Posts Tagged ‘carnival’

Girl to Gorilla

Girl to Gorilla Banner by Fred Johnson. Circa 1940s. Hideaway Antiques, Toronto

The Girl to Gorilla Illusion was one of the top-grossing grind shows on the carnival midway. Sadly, there are few if any working today. If you know of one, let us know! The last G2G that we saw was Jack Constantine’s and it was quite a few years ago. This vintage Girl to Gorilla banner signed by master banner painter Fred Johnson is being offered for sale by Toronto’s Hideaway Antiques. It gives an impressionistic idea of what to expect on the inside.

As the talker on a vintage clip of Harvey Fillmore’s Princess Uraana show posted by YouTube user ZAMBORA57 says, “You’re going to see a beautiful girl change before your eyes very slowly into an ugly male gorilla…From the top of her head to the tips of her toes you’ll see the hair grow. The Ape Girl. The Ape Girl. The Ape Girl. Anything can happen…” The illusion is done with mirrors but when the “gorilla” breaks out of the steel cage, the screaming audience runs out of the tent, attracting a crowd for the next show.


Related posts on ATZ…

August 6, 2012: Art of the Day: Madame Twisto by Marie Roberts

April 18, 2012: Rare & Vintage: A Neon Sword Swallower’s Sideshow Banner

November 4, 2011: Up for Auction: Ringling Bros Circus Side Show Poster

December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike

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Party Poppers

Happy New Year! Champagne Party Poppers at Gristede’s. December 28, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

The sight of packages of champagne party poppers in the supermarket for New Year’s brought me back to my carnival childhood and an essay that I wrote in the 1980s. Originally published in the Boston Review, “The Land of Prizes” is from a work-in-progress titled “Memoirs of a Carny Kid.” Does anyone else remember the Clam Shell Flowers? Happy New Year!

When I was a carny kid, De Cicco’s of Boston was one of the great wholesale houses of the carnival world. They carried hundreds of Oriental novelties including every one of the little “prize-every-times” in my mother’s balloon dart store. Winners in the game could be counted upon to look at the label “Made in Japan” and say, “What a piece of junk!” But I disagreed. I thought the prizes were wonderful stuff, my own private stock of here-today, gone-tomorrow toys.

The De Cicco brothers sold things by the gross, like big-time egg farmers. They sold red, white and blue rosette fans to wave like Fourth of July flags every day of the carnival season, and Daredevil Sam, the parachute man, to launch into the air. They sold pirates’ eye patches and villains’ moustaches, policemen’s badges and sheriffs’ stars, and the straw fingertraps called “Chinese handcuffs.”

They sold enough musical instruments to start a parade of marching bands: bamboo flutes with two or three notes to toot; kazoos to hum a catchy tune into; tin crickets to click like castanets; and guitars and banjos with rubber band strings to strum. And they sold every kind of whistle under the summer sun: leather and paper crescents that, after soaking up every drop of saliva, would stick to the roof of my mouth and let me sing like a Swiss warbler; balloon whistles that I tried to blow up, mostly because the long, drawn-out whine that was heard when the air escaped from them was certain to make my mother say, “why don’t you go out and play on the midway?”; and rubber razzers, imported from Hong Kong, of which my mother would gaily say as she gave them away everywhere in New England,  “Here’s a Bronx cheer – Phuuuuu!”

While the grown-ups were busy buying ten gross of this and twelve gross of that, I had the run of the house. Up one wide aisle and down the next, over dusty wooden floors and along countertops level with my beguiled eyes, I’d browse among trinkets and trick toys that I’d never see anywhere else, not even in those Cape Cod souvenir shops where almost everything came from China and Japan. By the time my mother’s order was ready,  I’d have picked out a slew of things and asked one of the Mr. De Ciccos to write up a bill for me too.

He looked over what I’d chosen: a mailbox bank with its own lock and key, a deck of miniature playing cards, and a handful of polished clam shells sealed with flimsy strips of paper that said those three magic words—“Made in Japan.” I knew that if I placed one in a tall glass of water, then waited until I couldn’t wait longer and went away, I’d come back to find a pink paper flower floating up from the opened shell. I couldn’t say how long it took for this Japanese water lily to blossom: in all the years I bought packages of shells at De Cicco’s, I never saw it happen with my own eyes.

