Friday, April 5, 2013

Step right up for some history, Weird U.S. style!

Lately I've been rewatching a few episodes of The History Channel's Weird U.S. This is a show I can watch and rewatch and never get bored. One of the episodes was about a vacation spot/retirement destination for carnival workers, which is now more of a community. This place is Gibsonton, Florida and it has an interesting history. Here's the Weird U.S. visit to Gibsonton:

A further explanation can be found on the Weird U.S. web site: Gibsonton, Home of the Freaks

The part in that article about "The Lobster Boy" is enough to fuel the plot for an entire movie!

I came late to the Weird U.S. show, probably because I don't have cable. It was one of those fun shows I learned about on YouTube and then bought on DVD. If you haven't watched any of Weird U.S., I really recommend that you do! The tour guides, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, are so funny and are the kind of guys that would be fun to travel with. Unfortunately, not all of the Weird U.S. episodes are online. If you'd like to watch what is up, here's the Weird US YouTube channel:

Featured Weird U.S. Videos on YouTube

I managed to find my DVDs of the show on eBay and Amazon.

Back to the carnival worker's community. It's interesting to think about a place like this. It makes sense that those who were working in a sideshow would want to vacation with other people who would stand out in "regular" crowds. From the looks of things, the town isn't so packed anymore. Most of the people shown seemed nice and happy with their community, and the place seemed everyday in a lot of ways. So long as you stay out of that grumpy diner, Gibsonton looks like a cool town to visit!

I'm not sure if there are sideshow attractions that involve people anymore. The closest I've seen are those tents with a giant lizard inside. Some people say that the sideshows have just moved to reality TV. I think a lot of what was once considered "freakish" isn't all that shocking now.

Nowadays, you can see "The Tattooed Lady" at the grocery store! Even so, I think Ward Hall was right about there still being an interest in sideshows. Even if they're not considered politically correct or overly shocking by today's standards. There's something fascinating about the whole setup. Maybe it's because of the books I've read or the movies I've watched, but sideshows make me picture a mysterious tent in the darkness filled with all kinds of things. Like a hidden world you can only get a glimpse of.

It could be that the sideshow viewers' imaginations fueled a lot of the excitement. If you've ever seen some of the old posters/tarps advertising these shows, you know what I mean. Some of my favorite parts of the Riverview Antique Market in Milwaukee are the giant sideshow advertisements on display. The ads are so big, it looks like they're painted on large sheets. They look a lot like this:

The antique market is housed in a large rehabbed warehouse, so the ceilings are high enough to display these. I wonder how the ads used to be displayed. Perhaps they were tacked on the outside of a tent.

I found a photo of one of these on the Riverview Antique Market web site: Sylvia

I assume she was marketed as "Sylvia, The Big-Footed Girl" or something along those lines. You can see what I mean about imagination being useful. Some of these posters were so wacky, that I have to wonder what was actually seen inside the tent!

In this case, I can actually show you! I just learned about what was seen inside the "Spider Girl" tent while looking for this advertisement. I learned about the illusion from the Deceptology blog. Here's what you would have seen. Do you dare peek behind the curtain?

I bet you can figure out what's going on here. I can only hope the presenters back in the day were as sweet and respectful as this man!

Has anyone seen an actual sideshow in person? Maybe these are still happening somewhere, and I'm just not aware of them.


  1. Such an awesome post, Justine, and this line made me laugh so hard:

    "Nowadays, you can see "The Tattooed Lady" at the grocery store!"

    Yeah, times have definitely changed!

    The carnival workers community made me think of a very nostalgic memory from my childhood. My grandparents lived in a gorgeous Australian coastal town called Port Macquarie and when we went to visit them on vacations, we would go to a fairy tale theme park there called Fantasy Glades. It was created in natural rain forest and although the attractions were probably lame by today's standards, I loved it. I was particularly obsessed with Snow White's cottage, which was a real, little cottage, and Snow White's bedroom was upstairs with a wardrobe full of dresses. I used to dream of that cottage being my playhouse. :)

    Anyway, the other special thing about Fantasy Glades was that it was owned and run by dwarves, in particular, a couple called George and Rosemary Whitaker. There was a wishing well at the park to donate to a charity for "little people". The sight of the little people (who lived in housing adjacent to the park) holding a tiny, dwarf baby is a magical memory for me. I know it may sound bizarre, but it was also really charming.

    After George's death, Rosemary sold the park in the late '80s and it eventually fell into complete disrepair. Your post prompted me to google Fantasy Glades, something I've tried to do many times with little luck, and coincidentally, the land has been purchased and new people are hoping to recreate it. There are finally some old photos of the park floating about online now. Of course, it will never be the same without the little people, but hopefully their legacy will be commemorated now.

    Your post also made me think of 'Something Wicked This Way Comes', and I love the sideshow posters! I'm sure I told you about my mother meeting a "Sideshow Freak", when she was very young, called Princess Ubangi, who was supposedly a "Pygmy Princess".

  2. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Thank you! Haha! Yeah, I recently saw "The Tattooed Lady" at the grocery store with her tattooed husband, so that's why I thought of that place. I realize that nearly everyone has at least one tattoo nowadays, so I'm not exaggerating. They could have been in a sideshow 100 years ago. They had their baby in a shopping cart, and I was struck by the baby's tattoo free skin. It seemed like it should have been wearing some of those little fake tattoo arm sleeves or something!

    I'll have to google Fantasy Glades. It sounds extra cool, being in that natural rainforest setting. Was there a lady dressed as Snow White there too? It does all sound very sweet and charming, like something out of a fairy tale. How nice that someone is fixing the place up again! It's sad when cool old places get abandoned.

    I couldn't help thinking of 'Something Wicked' either! I had to watch posting some of the same pictures again. I realized that I've blogged about circuses and carnivals several times now. Yes, you did tell me about Princess Ubangi! She's memorable. I watched a few YouTube videos of her dancing around and I can picture her in my head now. I'm sure she's memorable to anyone who saw her when they were young!

  3. I always loved the true story of Percilla the Monkey Girl and her husband Emmitt Bejano. They sound like such a sweet couple.

  4. Mantan ~ It really is a sweet story about two people who could see beyond appearances. I was just reading a little more about them here:

    I've seen photos of her in the past, but not her husband. So I just looked up a few now. He looks completely normal from the neck up. That had to be a difficult condition to live with. There are some photos of her online as an older woman, after she started shaving.

    A sweet little drawing and quote from Percilla: