2004 Sideshow Gathering Review


By Andrea Witcktell


This is an online review of the Sideshow Gathering that took place on Sept. 1st - 4th, which had many performances by some of the most promising newcomers in the sideshow world, and some special entertainment and lectures from those who have been in the business for years.  Since there was no review on sideshow central for the gathering I decided to try and sit down and write one because it was such a great show.  So here goes.....


Well it was that time of year again. The sounds of the bees buzzing in Wilkes Barre, PA. Oh wait a minute, that wasn’t bees buzzing, it was the couple hundred tattoo guns at the Inkin’ The Valley Tattoo Convention at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in downtown Wilkes Barre! For the last three years the Inkin’ The Valley convention has had a companion, The Sideshow Gathering, which runs the same dates at the tattoo expo in the same hotel.


The “Official” sideshow gathering didn’t start until Friday, Sept. 2nd, however there was a small pre-show party for the entertainers, lecturers, and vendors on Thursday night, Sept. 1st. Because I'm none of the above I can only give you second hand knowledge of the day.  There was food, drinks and great conversation.  People got to catch up on old times and others met new friends. I also heard a film crew from New York was there to film some interviews with entertainers for an up and coming documentary titled “American Carny” by Nick Basile.  


Now we jump to Friday afternoon, the actual start of the sideshow gathering. Many people were in attendance and operating their own vendor booths, such as: James Taylor and Kathleen Kotcher from Shocked and Amazed Magazine, Ward Hall and C.M. Christ from the Hall and Christ World Of Wonders Sideshow, Zamora The Torture King, Toni Lee Sangastino, Banner artist, The Sword Swallowers Association International (headed By Dan Meyer and Roderick Russell), Professor Ouch, Bob Blackmar, The Great Nippulini, Sideshow Bennie, Aye Jaye (who was also the M.C. for the sideshow gathering) plus many other wonderful exhibitors. Of great mention was Col. Helmsley’s Freak Animal Exhibit, which displayed both living and "taxidermied" freaks. The Col. was also gracious enough to lend some of his collectible banners to the gathering for display, adding more life and flavor to the whole event. His live two headed turtle and Siamese twin turtles were a huge hit with gathering patrons. They were truly awesome!  Directly adjacent to Col. Helmsley’s exhibit was the Sideshow Central Raffle Table, operated by Col. Helmsley, his wife, and Ses Carny. This raffle was put on by sideshow central but wasn't actually part of the gathering.  It was only there to help support it. I was a bit confused at first but with the prizes they had on the table it didn't really matter.  Ses Carny was the there as a representative of sideshow central to sell tickets. However he was a very busy man throughout the weekend (he was also on the roster as a performer) and could not watch the table at all times which is why I was told the Col. and his wife watched over the table at some points.


The Sideshow Central Raffle table was set up to display the majority of the items that were up for raffle to raise money for the Sideshow Gathering. My take on it, through talking with Ses was with the ever increasing costs to run the gathering, sideshow central stepped in and offered to help by operating a raffle with items donated by some of the biggest names in the sideshow and carnival world. The raffle was held on the last day of the gathering and was a big hit for those that won.  Unfortunately I wasn't among them.


After visiting sideshow central when I returned home I saw that they had raised nearly $2,000 towards the event.  I also learned that tickets were sold through sideshow central beforehand as well.  The website said that five ticket holders who had purchased their tickets through sideshow central won some great items.  The rest of the winners were in attendance at the sideshow gathering to receive their prizes. At the gathering they announced that the highest ticket sale items were Red Stuart’s sword he used for swallowing, Toni Lee’s Paint Anything You Want Banner, Ward Hall’s original manuscript for “My Very Unusual Friends”, and James Taylor’s Shocked and Amazed package. Many tickets were sold for each of the other items, such as Torture King’s bottle of used needles and rare poster, The Swag Package with items donated from Sideshow Bennie, Ses Carny, The Great Nippulini, Jim Rose, the Crispy Family Carnival, James Mundie’s Wood Cut, The Tin Sideshow Signs by Simqueen, and other items that I can't remember at this point.  (sorry guys)  All in all the items were actually high caliber which wasn't something I expected especially for $5 a ticket.  Personally I was hoping to win Jim Rose's bed of nails.


