Skip to main content

The Demise of Shows

As the demand for more carnival rides grew, the demand for shows which once dominated the carnival lots began to wane.

A small young girl stands in front of a large entrance to the carnival midway Frolic Land, there are not many other people around

Frolic-Land, Circa 1960s


Black and white photo of a few people gathered around a kiddie ride, sign for ride reads Jimmie's Auto Ride, there is also a sign that says Special Kiddies Day five cents

Carnival Kiddie Ride, Circa 1960s

In the past, the carnival was the place to experience exotic and mysterious things. Daredevils, magicians, snake charmers, lion tamers, human marvels, fortune tellers and burlesque dancers made the carnival a can’t miss attraction. The introduction of radio (1920s) and television (1952) in Canada opened up the world to people in their living rooms.

A carnival sideshow entrance for an exotic animal show, title reads Safari, there are painted banners depicting several kinds of exotic animals, and admission is advertised as 25 cents

Entrance to Bingo’s ‘Jungle Safari’ Bannerline, Circa 1948

Social norms were changing as well. The display of freaks or anatomical wonders was becoming less acceptable. The geek show is an example of how showmen tried to change with the times. Geeks were portrayed as simpletons or wild men who performed horrific and squeamish acts. During the 1950s geek shows were designed as drug abuse shows which portrayed how drugs turned everyday people into monsters.

Economically, housing, feeding, transporting and paying a cast and crew was becoming much more expensive than during the first fifty years of carnival history. It was harder to draw a crowd and more expensive to run a show.

Audio clip with transcript: “Difficulties with Money During the Off Season”

Patty Conklin summed it up best. “Give the people what they want, not what you think they want”.

Bingo and Jackie were working on a new plan.