Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fair Play

c. David Grim (taken 7/4/11)

I don't have any specific overnight trips on my itinerary this summer, I've certainly made the effort to make the most of my leisure time. Yesterday I made my second visit to the Big Butler Fair in two days. Advertised as the largest in Western Pennsylvania, the fair provides an assortment of traditional offerings.

I really wanted my son to experience this phenomenon before it's gone forever. Certainly these shindigs are still well-attended, but in this fast-changing world nothing is a certainty. Kids today seem much more interested in playing video games online against their friends than milling about the fairgrounds on the edge of town. And I do think that E. enjoyed himself. In the petting zoo, he'd run up and touch the animals and shrink back. I don't think that he particularly loves animals, but he does like to challenge himself.

He also likes the duck pond, pizza, and ice cream, and he sampled all of those. But I hope the highlight of his trip (besides riding on Daddy's shoulders, of course) was the sideshow. I was "shocked and amazed" to find this attraction off the midway, with its large banners advertising the wonders inside the tent. There was a bally platform, a talker, and a gathering tip. Awesome!- even more so because it was unexpected. This show is owned by Ward Hall, and is one of the last traveling side shows in the United States. I was positively pleased to discover it so close to home.

Upon entrance, the onlooker encounters a series of museum style cases (looking a bit rough from the road, no doubt) with wax mock-ups of some of the coolest human oddities ever displayed- Grace McDaniels the "Mule-faced woman", Percilla the Monkey Girl, Johnny Eck, and (of course) John Merrick. There was also an assortment of furry-friend freaks including an array of two-headed mammals.

Obviously the main draw would be the performing acts, of which there were a number of in this particular grind show. The fire-eating hottie, the "elderly" sword swallower clad in a kilt, and the buxom broad with a bullwhip were all featured. It was good wholesome fun for me and my son. And the BEST part of all? They let me take LOTS of pictures, and even catered their performances to my camera. You just can't ask for that type of individualized attention from a Playstation (OK... well maybe that's not quite accurate, but you know what I mean).

Finally there wasn't just one, BUT TWO (!) Bozos to knock into their tanks. One was apparently on the AAA circuit, but the provocateur just inside the entrance of the West Gate (where we entered) was definitely a professional. He was more low-key than the one I saw as a kid (and the one Gary Busey seemed to model in Carny), but he had a great goofy little laugh, and a bit more edge than the young guy down the midway.

I enjoyed everything so much with E. that I felt compelled to return the next day with a friend for the Demolition Derby. While seating was less than desirable in the hot sun, it was an essential piece of Americana not to be missed and I wouldn't have been able to resist its pull, even if I had meant to.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting commentary. I don't recall taking my boys to a sideshow when they were young, though that might have been a time period when sideshows had gone out of favor. I do know that when I was young, I didn't miss a fair without being sucked in (Nah, it was totally voluntary) to one. Some were better than others, but there was always something interesting to see. Back in the 60s, you could still see pin-headed people and folks without limbs. I certainly do recall the boys were fascinated by the water dunk tank's Bozo. One of them used to get very annoyed at the remarks, and threw that ball in an attempt to avenge the crowd.

    Oh, the memories of the fair. I wonder if E's old enough to retain this first exposure as he gets older. Then again, I doubt that it will be his last time at a sideshow.