The shells remained as mysterious to me as the party poppers that I shot off like fireworks—Bing! Bang!—whenever there was a lull in carnival business. Town kids scrambled to catch the streamers, as colorful and curly as Christmas ribbons, before they fell softly to the ground. While the cardboard champagne bottle that they’d come in was still smoking, I pulled it apart, anxious to get at the little bits of foreign newspaper that were hidden inside. There were seldom more than two or three elaborately printed symbols on the singed strip of paper, but they had come all the way from the other side of the world and I studied them with deep curiosity. What did they say to me?

I wouldn’t find out until I grew up and traveled to Boston’s sister city—Kyoto, Japan.  There I deciphered my long-lost ideograms in a book called Read Japanese Today. And I practiced my Japanese conversation with coffeeshop acquaintances. In the beginning I couldn’t explain to them why I’d come or, after, why I stayed for more than three years. But now I can tell you: I had come to find a home in the land of prizes, where my heart first opened, as slowly and imperceptively as the clam shell in its glass of water.

Copyright © Tricia Vita


Related posts on ATZ…

September 26, 2012: Poetry from the Terminal Hotel by Charles Chaim Wax

September 29, 2011: Coney Island Poem from the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project

December 8, 2010: Children’s Book Tells Coney Island Carousel Carver’s Story

September 27, 2009: Coney Island 1969 by Edwin Torres: Fave Poem from Parachute Festival

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wooden knockdown clown head

Painted wooden knockdown clown head with fabric dress. The Ron Rakaseder Collection of American Arcade & Carnival Memorabilia Auction Sale, April 15th - 21st, 2012. Boyd Auctions

The Americana collector Ron Rakaseder had a passion for carnival knockdown dolls and wooden ball toss figures from the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries. Once featured on the PBS program “Find!” with the Keno brothers of “Antiques Roadshow,” the Ron Rakaseder Collection of American Arcade & Carnival Memorabilia is now up for auction in an online sale that runs from April 15 through April 21. Boyd Auctions’ illustrated catalogue of more than 100 lots is already online.

We’re fond of hand-painted punks and targets, which conjure up memories of a now vanished time when homemade games were still in play. Auctions of this type of material typically catch our eye, yet we’ve never seen such an array of different styles and kinds of punks. Some of the rarest items are historical artifacts that would be considered politically incorrect or offensive by today’s standards. The Rakaseder collection encompasses not only whimsical cats and dolls, but hostile depictions of Hitler and Hirohito, and racial or ethnic caricatures.

Large carnival cat

Howard the Coward, Large Carnival Cat., painted canvas on wood. The Ron Rakaseder Collection of American Arcade & Carnival Memorabilia Auction Sale, April 15th - 21st, 2012. Boyd Auctions

The earliest dolls are carved wooden heads with fabric dresses while the later ones are hand-painted canvas filled with sawdust or straw and edged with lamb’s wool. Some of the lots are signed by the doll maker: A. Kuntz of Leonia, New Jersey; Cooke of Jersey City and Adams of Philadelphia. Other highlights of the sale are “Hit the Dodger” and “Look Who’s Here” knockdown carnival games with black face targets; a complete milk bottle game with “Dr. Nut” crate, two balls, 4 stone bottles and 2 metal bottles; carved and painted wooden heads; and vintage throwing balls stitched together like baseballs or made from wrapped string.

The auction will be held online at www.boydauctions.com from April 15th until April 21st, 2012. This will be the first online auction held by Boyd Auctions of Eliot, Maine.

Knockdown heads politically incorrect

Knockdown heads, politically incorrect satire, painted canvas on wooden bases. The Ron Rakaseder Collection of American Arcade & Carnival Memorabilia Auction Sale, April 15th - 21st, 2012. Boyd Auctions


Related posts on ATZ…

March 23, 2012: Up for Auction: Coney Island Parachutist Shooting Gallery Target

February 22, 2012: Rare & Vintage: 1930s Tin Litho Bumper Car Wind-Up Toy

November 11, 2011: Up for Auction: Rack of Vintage Carnival Knockdown Dolls

September 28, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Auction of French Fairground Art

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Amusement Park Opening Soon

Steeplechase the Fun Place Amusement Park Opening Soon. Photo © Jim McDonnell. All rights Reserved

On Sunday, a sign appeared on the fence at the Thor Equities lot on Stillwell Avenue leased to the BK Festival announcing the opening of “Steeplechase Amusement Park.” We’ve known for several weeks that rides and amusements were planned for the former flea market this summer, but details were pending.