Now to the performances themselves which is what actually brought me in the door.  Throughout the event, performers came on stage to wow the audience with their amazing talents. Performers included: The Crispy Family Carnival, Sideshow Bennie, The Great Nippulini, The Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow, Charon Henning, Red Stuart, Ses Carny, Zamora The Torture King, Natasha Veruschka, The Pickled Brothers Sideshow, and The Bindlestiffs’.  There was also a  “Big Swallow” where sword swallowers from around the country gathered on stage to attempt setting a new world record for the most sword swallowers, swallowing the largest amount of swords at one time. The big swallow ended up a little short this year, missing the record by 12 swords. However everyone still gave it their all anyway and it was pretty cool to see so many sword swallowers swallowing swords at once.


Each show was unique in its own right. Some were leaning more towards the classic carnival sideshow, while others presented the new wave of sideshow performance. Some highlights from each show (not in any particular order) are: The Crispy Family Carnival presented each act with a bend of humor and some very polished acts, making their show very entertaining. Red Stuart offered onlookers a once in a lifetime chance to watch him swallow a steel sword sheath amongst the many other implements he swallowed during his show. As far as I know it was the last time he will ever swallow the sheath.  He mentioned it was his thirteenth and last time he would do it.  Charon Henning gave everyone an interesting perspective of “warning labels” along with a very entertaining blow off featuring capital punishment. Zamora The Torture King amazed the audience with his mind over matter exhibition including pulling a thread out of his stomach and shoving large meat skewers through his jaw line. I have to admit I did turn away while he actually was in the process of putting them in.  I did open my eyes once they were in though.  Sideshow Bennie took the stage with a montage of humor and some classic routines as well as fairly new ones, receiving wide applause from the ladies when he disrobed from his vest, before showing off his dedication of his art in the form of a bulls eye tattoo on his back for the human dartboard act. Ses Carny gave a mini lecture on his experiences working with World of Wonders during the 2003 carnival season before giving the blow off pitch he used on the show and then proceeded with the human pincushion act and his eye hooks routine. The Great Nippulini shocked onlookers with his incredible talent to lift massive amounts of weight with his nipples alone, ending his show by lifting the 29 inch dwarf “Dragonfly” (who is a member of the Crispy Family Carnival). I have never seen a dwarf lifted up off the ground with someone's nipples so that was quite an experience to say the least!  Natasha Veruschka gave a very interesting and entertaining sword swallowing show including swallowing a lighted neon tube. The Bindlestiffs’ gave a great show, including Keith Nelson swallowing three swords with a sandwich on the end, Stephanie singing some terrific songs, Keith’s Diablo routine, and Stephanie’s hilarious sex safety course. Last but not least The Lucky Devil Circus Sideshow stole the show with the amazing feats of Tyler Fyre, Magic Brian, and Insectivora. Tyler and Magic Brian’s double human blockhead routine was very well accepted by the massive crowd, while Brian’s geek act received many rounds of laughter and applause, but not after Insectivora performed some very interesting acts of her own including her trademark bug eating act, as well as (shall we say…making pirate flags…appear.)


On Sunday morning, The Sideshow Gathering offered a large brunch buffet and the raffle tickets were drawn and winners announced. I was told over 360 raffle tickets sold.  I have to mention that James Taylor from Shocked and Amazed Magazine won Ward Hall’s manuscript.  I'm mentioning it because afterwards I learned it wasn't just luck on his side it was because he purchased around $250 worth of tickets for the item.   Congratulations James! Those who were in attendance and won items from the raffle, bought their tickets and purchased many of them, deciding early on that they were walking away with the item they wanted, at any cost to themselves.


All in all the Sideshow Gathering for 2004 was a huge hit, well received and a very good time.  If you have a chance to make it to next years gathering I wouldn't miss it!


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