Coney Island USA Performing Arts Sideshow Story Teller Writer

Congress of Curious Peoples – Hall of Fame Inductee Ward Hall

Ward Hall was inducted into the Coney Island USA “Hall of Fame” last year at the Annual Conference of Curious Peoples.

“The Conference of Curious Peoples” was scheduled for this year but ‘Cancelled’ due to the Coronavirus Pandemic!

Ward Hall was titled the King of the Sideshow for a good reason. He kept his show going for many years.

For more information on Ward Hall, you can read this great book by Tim O’Brien – “Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow”.

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American Circus Circus Photography Sideshow

Ward Hall reflects on “The Greatest Show on Earth”

(Originally published at 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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Excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s book “Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow”

WARD HALL – The Official Biography by Tim O’Brien

I attended the ‘launch party‘ for this book at the ‘Morbid Anatomy Museum‘.

I ask Tim if he would be so kind to share some of the wonderful text with my readers. He agreed!

Ward Hall biography by Tim O'Brien

Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow
“Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!” is the first-ever biography of the man who has helped shape the American Circus Sideshow into what it has become today.
Ward has worked with monkey girls, half-people, fat men, sword swallowers, fire eaters, giants, colossal snakes, huge rats and diminutive horses. In addition to owning dozens of sideshow and circuses during his long career, Ward has written four books, four musical stage productions, has appeared in seven movies, and more than 100 videos and TV specials, performed at Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center in New York City and has sung at Carnegie Hall.
Ward has the memory of an elephant, the exagerative dialogue of a Ginsu Knife salesman and a sequined wardrobe that would have made Liberace turn his head.
Ward Hall joined his first circus in 1944 when he was a 14-year-old kid living in Colorado. A year later, as a 15 year old 10th grade dropout, he ran away for good, joining the Dailey Bros. Circus. He never looked back. By 16 he was performing in a sideshow and by age 21, he owned a sideshow!
It was spring 1946, Ward was 15, and he was prepared, or at least he thought he was, when a Billboard ad caught his attention. Dailey Bros. Circus was looking for a magician and fire eater. He didn’t know how to do either very well. He didn’t tell them he was only 15, and he didn’t have a plan. He just knew he had to join the show at that time. Ward responded to Milt Robbins asking for the job, and soon a telegram arrived that read:
Salary OK.
Show opens April 1. Join anytime.
Winter Quarters, Gonzales, Texas.
– Milt Robbins, Show Manager
Ward daringly told his father that he was going to leave and take the job with the circus. His father didn’t argue, telling Ward that he would get the circus out of his system and be “back in two weeks.” Ward laughs. “They are still waiting for me.”
Using what he had left of his last paycheck from the part-time job he had on the railroad to buy a $51.50 bus ticket, he caught up with Dailey Bros., still at its winter quarters in Central Texas. He borrowed his uncle’s steamer trunk, packed it with his one suit, a few other pieces of clothing and a small collection of homemade magic tricks. The day he climbed off the bus in Gonzales, Ward recalls thinking that at that point, he “was beginning the second part of my life. On that momentous day, my childhood ended.” It was March 27, 1946 – 116 days before his 16th birthday.
Anxious to get on with his life, he arrived in Gonzales more than two weeks early. Instead of the circus bosses sending him home, he was put to task on several small projects. He slept in a small shed along with sideshow equipment that would be traveling with the show that year. Ward’s pay was $30 a week with cookhouse privileges, which meant he could eat at the official circus cookhouse and share a berth on Car 79 of the circus train when the show hit the road.
While new to the circus itself, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect before he stepped off that bus, having been reading news and stories about the big top in Billboard for years.
It didn’t take Ward long to be noticed on the lot, but not necessarily in an endearing way. On his second day, he decided to further educate himself on fire eating, having never truly learned the skill. In his letter to Robbins, Ward claimed he could eat fire, so he thought he had better learn as soon as possible. On his first attempt he badly scorched his lips, turned around in pain, kicked over the fuel can and caught the shed on fire. Needless to say, a good eye was kept on this aggressive but polite newcomer to the business from that point on. Ward moved into the men’s dormitory where he spent only a few nights. “Having been a loner all my life, I was not knowledgeable on how men act after drinking large quantities of alcohol, so I discovered an abandoned circus wagon which became my living quarters until we moved onto the train.”
In August 1973, while playing in Indianapolis, Ward appeared in a television special called On Location: Alan King at the Indiana State Fair. Alan King kept asking very basic and non- informed questions and it was obvious to Ward that King didn’t quite understand, or like, the sideshow business. “I can’t imagine why anyone would pay 50-cents to see this stuff,” the comedian told Ward, referring to the sideshow acts. Taken aback, Ward retorted, “I can’t imagine someone paying $5 to go to a nightclub to see your act.” King bragged, “They pay $15.” To which Ward responded: “That’s actually worse!” The network edited out that exchange, but the edited segment effectively showed that freak shows “provide honorable livelihoods for handicapped men and women who otherwise might be unemployable.”
With the life that Ward Hall has led, it seems impossible that one single event would stand out to him as the best. What’s even more improbable is that event had nothing to do with a sideshow.
On April 22, 1994, Ward was the singing master of ceremonies at Carnegie Hall for Circus Blues, a show that was part of The Carnegie Hall Folk Festival. Stephen Holden, a reviewer with the New York Times, attended the show and wrote of Ward. “Wearing a sequined top hat and tails, Ward Hall, a former lion tamer and pitchman, presided over the program of old-time circus musicians, like Ralph Edwards leading a big top version of This is Your Life. Ward sang three numbers with the orchestra to get the show under way. “Hi, Neighbor!,” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” and “When You’re Smiling.” Among the musical guests on the same bill were Blind Willy, Guitar Gabriel (Robert Lewis Jones), Diamond Tooth Mary and Willa Mae Buckner.
“I have said it many, many times that singing at Carnegie Hall in New York City was the highlight of my life,” said Ward. “It’s the one singular thing that I have enjoyed most, and being a part of that program is one of my proudest moments.” Surprisingly, not too many people who know of Ward and his sideshow prowess know that the Carnegie Hall event took place, said Ward. “I don’t usually tell people that I sang at Carnegie Hall. It is so unbelievable that this sideshow bum would have been top billed in a program at Carnegie – with great reviews the
following day.”
Ward celebrates 70 years of working in the weird, wacky and wild world of the sideshow in 2014. Now 84 years old, he doesn’t travel often with his show and he has passed the baton on to a younger generation who are now his partners. But he checks in daily and occasionally surprises them all by showing up in his red, sequined jacket, taking the microphone as he immediately starts attracting the curious to the front of the tent. There is only one person silver throated kind of the carnival talkers who could do that, Ward Hall.
Tim R. O’Brien is the author of Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow!, available wherever books are sold and online at and