Will McCarthy, event director of the BK festival, tells ATZ that the flea market didn’t mesh with the Coney Island location and this season the BK Festival will bring in rides and amusements in addition to a smaller number of vendors. The flea market is expected to continue until the rides debut in May. Among the old school carnival flat rides confirmed for the event are a Himalaya, Ring of Fire, Trabant and Cakewalk. There will be also be a climbing wall, McCarthy said. Additional rides and amusements will be announced soon. The BK Festival’s partners went to the carnival convention in Gibsonton, Florida, last month to recruit ride operators for Coney Island.

Why did they choose the name Steeplechase Park? “We want to bring back a lot of things that used to be on the property,” says McCarthy. “It’s a tribute to Steeplechase Park.”


Steeplechase Park Sign Already Defaced. © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

And why not? Coney Island’s three grand amusement parks of the early 20th century were Steeplechase, Dreamland and Luna Park, and the names of the last two are already taken. When Joe Sitt brought carnivals to his property in the summers leading up to the 2009 rezoning, he called it Dreamland Amusement Park. Zamperla named their park after Thompson and Dundy’s Luna Park. Although the new parks bear very little resemblance to the originals, the familiar names evoke memories and exert a powerful pull. We’re just happy the BK Festival, which has a three-year lease, will not be a flea market this summer. We wish them well. Evidently one person wasn’t thrilled with this iteration of the Funny Face. The sign, which has a couple of unfortunate misspellings, was almost immediately defaced.

The park will be the third Steeplechase. In 1967, Norman Kaufman leased part of the Tilyou’s Steeplechase site from Fred Trump and called his park Steeplechase Park, according to Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found. The Jumbo Jet, Cortina, Bumper Cars, Go Karts, Batting Cages and a Miniature Golf Course were among Kaufman’s attractions over the years. Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City was on this piece of land until he was evicted by Thor Equities in 2007.

Club Atlantis

Cha Cha's Club Atlantis Opening Soon. Photo © Magical Theme Parks. All Rights Reserved

Another sign on the fence announced “Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis Opening Soon,” setting the stage for two clubs with the same name. Cha Cha, one of the Coney Island 8 evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla, is opening a restaurant on Surf Avenue as well as a reincarnation of his Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis. His former Boardwalk location, which will become Tom’s Restaurant, was the site of the original Club Atlantis. Across the way, the former Steve’s Grill House and Beer Island are set to become Zamperla’s Club Atlantis. Last month, Zamperla CEO Valerio Ferrari told the NY Post that a new beach bar called Club Atlantis would offer beer, wine and dancing.


Related posts on ATZ…

April 2, 2012: BK Festival’s 1st Amusement Rides Arrive in Coney Island

November 15, 2011: Coney Island 2012: What’s New on the Boardwalk

May 16, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Employees at Luna Park Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE: See post for 2015 season here: “Coney Island Amusement Park Jobs from Entry Level to Managerial Up for Grabs,” February 22, 2015

Running away with the carnival is easy but sticking with it through the end of the season is hard work. Once upon a time it was a rite of passage for American kids who wanted to see the world beyond their hometowns. Nowadays, the amusement industry still recruits high-school grads and college students, as well as retirees and others with merry-go-round memories and itchy feet. If you’d like to work in Coney Island or travel across the country with a carnival, now is the time of year to apply for a job.

Next week, Central Amusement International, operator of Coney Island’s Luna Park and Scream Zone, and Nathan’s Famous, together with the Coney Island Development Corporation, will begin recruiting for seasonal positions. “This is a unique opportunity to become a part of ‘The One and Only Coney’ by joining the team of dedicated employees that make Coney Island an entertainment destination worldwide,” says the CIDC event flyer for the upcoming screenings. (Update: If you are viewing this post in 2014, check out this season’s job information at “A Head Start on Summer Jobs in Coney Island”

The job screenings are February 28, March 1, April 24 and April 26, 2012 from 12 noon till 6 pm at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ MCU Park, 1904 Surf Avenue in Coney Island. In past years, nearly a thousand people have shown up on a single day, so we recommend getting there early. Qualified candidates, who must be 18 years of age or older, will be referred for an interview. Seasonal jobs include Ride and Game Operators, Food and Beverage Service, Park Service, Customer Service/Retail Sales and Ticket Sales Associates/Cashiers.

