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Side Shows: My Life with Gooks, Freaks & Vagabonds in the Carny Trade by Daniel Waldron; Howard Bone

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 2001)


Not really a book about magic, although some magic is mentioned, but this is a delightful little treat that I highly recommend to you.

Howard Bone spent a lifetime in the world of the sideshow, as an outside talker, inside talker, performer of every "working act" in the business, and most famously as "The Man Who Can't Be Hung." If you're not familiar with that stunt, let me provide you with Mr. Bone's personal description: "In performance, I'd loop a one-inch rope around my neck in a simple over-hand knot. I'd pick two genuine huskies out of the crowd and have them come up onstage. The rope would extend several yards from my neck on either side. If these ends were to be pulled tight, the pressure would strangle me—just as old-time hangings use to strangle the condemned. Yet that is exactly what I'd instruct these two muscular bozos from the audience to do: to pull on the ends. I'd tell them not to hold back—to pull with all their might ... and believe me, some of those steel workers around Pittsburgh or Gary were awesome! The ropes would tighten around my neck. I would become nearly unconscious. I'd fall to my knees. But at the finish I survived, and got to my feet to acknowledge the applause."

Oh, yes, he also adds: "DO NOT TRY THIS."

The bygone world of the side show has gained increased fascination for many today, and you could not read a more delightful first-hand account of the carny life than this book by the late Howard Bone. The memoir has been assisted by the able Daniel Waldron (and if you haven't read his fabulous Blackstone biography, be ashamed, be very ashamed!), is recommended by James Taylor of Shocked and Amazed magazine fame, and the book includes a fore-word by Howard Bone fan, Teller. Get "with it," and get it.

Side Shows: My Life with Gooks, Freaks & Vagabonds in the Carny Trade • Howard Bone & Daniel Waldron • Sun Dog Press • 6" x 9" perfect bound • 144 pages