Saturday, November 08, 2014

Circus Sideshow, 1951

A while ago I posted some vintage images of Ringling Bros. Circus, circa 1951. Today I have a few additional photos, this time featuring some of the side shows.

I associate side shows with things like bearded ladies, strong men, other exotic oddities. So it surprises me that a group of "Cuban Troubadors" could be found there; although I bet it was those pretty ladies in their daring (for 1951) costumes that attracted so much attention. Throw in some shimmying and singing and you've got solid gold! (Puffy shirt alert).

Here's Señorita Carmen, "Trainer of Serpents". These days you might see some weirdo with his 7-foot boa constrictor (or whatever), but I'm sure that large snakes like this were quite the sensation in middle America 60-some years ago. Carmen looks pretty chill. Don't you love the hand-painted signs behind her?

Here's a better look at the row of amazing folk art signs. "Singalee - Fire Proof Man", "Betty Broadbent - Tatooed Venus", "Gilbert Reichert - World's Tallest Man", "Hawaiian Dancing Girls". Awesome! Be sure to buy a pennant, parasol, or some other doodad/trifle at the souvenir stand.

Nelson Sanches Ruiz was a "Champion top spinner". Centrifugal force is his life! I used to know a spinning top enthusiast, and he could do some amazing things. Whip it behind his back, up in the air, and onto his outstretched palm. Balance a top on a string. Judging by the sign behind Nelson, he could pretty much place a top anywhere you could think of. I'll bet you could buy your own spinning top near by!


Nanook said...


Oh man - the COLORS-!!

With all of these great stage names from which to choose, I'm betting they generated some pretty swell headstone inscriptions. (I wonder if Nelson Sanchez Ruiz is related to Trinidad Ruiz-??)

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Super cool sideshow pics today, Major! I can almost hear Jessica Lange singing David Bowie's "Life On Mars" in a German accent while riding across a stage on a painted plywood rocket.

K. Martinez said...

As a young kid, probably around the age of 10 or 11 I'd spot a poster or flier at the local supermarket announcing that the circus or carnival was coming to town. I'd quickly find the location of the setup and watch the carnies construct their carnival rides or the circus workers setting up their tents and booths before they'd open for the week.

During the setup, some of the circus workers of carnies would talk to me and let me hang out with them during the construction.

I was no Toby Tyler and I didn't run away with the circus, but I'd have some week-long friends who shared their food with me and showed me some of the ins and outs of the things they did on the job. I'd also learn a little about their personal life, probably more than a kid that age should know. Once the operation was up and running, the carnies/circus workers would be too busy to hang out with me and I'd be on my way.

These photos remind me a lot of those childhood experiences. Different style and era, but the same nomadic atmosphere of the traveling shows and entertainment.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I'd like to think all people named Ruiz are related to Trinidad. Hell, I'd like to think that I'M related to him.

TokyoMagic!, I guess that's an "American Horror Story" reference, though I've never watched the show. Seems like many of the people I've asked think it has gone off the rails; maybe that's a good thing!

K. Martinez, that's a pretty amazing story. Even as a little kid we were somehow taught that carnies were weirdos to be feared and avoided. I can't say I have any personal experience though! It has to be a rough life, but perhaps if you are just the right kind of person, it works. But there was always a romance to the idea of running away and traveling the country with all of the quirky folks who chose a life under the Big Top.

Monkey Cage Kurt said...

These shots reminded me of a dream I had way back in 1984 (ish). I was in an Our Gang Comedy. The “gang” was putting on a carnival, the slightly older Spanky was there barking out orders (as always).

The carnival attractions that the gang had created featured the “Barf Booth”, in which you would pay a dollar to look at something so repulsive it would make you barf your guts out (you’d pay a DOLLAR for this). There was also a freak show who’s top billing was a toothless baby. The giant sized poster had the heading “Toothless Baby INCREDIBLE! NOT ONE TOOTH!”

I woke up in the middle of the night laughing my head off. One of my then roommates was screaming at me “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” All I could spit out was “I’ll tell you in the morning”.

True story! It was one of thee most bizarre dreams I ever had. My old friends still remember that night. Anyway, it looked just like these shots, the posters in particular.

Unknown said...

Nelson Sanchez Ruiz was my uncle. It was amazing to find these pics on your blog! Thank you!

Nelson pavón peres said...

Nelson es mi abuelo padre de mi mama por si alguien quiere hablarme de la familia me llamo Nelson pavón peres y mi mama Elizabeth Sánches perez saludos a todo q pueda cer familia