Lunatic Dance Team, Luna Park Coney Island. July 15, 2011. Photo © Jim McDonnell. All Rights Reserved.

If you’re reading this after the screening events have taken place or can’t make it, visit the Career Opportunities pages at Nathan’s Famous and Luna Park and also check Craigslist. Luna Park currently has an ad on Craigslist for dancers and performers for the Lunatic Promotion Team, which pays $10 per hour. According to the ad, “the team will attend offsite promotions to inform new guests about the park and all the amazing things Coney Island has to offer. The second task will be to handle on-site events, promotions, photo opportunities and guests experience surveys.” Performers, including singers, dancers and DJs, will take part in the Cyclone roller coaster’s 85th birthday celebration and Coney Island’s first end of the summer concert.

Game operator

Game operator with North American Midway Entertainment. Via Facebook.com/Namidway

A dozen years ago, homesick for the midways of my carnival childhood, I went on the road with S & S Amusements, touring the Pennsylvania fairs. Since then, I’ve worked as a game agent with Wade Shows at New York City’s “Big A” Fair, the Delaware State Fair, the Michigan State Fair and the Central Florida Fair, and on Coney Island’s Jones Walk. One advantage to working in Coney is being able to sleep in my apartment at night, though when I got home from being on the road all summer it took a bit of getting used to having townhouses across the way instead of a Tilt-A-Whirl.

“The carnival business, which supports America’s state and sounty fairs, festivals and community events, needs seasonal workers who are willing to travel, work nights, weekends and Holidays,” Bob Johnson, President of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association tells ATZ. A look at the websites of OABA member carnivals shows that these carnivals are hiring ride operators and attendants, food and game agents, maintenance, electricians and welders. “Weekly pay is based on State and Federal minimum wage rates, and other State regulations, such as overtime pay,” notes Johnson “Over 5 million seasonal workers support this industry and many come back year after year as they love to travel and entertain over 300 million patrons who visit the carnival midways.”

North American Midway Entertainment

Ride operators with North American Midway Entertainment. Via Facebook.com/Namidway

If the idea of traveling to 20 states and 4 Canadian provinces, including 10 of the top 50 fairs in North America is appealing, then you may want to check out North American Midway Entertainment’s Careers page.

ATZ talked with Ed Dame, Director of Operations for NAME, “the world’s largest traveling outdoor amusement park,” about opportunities with his company. “Eighty percent of our employees are locals,” he said. “We advertise in newspapers and state workforce agencies.” The carnival company has an Employee Appreciation Program, which rewards workers with gift certificates, iPads and computers.

Group activities include day trips to Major League baseball games, Banff, Niagara Falls and New York City, as well as BBQs, bowling nights and jamborees. Among the fairs played by NAME are The Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts, Toronto’s CNE, the Calgary Stampede, Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo and State Fairs in Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.


Related posts on ATZ…

January 10, 2014: A Head Start on Summer Jobs in Coney Island

February 2, 2010: Traveler: North American Midway’s Giant Vertical Swing at Super Bowl!

August 16, 2009: Coney Island Carnival Games: My Photo Album

January 26, 2010: Scoop: Zamperla’s $24M Coney Island Park to be Named Luna Park!

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Earl Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler

Last week, ATZ learned the sad news via a message about a new Facebook Page “Remember and Honor Earl ‘Butch’ Butler” that the owner of Butler Amusements, the West Coast’s largest carnival company, died on December 21. We first became acquainted with Butch Butler as a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business in 2004 and picked up the conversation again in 2009, when Butch sent a few rides to our part of the world — Coney Island. We found him to be a great interview and a class act. His intelligence and generosity of spirit will be missed.

Butch Butler served as President of Showfolks of America, Showmen’s League of America, and Pacific Coast Showmen’s League. Butler Amusements, whose motto is “Cleanest Show in the West,” was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association in 2005. The fact that Butch passed during the holiday season and his portrait is enshrined on the show’s carousel at San Jose’s Winter Wonderland reminded us of his love of Christmas.

