Interview with a late 1800s circus employee | Boing Boing

Interview with a late 1800s circus worker | Boing Boing

[The following is from my newsletter, The Magnet]

Once I was in highschool, I labored on a carnival that traveled round rural Colorado and Wyoming. I manned a basketball sport, which was known as “Mini-Hoops.” It had been known as “Basketball Toss” however a few years earlier than I began working there the Rocky Mountain Strike Power raided the carnival. The brokers measured the diameter of the hoops and located them to be smaller than regulation basketball hoops. They informed the carnival proprietor it was fraudulent to name them “basketball hoops” and so he needed to change the title to make it clear that the hoops had been smaller than regular. I labored on the carnival for 2 summers and bought to know lots of people who had labored in carnivals all their lives. They’d nice tales, and so they additionally used fascinating jargon. Ever since my stint as a carny, I have been concerned with sideshow, circus, and carnival tradition.

Carny jargon goes approach again. The Folklore Venture (1936–1940) was a U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) mission to gather the life histories of just about 3,000 individuals in the US. In July 1938, writer A. C. Sherbert visited retired carnival worker W. E. “Doc” Van Alstine within the Jefferson Resort in Portland, Oregon, and interviewed him. Sherbert described Van Alstine as trying “youthful than 88. His hair is iron-grey, face oval, darkish complexion, medium peak, rheumatic — walks with problem. He at all times wears an old school black, derby hat, with extensive, rolled brim.”

Within the interview, Van Alstine describes his profession as a carnival employee, utilizing colourful carny jargon:

I recall the joys of thrills when a clown — circus people name the humorous males “Joeys” — stated, “Hey, lad, run out to a butcher store and get me a pound of lard.” The Joeys used lard for taking off their “clown white,” or make-up. I used to be so excited at havin’ a performer truly converse to me that I could not say sure or no. However with the ten-cent piece he give me clutched tight in my fist, I run like lightnin’ to the closest butcher store. Boy, oh boy, was I pleased!

I properly bear in mind after I goes again to highschool after my 4 days with the circus. I lower fairly a figger among the many handful of bumpkins that was my schoolmates.

Bein’ with a circus made me a hero amongst them children, and did I glory in it. I knew I would have to remain at school awhile longer — I could not assist myself, however at the back of my head I do know that after I bought a bit bit older I used to be goin’ to hitch up with a circus and be a showman for at all times, and at all times.

He additionally describes violent fights between carnies and locals (often called a “Hey Rube”):

A “Hey Rube” is virtually unknown right now. A Hey Rube was a struggle between the circus people and the city yokels. These ruckuses used to got here recurrently on occasion within the outdated days. Most of the Hey Rubes was began by people figgerin’ they was’t gettin’ all of the circus marketed; if the stupendous wasn’t stupendous sufficient, the big wasn’t gigantic sufficient, the colossal wasn’t colossal sufficient, or the “largest in captivity” wasn’t massive sufficient, the city people felt like they’d grounds for a struggle. One other widespread explanation for Hey Rubes was as a result of petty thieves, purse-snatchers and pickpockets, adopted circuses from city to city. The circus bought blamed for what them slickers did, however they was nothing they may do about it. When the crooks hit a crowd too arduous, and too many individuals bought plucked, the city people bought collectively and tried to take it out on the circus individuals. Fairly close to each Hey Rube I ever seen ended with the city people comin’ out second finest bodily, though the circus normally misplaced out financially. Lawsuits at all times adopted a Hey Rube, and circus individuals had no likelihood for a sq. deal in a prejudiced small-town courtroom

I used to be in a Hey Rube in Lincoln, Illinois, as soon as. It was one of many hardest battles I ever seen. The city boys was coal miners and a few of the hardest prospects I ever seen. We strung out in a circle round our stuff and stood ’em off with “laying out pins” and whacked ’em with “side-poles,” lastly giving ’em the run, however they positive might take it.

Read a PDF transcript of the full interview. And here is a reading of Van Alstine’s interview.

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