I don't know about you, but after a month of social distancing, I sure could use a little fun. You, too?
I've been hard at work finishing Murder on the Boardwalk. One of the fun parts of this book has been researching carnivals in the 1950s. If you're nostalgic for the carnivals of the past, you're sure to love this new Rosa Reed mystery. Curious? You'll have to pre-order to find out more! 🙂
Traveling carnivals peaked around the 1930s, with as many as 300 roaming the USA at a time. Although there was a decline in popularity after the war, Carnivals still captivated the attention of many children and adults alike. For the rich and poor, carnivals offered a break from the mundane, featuring animal acts, food vendors, and amusement rides. A variety of vaudeville, magic, and circus shows were also common.
Although much of what carnivals offered was good clean entertainment, they often included a slightly darker side. Scandalous sideshows, human freak shows, and of course, rigged carnival games meant to con visitors out of cash all contributed to a less than stellar reputation. Even so, many people visited just to see what all the talk was about.
By the 1950s, permanent fairs located in more populated areas such as the State Fair of Texas were thriving. Between the 1950s and 1960s Texas's State Fair, grew from two million visitors to three million. Some popular highlights were Elvis Presely's performance in the Cotton Bowl as well as President Nixon's attendance.
Across the country, the Ferris Wheel was an iconic feature of State and County fairs. Although these fairs had similar traits to traveling carnivals, fairs were often community-sponsored events.
Rather featuring the talents of traveling carnies, fairs often focused on locals attractions such as farmers demonstrating their prized livestock. Contests were also a huge draw, with people coming from far and wide to demonstrate their pie baking and butter churning abilities, to competing in wheelbarrow and Ostrich races.
Do you remember going to the carnival as a child?
What was your favorite part? I'd love to hear about it.
Teaser for Murder on the Boardwalk!
Murder on the Boardwalk, the second Rosa Reed Mystery will be released on April 28th. That's just FOUR DAYS away- wow!
Here’s a teaser from Chapter 1.
>>> Lines of gently swaying palm trees and stucco Spanish mansions were set against a cloudless blue sky, and Miss Rosa Reed, known in rainy London, England as WPC Reed of the Metropolitan Police, thought the endless sunshine would never get old. She strolled away from the Forrester mansion in Santa Bonita, California, with her cousin Gloria at her side.
“We need to find you a fuller crinoline,” Gloria said, playfully nudging Rosa with an elbow as they neared one of the Forrester vehicles, a two-tone yellow Chevrolet Bel Air parked in the driveway.
Not once in her life in London had Rosa been criticized for her wardrobe. With a mother who owned one of London’s highbrow Regent Street dress shops, Rosa had grown up under the influence of stylish and quality fashion, the kind that certainly turned heads in the United Kingdom. Apparently, the California coast was a different story as Rosa had been encouraged more than once to wear something a little brighter, a little tighter, or today, a little fuller.
I was and probably always be a carnie kid. My folks had just come off a season in 1948 and dad had gotten a job on a farm for the off season. On December 29, 1948 at 8pm I was in normal, Il. For the next 16yrs with only a single break from October 1958-May 1960 I was a carnie kid. Which, by the way, has different status levels that depended on what your dad and mom did on the carnival. Yep, there was “status” prejudices. When my dad went down from ride foreman to Octopus operator, I got one of the biggest surprises and hurts of my life.
I am the last “Usher” in my family. My uncle was William “Fats” Usher. He was a well known “barker” in the carnival. He and my grandfather, George Usher grew up in the carnival during its peak and continued long after. They rode motorcycles around a circular cage and my aunt ran a “Bally” show with pretty girls dancing and well other things.
I grew up in the St. Louis County (Jennings,) Missouri. We had several festivals and fairs in our town and surrounding areas. Sometimes, we would visit my aunt and uncle in Jefferson City, Missouri, and go to the State Fair which was closer to them. I don’t remember a whole lot except I loved the carrousel and the Swing.
Thanks so much for sharing these special memories, Cheryl!
This was interesting. I never thought about carnivals and that type of entertainment in the 1950’s.
I was born in 1952 and have many memories of traveling fairs. We had at least 1 stop at my hometown in the summer. My favorite part was anything to do with horses.
I grew up in New Orleans and Pontchatrain Beach had lots of great rides.