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Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Modern Day Freak Show

The Sideshow used to be the focal point of the Carnival.  Back in the day, human oddities or "freaks" as they liked to be called, were like modern day rock stars.  Famous freaks such as Siamese twins or the legless Johnny Eck entertained millions of people.

Things changed though, as they tend to do.  Modern "sensibilities" ruined things for everyone.  Public opinion shifted and the displaying of people with "disabilities" became distasteful.  This was much to the chagrin of the Freaks themselves, as this shift did nothing but take money out of their pockets.  Ironically, people who sought to "liberate" the freaks turned them from rock stars into paupers. 

The sideshow slowly faded away, but never completely.  There are still a small number of traveling sideshows to be found at state fairs and carnivals, but they are getting hard to find.  In addition, the showing of human oddities is almost completely unheard of except for a few isolated specialty shows.

As far as the traveling sideshows I have been lucky enough to encounter 2 of them.  The first one I encountered was at the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, NC, back in 2008.   Sadly, this sideshow has not returned to the fair since then and I have no information about its current whereabouts or condition.

2 Dollar Admission!  You can't beat that with a stick!

The first thing that draws you into the sideshow is the banners on the outside.  These banners are an art form all by themselves. 

One may hear people complain about the fact that these banners are essentially based on false advertising.  To me part of the beauty of the sideshow is how the spectacular banner translates to whatever is on the inside.  There is a certain code:  If the banner says "Alive", the attraction will be living.  This doesn't mean it will resemble the picture in anyway, but it will be alive.   If the banner says "Real" that simply means that the attraction exists in some form or another.  This particular banner pays off better then most, as their was a genuine 5 legged sheep inside.

They also have an extremely impressive 6 legged cow.

Of course the banner isn't perfectly accurate, as instead of standing on all 6 legs, she stands on 4 and the 2 just sort of hang off her back in a mangled mass.

They also had a 4 horned sheep that made a funny face at me.

There is also a "giant rat", but its actually a capybara, the world's largest rodent, which is more like a giant Guinea Pig.

Of course there are some banners that make claims that that make promises that simply can't be lived up to.

For those of you who were banking on seeing a real mermaid and Satan's actual son, you are in for a slight disappointment.  Here is "Fish Girl", a shriveled up manta ray in a dirty chicken wire box.

And here is the Devil's child, hanging out with his best buddy, the wolf boy......

And let's not forget the Birdman.....

Believe or not, I later found out that these rotted sculptures laying in the dirt at a county fair actually have some history behind them.  They were made by Homer Tate, a famous sideshow gaffe (fake oddity) artist, most famous for creating "The Thing?" in Dragoon, AZ.

The rest of the oddities are presented in this dimly lit box.

The majority of presented somewhat ghoulishly in pickle jars.

But they did have a two headed racoon as well as a two headed rabbit that wasn't in the best shape.

I spent the next two years trying to find another freak show and finally hit another one in 2010 while visiting my parents in Porter County, Indiana.

As you can see, the signage is simply magnificent.  Let's take a look....

Now let's see how these pay off......

They actually did having a living breathing, drooling snorting two-nosed cow.

The turtles were alive too.........Although they weren't exactly "bone crunching terror"......

Sadly, Ziggy and Iggy, the two headed pig seems to have seen better days.....

The rest of "Barnum's Barnyard" is regulated to specimens floating in jars.

There was a two headed cat.......

But I don't think Mickey has much to worry about.....

They also had a preserved human fetus (most likely faked), which were known as "pickled punks" in the business. 

Much like the other freakshow, this one featured "The Devil's Child".

This one was unnecessarily anatomically correct.

They also have their own Capybara posing as a giant rat.

Unfourtanetly, their rat was stuffed.   Oddly, they found the need to doll it up with gold chains and call him Tyrone.  Not exactly what they were going for here, but it seems vaguely racist.

Now, here's an interesting one.....

Red Eyed Louie, the Cyclops Baby.  Here he is show being shot out of a cannon naked.  The real Louie was a little less active, napping quietly next to Tyrone the Giant Rat.

The sideshow also claims to have a Chupacabra.....

However, the creature presented inside is clearly a separate mythological creature:  The Mysterious Assquatch.

 And of course, who could resist the appealing prospect of being flashed by a dwarf.....

Fortunately, the "Evil Dwarf" has been dead for over a hundred years.....

And who can possibly forget the most legendary of all sideshow freaks:  The Fiji Mermaid.....

Of course, the banner may misrepresent Misty's beauty just a tad.....

This freakshow actually had a quite impressive collection of taxidermied freak animals....

That horrifying thing with the one eye is a sweet little lamb, in case you were wondering.......

Sadly, this was the last time I have seen a real traveling sideshow, but I will always have hope that they are still out there delighting and horrifying men, women and children of all ages.

Update:  I found another traveling Freak Show.  Read about it HERE.

The Carpetbagger

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The Carpetbagger

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