Archived Story

Shady carnival business

Published 7:58am Saturday, May 15, 2010

By Elton Camp

At the balloon and dart game, players got three dulled darts and won by popping a single under-inflated balloon. Occasionally, a dart would hit dead center and earn a small kewpie doll.

The carney spotted the sheriff and quickly switched the box of darts for one on the shelf below. They looked identical, but the others were sharp. In case the sheriff was checking for honesty, he was ready

“Hey, Sheriff,” he called loudly. “Come over and play free. Win a prize for your kids.”

The officer departed with three prizes. It was a small price to pay to gain the confidence of the fair goers. As soon as nobody was watching, the man swapped the new box for the old

The freak show featured the two-headed pig, the chicken with four legs, Siamese twin calves and the man with three legs. “All Genuine,” the sign proclaimed. The carnival didn’t reveal that all the freaks, except the man, were stuffed. Animals with such serious defects didn’t live long.

The man with three legs smiled and nodded as people approached. If somebody asked, he cheerfully explained his condition

“I have parts of my twin brother that attached before we were born. This leg at the back is his. We was supposed to be Siamese twins, but he didn’t develop completely.”

The third leg extended almost level from his buttocks. It had an extension of the man’s pants to its knee and dark socks below that. The man demonstrated that he could cause the leg to jump upward. It looked nothing like the painting out front. Nevertheless, onlookers were duly impressed and took a liking to the personable young man

“Son, I feel sorter bad comin’ and lookin’ at y’u like this,” said a middle-aged woman. “I hope hit don’t embarrass y’u.”

“Not a bit,” he replied. “It’s the way I make a living. I’ve done this for years. You’re helping me a lot by buying a ticket. My only worry is if people quit coming. It’d be hard for me to hold a regular job.”

His presence and demeanor blunted possible criticism of the collection of dead animals.

“Well, hit didn’t say the freaks wuz alive, but thet they wuz genuine,” one customer admitted to another as they filed out of the tent. “I got my money’s worth.”

Birdie and Iduma paid to “See the Fat Lady.”  Little Lulu wore a sleeveless red dress that stopped a few inches above her knees. Her arms were massive, especially above the elbows. Her legs were enormous. Triple chins, composed of rolls of fat, made her face appear small. Frizzy, sparse brown hair covered her head. Lulu sweated profusely and smiled weakly if spoken to. She appeared to be miserable.

Away from the games and rides so that it could only be glimpsed, was a red tent with the sign, “Dancers.” Smaller print announced “Men Only.” The “cooch” show began after the main crowd had gone. Its slang name came from the earlier term “hootchy-cootchy.”  A deacon and an alderman pulled hats down and turned up their collars

“I shore hope nobody sees me goin’ in,” the alderman whispered. “I’ve got t’ stand fer reelection next yeer.”

“Hit ain’t none o’ their business,” the deacon muttered. He pulled his hat even lower and glanced around uneasily to see if they were being observed.

Loud music accompanied the scantily clad young women as they danced on the stage. Few minded their lack of talent. One man diverted his eyes when he saw the girl with long, brown hair. She was the age of his daughter and bore a striking resemblance to her. As inconspicuously as possible, he eased away from the leering men and shamefacedly slipped out of the tent.

Although it could exploit, the carnival provided something out of the ordinary to discuss for weeks.

Editor's Picks