Ohio State Fair 1979

 

There is Not the Similarity in the Sideshow Business Today

 

There is not the similarity in sideshows of today as there was when I started in the sideshow biz. I began in the circus when I was 15 as a magician and fire eater, The side show that year had a lady snake charmer, sword box (with ding) Punch and Judy, knife throwing (impalement act) novelty musical act, ventriloquist, and anatomical wonder, fifteen people jig show (seven musicians, two comics, five girl chorus line, one girl doubled as vocalist. I was with that big railroad circus 4 years and then smaller truck shows for several years. Over the years the performance remained about the same.

 

On the small circuses there was no jig show. As you can see the shows were sort of like vaudeville None of the shows I was with in those years (1946 -1951) had a sword swallower, pincushion, or blockhead.

 

I bought my first sideshow mid season 1951 from a defunct carnival. It had several sideshow illusions which I immediately threw away, A bad mistake. Having! no knowledge of what to do with a carnival show, I staggered along for a couple of years. When I finally discovered that it was better to have freaks, I started to prosper, and once C M Christ became my partner in 1965 it became a good operation. My shows became good, with freaks, starting in 1960 when in partnership with Nate Eagles (of midget shows fame) we had the sideshow with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey at Madison Square Gardens N.Y.C. thru 1967. That year we purchased the Jim Stienmetz sideshow and were booked with Goodings Million Dollar midway which at that time had the strongest route of fairs in the U S. (I had been on that carnival in 1955. In the ensuing years Chris and I bought the tide shows off other good showmen who at advanced age were retiring.  Don Hepburn, the tent and some illusions etc from Archie and Mae MacAskills Helles Belles, The rest of their show went to Pete Hennon, Dick Best, Bill Chalks, Pete Notes, Kelly-Seton, and others.

 

Starting in 1967 we began featuring freaks and tried to have a minimum of four in each show. We also always had a sword swallower, fire act. pincushion. and other working acts. We reached our apex in 1981 when we had 12 shows at the Oho State Fair, and at the same time had four other ten in ones and five other grind shows on tour.

 

So few people understand what a huge industry the out door shows once was. Today so many things are called sideshows. The sideshow used to be ONLY the Ten-In-Ones or circus sideshow, In the heyday there wasn't so many rides on the midways and there were over one thousand shows of various kinds at fairs, carnivals and circuses. It is estimated there were at least 400 girl shows in the carnival industry in 1950. Everything from a one girl show to the big elaborate musical revues.

 

Ward Hall
 


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