Clyde Beatty Circus meets another dawn in 1956
Rows and rows of delicious discoveries. Circus and carnival. Midways and big tops. Pole wagons down the runs. Girly show facades along Park Avenue Royal American. Ringling canvas sweeping into high tide over Cleveland cement. Strings of glittering Edison bulbs ringing the lot. Freaks and flyers. Hot dog pushers and creepy old wonderful clowns when clowns were true characters. When a kid knew a character from a would be.
Here's your ticket to the best free photo show on earth:
Among a seemingly endless parade of darkroom wonders, I was struck by the image, above, of John Ringling North, slumbering in his private car, the Jomar, in 1953. The year when he, in high heady form (Hartford fire settlement claims finally all paid off), parted ways, fatally, with Art Concello. That sublimely detached air about JRN only adds to his mysterious aura.
Here's a great Foley & Burk wagon I'd seen year after year when the carnival came to play the county fair in Santa Rosa. There's about a couple thousand of these visual gems in Doc's Midway Cookhouse.
This is the Midway Cookhouse of David "Doc" Rivera. And wouldn't you know it -- he's a Gibsonton man, a carnival veteran who would likely, I would like to think, welcome receipt of the Foley & Burk Thimble Theatre fun house, which withers away in brazen neglect at Circus World Museum.
This monumental website find tied in nicely to my listening, only yesterday, to a tape recording I had made of a conversation I had over the telephone with Gene Cardoza, back in 1992, about his days with Foley & Burk, "Best in the West," as it billed itself. The show spent the off season only a few block from where I lived, at the fairgrounds. Into a big building that bloomed with spectacular flower displays during the annual count fair's ten day run, two months later came the great wagons of Foley & Burk to commence their winter hibernation. I practically had them all memorized by heart.
And look at this! -- A Hennies Bros. Shows fun house made of two wagons lined up side by side.
Talking Foley & Burk with Gene Cardoza
Cardoza joined out in 1930. Must have been a kid punk. (On the phone, he sounded the perfect gentleman.) Gene worked on the Ferris wheel, an "Eli 12," he told me, for many years, ending up as Foley & Burk's ride superintendent ... "from poler, to tractor driver, to train master - you doubled in brass."
What did he enjoy the most?
"It was a challenge. You got to put it out to do it. I had great people around me. I had some of the best drunks in the world."
Rails versus asphalt:
"And when they moved to trucks, jeez, I hated that. I miss them dirty old tractors, and working your butt off on that train, and getting them wagons up and down, and making the spot.
On perilous train off-loadings, every wagon's down-the-runs-destiny a riveting suspense drama to me, standing there next to my bike, I recalled to Gene the drama of watching wagons nearly tipping over and off the flats as they were pulled from one to the next ...
"Oh, yes, they don’t fall to the ground. They fall in between the flats, and with their loads on, and you got to jack them up, and screw em around some way, and get em back on ...But the guys, they get to know their wagons, and all wagons have a different touch to them, you know, because they can knock you, oh boy, that tongue can wash you out, if it hits a little rock, a pebble on the runs, on top of the flats. Yep.
There was a little white office wagon, I recalled. There were actually two, he said. "My office wagon was the one that had all the decor on it, and those two would sit side by side up at the head of the midway. I kept my parts and stuff like that in there."
Evolution of a great classic ride
Notice how primitive this Tilt-A-Whirl looks? It's an early 1920s version. All these photos are from Doc's Midway Cookhouse, THANK YOU, Doc.
Let's hope the new Circus World Museum director, Scott O'Donnell , will bring a flash of common sense and a true passion for the preservation of history to Baraboo, the home of fanatical every-last-piece-of-a-lost-circus-wagon-on-earth restoration, even if it means practically building from scratch. I'm praying that Scott will be Judge for a day and grant the Thimble Theatre fun house, now slowly rotting away on Circus Word's infamous Death Row, a reprieve, by virtue of, SUGGESTION! HINT! -- sending it down, no strings attached, to the good folks in Gibsonton. There is where it belongs. There is where a brand new museum of the outdoor show worlds is in the works to go up. There is where, therefore and to wit, I have no doubt it would find the attention it will never get in Ringlingville. There, the public may actually be able to look at it.
I remember Kenny Dodd once telling me that he had far more fun hanging out in Gibsonton than Sarasota. I am gradually coming to realize why. By the way, does Amtrak go there?
Ready for Spec in the 1930s
Who said Art Concello copied these Curtis seat wagons? I think not.
Sig Sautells midway in the late 1880s