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Canada Sideshow Women

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ ‘Canadian Carnival Freaks…’

Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body by Jane Nichols book cover

Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900-1970s

by Jane Nicholas

“This book represents the first in-depth scholarly examination of the freak show in Canada, an institution with deep roots in our popular consciousness. Jane Nicholas has produced a significant addition to our understanding of the history of Canadian entertainment, attitudes towards children, and the social construction of able-bodiedness.”

Keith Walden, Department of History, Trent University

“In Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900−1970s, Jane Nicholas seamlessly weaves together multiple histories: the history of the body, of children and childhood, of the working class family, of the cultural and social history of the carnival and the ‘freak show,’ among a number of others. Meticulously researched and sensitively argued, Nicholas adds immeasurably to our understanding of the central role that marginalized Canadians, particularly those with embodied differences, played in shaping broader ideas of normalcy, social acceptability, productive work, and cultural consumption.”

Mona Gleason, Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia

“Working backwards from the last CNE ‘freak show’ in 1973, Nicholas demonstrates the workings of state and business that made the shows fundamental to a burgeoning modern popular culture − hence consumer culture. She positions the freak show as integral to a ‘modern exhibitionary complex’ focused on the body as spectacle, an innovative approach to the power relations inherent in race, gender, and class, as well as the lesser discussed, but nonetheless critical, categories of age and ability. In this provocative and exciting book, above all a welcome addition to the growing historiography on disability, the author adds much to understandings of the ‘normal’ body as historically contingent, socially defined, and culturally performed.”

Cynthia Comacchio, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University

“Original, careful research combined with insightful analysis makes this book an important contribution to our understanding of popular culture and human variation.”

Robert Bogdan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University

CNE Midway 1920 City of Toronto

AN EXCERPT

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American Circus Circus Photography Sideshow

Ward Hall reflects on “The Greatest Show on Earth”

(Originally published at WLRN.org on Feb 8th, 2017)

This week on Florida Matters we’re talking about the end of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus has a long rich history and a colorful past full of performers who worked under the big top, like retired showman Ward Hall.

Ward Hall was a sideshow manager with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus before the proliferation of household televisions.

“Some people call me ‘the King of the Sideshows‘,” Hall said.

Like many older performers, Hall ran away to join the circus.

Correction: “I didn’t run away to join the circus,” Hall said. “I walked two miles to the circus.”

That was 70-something years ago.

Hall first saw the Ringling circus in 1948. He was 17 years old, managing a sideshow of human oddities with the likes of the Armless Girl, the Boy with Three Legs, Priscilla the Monkey Girl and her husband Emmett the Alligator-Skinned Man.

And then in 1959, a letter came from Ringling. Hall said he’s proud of the work he got to do for the “Greatest Show on Earth” in the 1960s.

“It was the last big big sideshow that was ever done anywhere,” Hall said.

When asked if he could get in touch with his fellow Ringling performers of yesteryear, Ward Hall says it’s about 40 years too late.

“The sword swallower is gone, the bearded lady that we had there — she’s gone,” he said. “The giant, Eddie Carmel is gone, Ward Hall — he’s almost alive, but not really,” he said with a laugh.

Many of those he worked with are buried in a cemetery, Sunset Memory Gardens in Thonotosassa.

There’s a white wrought iron archway that reads “International Independent Showmen’s Garden of Memories.”

It’s where Ward Hall has a plot to be buried. It’s where a lot of his friends and colleagues, some of whom worked with him at Ringling, are buried as well. You won’t find them under their stage names. You’ll find them under their real names.

Hall said that unlike him and his friends, Ringling won’t die.

“I don’t have any idea what it might be, but somebody, somewhere, sometime is going to revive that title,” Hall said.

Listen to the WUSF Broadcast here.

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