On August 27th 2009, I stepped back into the 1930's and rode a 1917 ferris wheel, attended a freak show complete with an electric chair and a bed of nails, watched acrobats in a tent and attended a museum of fair artifacts collected from the USA.
The Carnivale Lune Blue, is a painstaking reconstruction of the many travelling fairs and side shows of the 1930's. There was a strongman, Leviticus with a stretchy lionskin and a large handlebar moustache, a woman on stilts, world class acrobats in the Cirque Maroq, and a genuine sword swallower.
The fair itself had a 1917 ferris wheel and an old merry go round from that period. The games had prizes like Kewpie dolls and other games that you would find in the 1930's. The games were equally impossible even back then!
The carnival workers were dressed in period costumes. Most of them were history students who enjoyed their role. I had a chance to visit the exhibits and photographs of carnivals of the past and was fascinated by the sub culture involved and the necessary elements. Each carnival is like a play, there are characters that must be in the play and elements to make up a carnival. This carnival did not have a bearded lady, but it did have a snake show!
The freak show, Carnival Diablo was terrific. The host drank boiling water and mouthed razor blades. The strong man bent a steel bar with his teeth, the sword swallower swallowed a 27" steel sword and the woman who lay on the bed of nails also danced on broken glass. The freak show produced an electric chair from Illinois and the strong man sat in it and took an electrical hit, his head lighting up a flourescent tube for show. It was staged in a canvas tent with rough benches, true to the period.
The Cirque Maroq was breathtaking. It was housed in the original cirque du soleil tent. It was the story of two clowns who found themselves in an all female circus. The female acrobats were exceptional, in particular the german wheel. The strength and coordination required are incredible. We were all spellbound.
After the show, I had a pulled pork sandwich, which was traditional carny fare for that period and took some pictures of the band and the lady on stilts. For about 5 hours, I was in the 1930's escaping from reality and learning about carnivals in that period. It was a time when men like the famous Cuban would poke their eyes out of their sockets and put them back in for show, or when strong men would pull wagons. The carnival had the pole with a huge sledge hammer that you hit. Try as I might, I only reached 1700 out of a possible 2100 points. I did not ring the bell like in the cartoons, but I did do better than a lot of others!
There was a lady who would guess your weight. She was unpopular among women! The painted carnival signs, as in this picture were reproductions of actual posters that would be plastered over the towns. They told of freakish events, of siamese twins, bearded ladies, snake men and so forth. They were colourful, fanciful and in some cases true works of art with their interplay of the themes of light and dark and good and evil.
The 1930's ended for me when I decided to go home and had to negotiate a pitch black trail back to my car. I had left the elephant man, the sword swallower and the strong man behind. A world of wonders indeed!
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