For a 2005 AB story about business opportunities in the winter months, Butch spoke enthusiastically about the Christmas Wonderland in San Jose, where he made his home, and how the event had grown from three rides and a popcorn trailer to 18 rides and wreath-trimmed Giant Wheel. He told us that before the festival, he had four Christmas tree lots replete with rides and had even set up a carnival on the rooftop of a now-defunct department store. “There’s something about me that can’t turn off what I do. I like to be part of the entertainment package for the community,” Butler said.


Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island, June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“He always compared the night time lights of his carnival midway to a brightly decorated house during the Christmas season,” Andrea Owen, marketing director of Butler Amusements, tells ATZ. “Christmas was Butch’s favorite time of year. Time spent with family was most special to him. He was such a generous loving man who made everyone around him feel like part of his family, he took care of so many.”

According to a bio released by the family, Earl “Butch” Butler was born in 1942 in Austin, Minnesota. In 1955 his parents started operating game concessions at various weekend events sparking his interest in the carnival industry. The sale of the family grocery store funded Butler Amusements’ first ride – a Tilt-A-Whirl – and the new show made its debut at a California shopping center in 1970. That winter the Butlers signed a contract for their very first fair, the Redwood Empire Fair in Ukiah, which the show still plays.

Today Butler Amusements has more than 135 rides and is the carnival provider for over 120 different events. The California State Fair, Big Fresno Fair, Evergreen Washington State Fair and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs are among the company’s major fair contracts.

Neverland Bumper Cars

The famed Neverland Ranch Bumper Cars, owned by Butler Amusements, were permanently installed at Cal Expo for the California State Fair in July 2011. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements.

In 2009, Butch Butler sent four rides to Coney Island, including Michael Jackson’s Dragon Wagon, one of five rides purchased from Neverland Ranch. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park on the Astroland site, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore? He told us that he sent the rides to “test market” Coney Island at the urging of his old friend John Strong, whose sideshow had been operating on Sitt’s property since April. (“Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch,” ATZ, June 30, 2009)

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch brought to Coney Island by Butler Amusements. May 30, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“John grew up on our show,” said Butler, “but has since gone off on his own. He said, ‘you’ve got to come out and see this.'” Although Butler’s strong fair route precluded sending more rides for the summer, he expected to put kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents for the Christmas season. But Butch Butler’s Coney Island Christmas was not to be. Thor CEO Joe Sitt, whom the NY Post previously called “The Grinch Who Stole Coney Island” for a Christmas Eve 2008 lockout, abruptly closed down Dreamland Park before Labor Day while Flea by the Sea flopped. Butler’s Dragon Wagon, Star Dancer, Carousel and Kids Zone returned to California and continue to travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Butch Butler’s entire family, including his four daughters and their husbands, and his son, are involved in the operation of the company. As one of the comments on the Facebook page says, “Great showman, Amazing father. His legacy will live on!” The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association Scholarship Fund or Showfolks of America Scholarship Fund. Butler’s funeral will be held at St. Christopher’s Church in San Jose on January 3, 2012. Details are available on the OABA’s blog.

Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler


Related posts on ATZ…

August 26, 2009: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ride for Sale in Coney Island!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

June 30, 2009: Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

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Not for Junior

Currently up for sale on eBay, these hand-painted, text-only signs for a carnival girl show continue to exert a powerful lure, just as they did on the midway in the 1940s. “NOT FOR…Junior” “Intimate SEXY! “It Tells ALL!” “It Shows ALL!” “Adults ONLY…”

La FemmeA seller in Texas rescued the trio of tantalizing signs from an old show trailer, where they were stored for more than thirty years. “This is a must for any collector of carnival or sideshow memorabilia,” writes eBay seller gm3320 in his description. “These signs were a great ‘come on’ of what was inside. The show was never as risque as the signs described. There will not be any more of these Traveling Girly Sideshows like in the early days.” His asking price is $1,495 or best offer. The dimensions are 48 inches wide by 60 inches high.

The wooden signboards are akin to word banners, one of our fave forms of carny advertisements. Based on the text, ATZ’s best guess is that “La Femme” was probably what was called a “posing show.” Looking through old issues of The Billboard, we discovered that a “La Femme” Posing Show managed by Jack Norman was actually part of the lineup of Hennie’s Brothers Shows 1948 season!

