By - Steve Mezo
I guess this one could be a tie in with my last article about Circus Model Builders.
Even though I said the circus never really did it for me as a kid I loved The Circus Sideshow. I didn't hate the circus I just never found a connection with it (Except for the clowns). But when I saw my first Sideshow Gaff at The Hoxie Bros. Circus I was hooked!
I can't find the exact picture of their "Giant Cardiff Frozen Ape Man" but it was pretty close to this one. The one pictured below was created by Johnny Chambers who did the makeup for "Planet of The Apes" and was once owned by Showman Rick West.
A few years later I had finally got the chance to see a full on Sideshow and it ruled! It was everything that Uncle Forry had wrote about when he had done a write up about the movie "FREAKS".
There was a Sword Swallower, The Illustrated Man who was also a Fire Eater, a Rubber Man, One of the worlds Tallest Men and a Bearded Lady. And just when I thought I had seen everything that couldn't be topped my parents and I had visited the tent where a beautiful woman was changed into a gorilla with a hypnotic spell!!!
If you ever get a chance to see a great "Peppers Ghost" version of the girl change into a gorilla do it! I had two friends of mine see it at a carnival and they were so blown away by it they paid to see it two more times.
As I was able to get to carnivals on my own I got to see even more oddities that I couldn't get enough of. Like The Hundred And Fifty Pound Man Eating Chicken, The Giant Rat, The Geek and of course The Pickled Punks on display that reminded me of The Ray Bradbury story "The Jar" that I read over and over again from a very old and well worn copy of "Dark Carnival" when I was a kid.
Allot of times friends would ask me why am I paying to see a Fiji Mermaid or The Corpse of a criminal that was hung and dug up from his grave in the 1800's? And I would say just to see what kind of showmanship went into it. Even with the performers and living oddities if there wasn't a good Talker in front of the Bally's people weren't paying to go in. They didn't have the same draw as The Circus Performers and Animals. I was like they knew the Circus was a safe comfort full of beauty and wonder. But the mystery and possibility of seeing something that couldn't be unseen needed a little encouragement, kind of like jumping out of an airplane.
Years after that I got to cross two things off of "The Bucket List" that I wrote when I was six years old. One was to be part of a Haunted Attraction and the other was to be part of a Sideshow. And as an added bonus I got to live out a dream of getting to meet and hang out with Danielle Stampe "Slymenstra Hymen" of GWAR.
When I was with Stan Ambro at Hollowgraves Haunted Attraction I wasn't expecting to have "Ken Harck's" Brothers Grim Circus Sideshow next door to us on the pier.
When I had met Ken Harck I had introduced myself and we started a conversing about our perspective attractions, and when he had told me that one of the performers was going to be Danielle Stampe it just about took all of my self control to keep from going completely Fanboy right there.
This is what I got for asking for a nice picture... HA HA
It was great getting to know Ken because he is a Circus and Circus Sideshow Historian as well as a collector. I think it is so cool that he's saved so many Circus Historical items that would have been thrown out because someone didn't know what they were. And he liked the fact that I knew quite a bit of Sideshow history myself. When I told him about my copy of "Dark Carnival" that fell apart he said that I was one of the few people that knew about the story "The Jar" before it became a episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" Television Show.
Ken doing the Sideshow Talk with the "Hollowgraves Haunted Manor" sign (Hand made by Stan Ambro) behind him.
The day I met Danielle Stampe was so cool. I was expecting to meet Slymenstra Hymen, but instead met a very down to earth and really nice woman named Danielle. She was really friendly and great to talk to Ken introduced us and told her I was at the haunted attraction and she asked me if I could show her around.
As I was giving her the tour I had to tell her how much I loved GWAR and how much she always stood out to me as a performer. Now she could have easily been polite and just gave a thank you and left it at that. But she saw how much I was into the mechanics and the art of what they did and told me all about the work that went into the shows. And then we talked about their appearance on the Jerry Springer Show and how my much my Mom liked them after seeing them on it.
It just blew me away how much there is about her and being more than just the fire juggler covered in fake blood. She is an extremely hard worker. One minute she's doing the set up for the Sideshow and building the stage, the next she was helping me get everything caught up at the haunt for our season opening. And she will learn and master just about any talent she can to get work in a production or keep her artistic talents honed for set dressing, painting and or fabrication.
Then the last night of both shows (The Haunt and The Sideshow) she had her Slymenstra Hymen Costume flown from California so she could wear it in a picture with my friend JohnWatt (In the Haunt Article) and me.
Then I got to meet and become friends with The Enigma and his then wife Katzen The Tiger Lady known together as "The Human Marvels".
My wife and I getting a photo op with Katzen The Tiger Lady and The Enigma
before the four of us took a dinner break together from our shows.
I wore a black shroud over the outfit I have on in the picture when working the Haunt.
They have to be two of the nicest people we have ever met. We really enjoyed the seasons we had spent with them and Katzen had tattooed puzzle piece and tiger stripe designs on the two of us as the ultimate human scrapbook pieces.
One of the funniest times we had together was when both shows were closed due to a heavy downpour. It was going to storm all day so we decided to go to the movies to see X-Men 2. As my wife and I were waiting in line to get tickets a woman (With a friend in tow) asked me what my mother thought of all of my tattoos. I just smiled and responded with "She still loves me." So she goes on to say "One or two's okay, but that's just too much." And before my wife and I could say anything else Enigma and Katzen walked up to us after using the bathrooms. When the woman got a look at both of them I thought she was going to faint.
Pretty cool from seeing him on X-Files years before.
And there were other Sideshow Stars that I had honor of meeting and becoming friends with too.
No magnets, strings or tricks here it's all about balance and years
of practiced hand movements.
Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson
I was floored to see all of the amazing things they do that are considered lost Vaudeville Show juggling talents.
Not only did I get to see his Fire Routines he had done
some of the Sideshow Talking as well.
Zamora The Torture King
I had lunch with him a couple hours before his show and he was great to talk to. And when I was able to see him do his piercing performance from only a few feet away it still freaked me out!
There's no trick appliances or fake needles involved he really does this!!!
Getting to be part of the Haunted Attraction and The Sideshow was like getting to be in the movie "The Funhose"
Because there were plenty of nights I just slept in the haunt instead of dealing with weekend boardwalk traffic.
If that weren't enough I was Kevin Smith's "Roadside New Jersey" taping for "The Tonight Show". I had Kevin go through the haunt to check it out, but he had me turn the house lights on first (true story). And then John Watt had him talk about it at his Q and A at The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank a year later just to bust his hump.
And I'm in the front of the last crowd scene in a Special about Ken Harck called "Freaky Circus Guy".
Speaking of Kevin Smith and Sideshows Bryan Johnson and Walt Flanagan had created a comic book series called "Karney"
And I had them sign each one as each issue came out at
"The Secret Stash"
And this was when they came to the movie premiere of
"Invasion For Flesh and Blood"
We're all allot better looking than this!
To see me as this
About a thousand pounds ago and twenty years earlier.
But that is a whole different story...