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Ward Hall 'talking' at Rock ShopA recent photograph of Ward Hall doing his pitch.

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“Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow” book launch party and talk.

WARD HALL is the man who for over 50 years has performed/produced and lived in the ‘sideshow’.

Last night we were honored to hear him talk about his life, his work and most of all about the people he met in the sideshow.

“WARD HALL – THE KING OF SIDESHOW” is a new book authored by Tim O’Brien. It tells the stories Ward shared with us last night as well as many more from his life.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 7.33.04 PM

The evening was chock full of ‘sideshow’ dignitaries.  Host by Todd Robbins and featuring Donny Vomit, Marlena Dee, Adam Realman and Harley Newman.

The music was provided by a wonderful group “The Bailsmen“.

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The evening began at the lovely MORBID ANATOMY MUSEUM on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn.

Ward Hall talking about sidehsowAuthor Tim O’Brien (seated) and Ward Hall talk to a overflowing crowd of attendees in the basement during the talk by Ward.

2014.07.24_WardHall_067Ward Hall (84 years young) was very expressive about the people he worked with during his years in the sideshow.

2014.07.24_WardHall_049The Morbid Anatomy Museum has a basement equipped for talks and presentations of this kind. It was a FULL HOUSE!

Tim O'Brien autographs the new book.Author Tim O’Brien signs a book during the presentation for “Ward Hall -King of The Sideshow”.