It Tells AllThe show featured a talker, two ticket sellers and four performers. Ads like these were plentiful too: “WANTED— GIRLS FOR POSING SHOW Must Be Young and Attractive (experience not necessary)” and “Have complete outfit for Posing Show, will furnish to a capable manager that has people and can get money with same.”

The job required the girls to strike poses reminiscent of famous paintings or models in an artist’s studio. The phrase “posing show” first caught my ear as a carny kid in the 1960s, though the Sunday school outfits that my concessionaire parents traveled with didn’t have girl shows or posing shows.

At night when the grownups cut up jackpots about carnival days gone by, my mother had a story about how her first husband had helped Zorima, Queen of the Nudists’ husband frame a posing show. I asked, ‘what’s that?’ Mom said they put up sheets and the girls would pose behind the curtains.

Living TruthWhen I pestered her for details, Mom would say “Zorima was a beautiful girl,” but that she’d never been inside the show and didn’t know what they did. “You don’t want to tell me,” I complained and we’d argue. By then I was a teenager. “Tricia, I’m telling you the truth,” my mother would say. “We didn’t go in the shows. We were busy working our joints.” Clothespin Pitch. Devil’s Bowling Alley. Guess Your Name, Age, Weight and Shoe Size.

As for the beautiful Zorima, she must have have been an imitator of the original Queen Zorima, whose nudist show was the sensation of four world’s fairs, including the 1935-36 California Pacific Exposition and the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.


UPDATE November 23, 2011, 1:40 pm

Many thanks to Johnny Meah, master sideshow banner painter and friend going back to the little New England midways of our childhood, for the following update on Posing Shows. It Tells ALL! After writing this post, ATZ sent him a note: “Came across this on eBay and thought you might enjoy seeing it. I imagine that you painted some of these too. Would love to hear your comment.” Visit Johnny Meah’s website- The Czar of the Bizarre– for news, art, prose, and to download a font in his idiosyncratic handwriting style.


In the heyday of backend shows with carnivals, the female pulchritude dept. fell into four categories : The white revue, the black revue, both of which were tented burlesque shows with a band, a comic, sometimes a variety act, a chorus line and two or three feature strippers. Next was the cootch show, strictly strippers usually working to recorded music. And the posing show—-as the title implies, girls posing behind a gauze or cheesecloth curtain, either nude or as close to it as the local law would permit. The blowoff,(added attraction for another fee), would be very simple—-the curtain was raised!

In many cases these shows were operated by the same person who operated the cootch show and were utilitarian masterpieces for the operator as they could use the same girls for both shows, running them back and forth between the two shows. When legal porn theaters came in it took its toll on all of these shows, the first casualty being the posing show. Seeing a statue-still girl standing behind a gauze curtain suddenly wasn’t very exciting.

The posing show became extinct and remained so for many years until one year two operators on Royal American Shows, the biggest railroad carnival of the era, decided, for God knows what reason, to resurrect the idea. The show was titled Girl World, themed to “girls of all Nations” who appeared behind the obligatory gauze curtain on a revolving stage with appropriate ethnic music. The show was not only a financial disaster but a mechanical monstrosity as well. The front had a triple cantilevered top sign, the top of which had a painting of a girl sitting on a globe of the world. It was so high that even on a mildly breezy day they had to have a guy seated on the roof of the wagon to lower it in sections the moment the wind picked up. Towards the end of the season, to salvage some of the money dumped into it, it became—–what else—–a cootch show.

For the most part, posing shows had silhouettes of girls painted on the front panels, below which hung “bally boards” bearing slogans like RACEY, SPICEY, NAUGHTY, EXOTIC, RISQUE, etc. These same worn out slogans also appeared on most cootch show panels. One day, tired of the repetitiousness of these slogans,I painted, “SCINTILATING.” The owner came out on the midway, looked at it and said, “What the hell does THAT mean ?!” I painted it out and replaced it with “EXOTIC”.


Related posts on ATZ...

November 11, 2011: Up for Auction: Rack of Vintage Carnival Knockdown Dolls

May 8, 2011: Up for Auction: Sideshow Banners by Johnny Meah

March 12, 2011: Signage: Fresh Crispy Popcorn, Candy Caramel Apples

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

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