Carnival Carnies, Game Booths & Sideshows: 1900-1940s
It’s nice to see carnivals coming back to many of Michigan’s small towns.
When I was a kid, our little town had a carnival come to town every summer and set up behind the American Legion Post, usually the Wade Carnival shows.
The smell of food penetrated through the entire village: greasy french fries, popcorn, corn dogs, hot dogs, sausages drenched in oily fried onions & peppers…and especially cotton candy. That cotton candy smell drew all us kids to the carnival.
Every summer there were always a few local high school girls who would flirt with the young carny who operated the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scrambler, etc. and end up getting free rides throughout their stay in town…after that one week, POOF…they were gone.
Then there were the ride accidents. Sometimes straps weren’t secure and some kid would end up bouncing around inside one of the rides: the Loop-O-Plane, Wildcat (or Wild Maus), Paratrooper, Frolic, Whip, Himalaya, Roto-Jets, etc. There was one ride where you would get in standing up and it would swing back and forth…one schoolgirl got caught underneath it somehow and broke her leg.
I always headed for the monster trailer that went under different names, depending on what carnival company was in town: it would be called either a Fun House, Crazy House, Spook House, Haunted House, Haunted Castle, Dracula’s Castle, Haunted Mine, and many, many other names for this short but fun ride. You’d get in a little track-driven seat and go through swinging doors where it’s dark inside. A net hung down from the ceiling to hit you in the face as if it was a spider web…motorized statues would grab for you as you went by…sound effects blared from worn-out speakers…and that was about it. I remember going on one of these rides and there was nothing inside. It was completely empty as if the carnies forgot to put the props and effects in…worse yet, the lights were all on. The whole ‘ride’ was just a bunch of empty nothin’…..
I did win an eleven-blade knife at one of the game booths when I was about twelve years old…and two older boys tried to trade me some cheap necklace for it. NOPE. Didn’t fall for that one.
Saturday nights were the busy night. Then when you drove by the grounds the following Sunday morning, the entire carnival was gone…disappeared…as if it never happened.
The photo gallery below shows some cool images of old carnival game booths, sideshows…and the carnies themselves. ALL worth remembering.
Carnies, Game Booths, and Sideshows: 1900s-1940s
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