Missing the sideshow

I’ve been to the Delaware County Fair here in Muncie three times so far this week. Twice was for work and once was to take my son and one of his friends so they could ride the Screamer and Freak Out and all the other rides.

I still enjoy the fair, but I’m saddened by how small and ordinary it seems now. I know my memories of the fair in the past are filtered through the haze of years, but I swear the midway was bigger and everything seemed more … dangerous in the old days.

By dangerous I don’t mean the possibility that a fight will break out between various groups of young toughs. Frankly, most of the young toughs seem to be pushing strollers these days. Parents seem younger and more tattooed these days than in years past. And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.

But there seemed to be an aura of danger and the forbidden about the fair back then. As recently as the 80s or 90s there was a sideshow that featured performers who could drive nails up their noses – even if there were no two-headed calves.

Casting back even further, I dimly remember attending the fair with my family and glimpsing, over in the distance, what appeared to be women dancing in backlit windows on a carnival facade. Even as a kid I had the impression that there was something taboo about that attraction. I dimly remember some of my more adventurous older male relatives peeling off from our group and heading in that direction. I also remember being herded away from it by my mom.

I still remember vividly a caustic clown in a dunk tank taunting my family members as they went past. Of course, he was just trying to get some of us to come over to pay to throw balls in an effort to soak him. To accomplish that, he called out, “Look at those hillbillies! It looks like they don’t get a lot of practice walking on flat ground.”

Can you imagine the fair offering an attraction like that these days? As much as we might joke about carnies and their propensity for annoying male fairgoers and hitting on females – one year at a local fair a female friend of mine was encouraged by a game operator to pack her bags and join him in his trailer – the modern-day fair is not only smaller but blander. The freaks, geeks and weirdos are gone and the sideshow has been relegated to a pop culture museum.


One thought on “Missing the sideshow

  1. Sarah

    Ah, Keith….The fair was much more dangerous in our days. As children, we were only allowed to walk on the midway in which the food booths were located. We were forbidden to travel down the isles that contained the rides….and the carnies. The carnies were notorious for doing ‘stuff’ that good children were not supposed to see or know about.
    As we moved into our early teen years, and 4H became a part of our lives……there were even more admonitions about the carnies. Back then the 4H fair was much larger and I believe that it overlapped with the ‘county’ part of the fair for a longer period of time. In fact, it may have been going on simultaneously….I can’t remember. But….the stories of what the carnies were doing out there were the stuff that put the fear of God into a young girl. We were terrified that if we got anywhere close to these sex starved maniacs the ways of the world would be revealed to us. And….a tattooed carnie was not to be the one who revealed these things to good girls.
    And then the rides. Well….I distinctly remember the rides being more dangerous back then. I remember articles about people being injured or even killed riding fair rides. Now…not sure that it happened in Delaware County….but it did happen a lot more across the country back then. I think that the rides have much more regulations on them today than they did in our day.


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