Circuses And Carnivals Brought Summer Excitement To Town
Dorothy Roshack Zmuda
Television views of the state and county fairs, especially the scenes of the Ferris wheels at night B took me back to the olden days. News of a circus or carnival coming to Stevens Point brought a lot of excitement and anticipation for everyone in the early 1930s.
My older brothers Stan, Val, Al and Mike couldn’t wait for the circus or carnival to come to town. They got out of bed in the middle of the night and ran to the north end of North Second Street, where the big event took place. The city limits were somewhere in the area, just north of the city near Kalp’s Grocery Store (now Mickey’s Restaurant). Another circus location that I recall was the Fairgrounds on the corner of Main Street and Michigan Avenue. (P. J. Jacobs Jr. High School.)
The young men gathered at the site to help put up the bleachers and carnival or circus tents. They were rewarded with free passes to the Big Show, a real treat since money was very scarce and most couldn’t afford to buy a ticket for anything as frivolous as a carnival ride or circus.
I don’t recall if those were Barnum and Bailey circuses, but they always held a parade before the show began in the big tent. Grown ups and little kids in the neighborhood stood on the corner of North Avenue and North Second Streets and watched as riders on horses and elephants moved slowly south toward the public square. The riders, horses and elephants wore exotic costumes, as did the belly dancers, and trapeze artists as they paraded past us. There were clowns wearing silly outfits and big shoes jumping around and doing acrobatic shenanigans. A few dangerous lions and tigers placed in their cages roaring ferociously to attract our attention.
All I ever saw of a circus was the parades. For some reason the circus didn’t interest me, maybe I was too young. Carnivals were a different story. Boy! How we loved those carnivals, especially the rides. I was in my early teens when I discovered the carnival. The midway with its tents and stages with raucous barkers tempting the crowds to "Come in, come in only 25 cents to see the Bearded Lady, the Two-headed man, the Lizard Boy, the Fire-eater, or the famous Tom Thumb the smallest man on the planet."
Carnivals hired many people unfortunate enough to have been born with some unusual handicap and turned them into freaks and geeks to be ogled and laughed at. Still when I think of those days, that wasn’t so cruel B those people wouldn’t have found employment anywhere else, and the carnivals provided them with a little hope and a meager living. Some of them even became famous personalities.
Along the midway were tents with large colorful banners announcing games of chance, freak and geek shows, and scantily clad exotic dancers. After each performance the barker and some performers came out to the outdoor stage to entice customers into the ominous-looking canvas aisles leading to the inside of the tent. Hoping to interest the ogling males in the crowd, the dancers did some wiggling and shaking of rumps with a promise of more delicious entertainment inside. I thought those tents were very scary and stayed as far from them as I could, but I enjoyed watching the barkers and dancers make their pitch to sell tickets.
There were pop, hamburgers, popcorn and cotton candy for sale. An exciting discovery was the sewing machine that could produce a monogram on a cap or piece of clothing. We had our monograms or names sewn on a few blouses. And just about every kid, small or tall, wanted to win a cuddly, plush stuffed animal to take home to Mama.
The rides, though, were the best of all. We Three Musketeers, Rita Kryshak, Virgie Glodoske and I, had a great time screaming off our heads while on one of those rides. They charged a dime for a ride, but we didn’t have too many dimes to spend so we found another way to have our fun. Of course, there always was the bunch of boys we ran around with Richie, Bud, Lennie, Boya and others, who always were willing to treat us. The Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, swings, tilt-a-whirl and other rides were rather tame. The most exciting was a ride whose name I have forgotten. But I haven’t forgotten the exhilarating thrill of hanging upside down while strapped into that ride.
The contraption was a center pole with two extensions, one on each side, with a bullet - like car attached to each extension. The cars seated two or three people and rotated in opposite directions when the motor was started. The operator of the ride was able to keep the cars hanging upside down whenever he pleased. The more we screamed the longer he held us suspended in the air, hanging upside down while loads of curious people came by to see what was all the commotion about. The louder we screamed, the more tickets he sold. We were very good for his business. So we enjoyed a lot of free rides because we made so much noise and attracted many customers to try that fantastic ride.
That was the last half of the 1930s, when the war clouds began forming around the world. We didn’t notice the threat until 1940. Then President Roosevelt called up the brave young men to begin training for the "war to end all wars." We grew up fast, and screaming to mooch rides at the carnivals became a thing of the past. We had more important things on our minds, finish school and get out there to help put an end to Hitler and his henchmen.(Return to top)
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