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The evenings festivities moved to THE ROCKSHOP where the ‘Sideshow’ was going to start any minute.

The Bailsmen performing at The Rockshop.Opening the show was the wonderfully talented band The Bailsmen.

Todd Robbins certainly knows how to get someones attentionWhat better person to MC this amazing show that sideshow eccentric TODD ROBBINS.

Donny Vomit followed Todd by using a whip to break a noodle off his head.DONNY VOMIT followed Todd by using a whip to break a noodle off his head.

2014.07.24_WardHall_122DONNY VOMIT juggles two sharp machete knives and an apple. He was able to take bites out of the apple during his act.

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Marlena Dee swallows a coat hanger.The lovely Marlena Dee was up next on stage. A rather talented young lady with looks to match. Swallow a coat hanger? Sure!

Marlena Dee swallows a sword while doing a split!Marlena Dee swallows a sword while doing a split!

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Coney Island USA’s Adam Realman takes the stage and bends a large nail in half.

Adam Realman bends a large nail into a horseshoe shape.

2014.07.24_WardHall_310Adam Realman blows up a enima bottle until it exploded! Strong man tactics are his specialty.

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Well, Ward Hall was upstairs signing books and talking sideshow with all the interested people. He came down to the stage area and gave a ‘talk’ about Todd Robbins and the sideshow shows today.

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2014.07.24_WardHall_195Ward Hall talks to the audience about his sideshow and the current state of affairs.

Todd Robbins lights up the room with his glass eating stunt.Todd Robbins lights up the room with his glass eating stunt.

Todd Robbins examines the half eaten light bulb as he chews on the other part.Todd Robbins examines the half eaten light bulb as he chews on the other part

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Harley Newman always has surprises for his audiences.Harley Newman always has surprises for his audiences. Don’t let that big smile fool you.

Harley Newman produces tennis balls from his mouth.Harley Newman produces tennis balls from his mouth.

Harley Newman waves good bye to the audience after his amazing feat!Harley Newman waves good bye to the audience after his amazing feat!

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Websites of Interest

Morbid Anatomy Museum

The Rockshop

Huffington Press/Weird News

Todd Robbins

Adam Realman

Donny Vomit

Marlena Dee

Harley Newman

Tim O’Brien

Ward Hall

HuffPost Weird News hosted the event, in coordination with the Morbid Anatomy Museum, COED.comHendrick’s GinBulleit Bourbon,Narragansett BeerHobNob Wines and Solber Pupusas.

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Gay Life on the Carnival Lot: Jennifer Miller and Sideshow Impresario Ward Hall @ Coney Island USA

For the first time ever Legendary Sideshow Impresario Ward Hall  discusses his 70 years on the carnival lot as a gay man. In a live interview with Circus Amok director Jennifer Miller Ward will shared the stories of his life and the many gender queer performers he’s worked with over the years. Both he and Miller performed excerpts of their sideshow acts.

Jennifer Miller introduces the evening's agendaJennifer Miller introduces the evening’s agenda.

2013.10.18_WardHall.031Coney Island USA’s Dick Zigun presents Ward Hall with a special Award from Coney Island USA.

Ward Hall talks about his time peforming in the sideshow and carnivals.Ward Hall talks about his time performing in the sideshow and carnivals.

2013.10.17_WardHall.029Ward Hall talks about producing and directing sideshow for the past 60 years and his life during that time with partners.

Ward Hall performs his very risque vent act.Ward Hall performs his very risque vent act.

Jennifer Miller sits down with Ward Hall to discuss his personal life on the road.Jennifer Miller sits down with Ward Hall to discuss his personal life on the road.

Ward Hall pitches his novel to the audience.Like any good sideshow talker Ward Hall pitches his novel to the audience.

2013.10.18_WardHall.184Jennifer Miller closes the show with her ‘juggling machete’ sideshow act.


Jennifer Miller bids the audience ‘Goodbye’ and explains that Ward is selling his books and DVD’s in the bar. “Go have a drink”.

Great evening with the remarkable Showman Ward Hall and hosted by the delightfully charming and talented Jennifer Miller.

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