bradshaw had a way about him that just fascinated others........
He had a Magic about him that very few have........

He could sell anything to anyone.........
Everyone Loved him........
One of the best, nicest and talented showmen ever to grace the midway ........

John Bradshaw you left us way to soon.........

Someone MUST had needed a lift and to be entertained elsewhere........

With much Love,

John Strong


I have pieced together a rough bio of John's sideshow life with a few pictures at:


John Bradshaw joined Ward Hall and Chris Christ's World of Wonder show in Gibsonton FL in around the spring of 1970.  In 1973 Bradshaw worked on Dick Johnson's unit of the Hall/Christ sideshows where Sandra Reed was sword swallower. In 1974 and 1975, he was with Whitey Sutton on Strates with Sandy Reed.


In 1976, Bradshaw started his own 10-in-1 without a sword swallower, but hired Sir Frances Durran/Francis Doran in 1977. Doran worked 2 seasons in 1977 and 1978, until his health began to fail. In 1979 Diane Falk started as Bradshaw's "Bally Girl", learned sword swallowing from Doran, and began filling in as Bradshaw's sword swallower later in 1979 under the stage name "Lady Diane". In Ohio, fat man Big John Conners and his wife Sandra Reed Conners joined Bradshaw's show. Sandy Reed was originally hired as an albino lecturer, not a sword swallower, and she only performed sword swallowing a few times when Frank Doran was ill.  At the Midsouth Fair in Memphis in 1979, Bradshaw added knife thrower Eddie Miller, who had a flashy knife act using butcher knives, and who also filled in as sword swallower on a few occasions. The 1979 Bradshaw Sideshow line-up included 110 feet of banners, most by Snap Wyatt, John Bradshaw as Inside Talker, "Sir Frances Duran" as sword swallower, "Lady Diane" as Bally Girl and part time sword swallower, Otis Jordan, Albert Short, Eddie Miller, Big John Conner as Fat Man, and Sandy Reed Conner as Albino Lecturer and later sword swallower.



Rear - L to R - Emmett the Alligator Man - William Durks, - Knife Thrower - Pricilla the Monkey Girl - John Bradshaw - Albert-Alberta

 Front Row - L to R - Midget - John Connor - Sandra Reed Conner - Whitey Sutton on Strates - circa 1974


Bradshaw also worked with sword swallower Jackie Lynn on Beatty-Cole Bros Circus in 1981. Over Labor Day weekend 1985, Bradshaw was booked as "The One Man Sideshow" at Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island, hired Louisa Jatoba as his snake charmer, and was a huge success. Bradshaw was then booked at Coney Island again for the 1986 season and created "Bradshaw's Circus of World Curiosities", a traditional 10-in-1 sideshow. Diane Falk worked as Bradshaw's sword swallower again in 1989 and 1990 at Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island. Tisha Vudie worked as Bradshaw's sword swallower and Human Pin Cushion at Coney Island in 1991 and in the 1992 Bradshaw road show. Bradshaw left Coney Island in 1991 after his young daughter was shot in the leg by a stray bullet near their home in Far Rockaway, and he took the sideshow banners with him.


In 1996, Bradshaw taught sword swallowing to Natasha Veruschka, and later sold his swords to her.  Bradshaw continued to run a small show on the road for a few years, but retired from sword swallowing.  Bradshaw spent his last days in the intensive care unit at Chippenham Hospital in Richmond VA where he died of kidney failure on December 21, 2008. He is survived by his wife Elsa and a daughter.


Please keep John's family in your thoughts and prayers.  I know Natasha, Todd, and others of you knew him well, and our thoughts and prayers go out to you as well.


If any of you go to the memorial service, please pass on our condolences from the rest of us.


Please let me know if you have any corrections or additions to the above information, or an obituary with more complete information.


Dan  Meyer


Photograph John working his Jam Auction at the Chesterfield VA. County Fair  - courtesy of Brian Ezzelle

Background - Banner painted by Mark Frierson

Background Bally Recording for Otis Jordon by John Bradshaw - ©2008 copyright All rights reserved


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