Monday, October 15, 2007

2007 Sideshow Gathering, November 2nd-4th, The Woodlands, Wilkes-Barre PA

When I was young there was a department store in Wilkes-Barre that went by the unwieldy name of "Fowler, Dick, and Walker, The Boston Store." (It was later purchased by local merchant Al Boscov as one of the first of his chain of Boscov's department stores.) On the first floor of The Boston Store there was a book department, and my brother and I would hang out there while our mother and sister went shopping for clothes. (This was in the mid-1970s, when unattended children in a department store would not be an immediate cause for the parents being arrested.) In the book department there was a well-worn paperback book filled with pictures of freaks, sideshow performers, and human oddities; no one ever bought it, but obviously many people flipped through it while they were shopping. (Eventually it fell apart at the spine, but was still tucked back onto the shelf for the next reader.) To me this was a sort of forbidden fruit, something bordering on pornography, something to be looked at in secret, on the sly. (In reality it was vaguely pornographic, as the traditional pictures of "half-and-halfs" - half-men, half-women, divided down the middle in an anatomically impossible way - always featured bared breasts, one male and one female, to "prove" the authenticity of the act.)

I've always had a thing for carnival sideshows. Human oddities. Freak shows. Freaks. And Freaks. I recently bought a copy of Marc Hartzman's American Sideshow, which relates the history of sideshow acts in America through biographical sketches of dozens of performers, from the earliest days to the modern era. Sadly, it turns out that I already knew much of the information in the book - History is a finite resource, and through my wanderings on the Internet I had apparently already mined much of this information. Still, one thing did surprise me. In the section on the Modern Era, Hartzman notes that an annual Sideshow Gathering has been held for the past few years - in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania!

I was blown away. How could I have missed this? Wilkes-Barre is just a few miles away from Nanticoke, and is the largest city around for thirty miles. A little digging revealed that I had simply been ignoring this event, which was primarily advertised locally as the "Inkin' the Valley" tattoo show and convention. In fact, the two shows are a double bill. When I had heard the commercials for the tattoo convention I had just thought of the Sideshow Gathering as...well, a side act.

Up until this year the convention had been held in downtown Wilkes-Barre, at the Ramada, and always on the Labor Day weekend. But this year, student housing issues brought on by the condemnation of several Wilkes-Barre apartment buildings have forced King's College to enter into a long-term agreement with the Ramada to provide student housing. So the convention couldn't get booked there.

But all was not lost. The convention organizers were able to secure another Wilkes-Barre venue - and at a time of year that might be far more appropiate. The 2007 Inkin' the Valley / Sideshow Gathering will be held November 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at The Woodlands Inn and Resort on Route 315 in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Imagine! The sideshow folk should start showing up right around Halloween! The Wyoming Valley Mall will be full of sword swallowers and fire breathers, blockheads and human pincushions. Little people and tattoo enthusiasts will be playing the slots at the Mohegan Sun casino. And perhaps Gentleman's Club 10 will feature limited engagements by some very special performers - and very special customers!

Best of all, I'm off for most of those days. Halloween is my first day off that rotation, and I'm also off November 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (though I'm meeting some friends for dinner on the 2nd.)

I may have missed these gatherings for the past few years, but this time I think I might make it there. Maybe I'll run off and join the circus! Anybody want to come along?


Marc said...

Two weeks ago, Curb Your Enthusiasm had a storyline about Larry buying a coffee table book on freaks for Ted Danson's birthday.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

No thanks, clowns kind of creep me out.