Traveling Animal Freakshow
Sideshow adds Thrill of the ‘Unusual’ with unusual animals AND sideshow performers.
This is a traveling show providing the tent and the show. You just provide the space.
There are 30 exhibits inside the sideshow tent, some living and some preserved.
Two-headed turtle? Check.
Five-legged sheep? Check.
Guy who eats fire? Check.
There’s no bearded lady, but the sideshow still has plenty to offer.
Exhibits’ weirdness a matter of perspective according to ‘curator’
“They’re different from all the normal animals,” said 10-year-old Cassidy Mascarena, of Billings, as she examined the attractions inside America’s Largest Sideshow and Museum of the Odd and Unusual on the midway Thursday afternoon.
No kidding, Cassidy.
Nothing is quite “normal” inside the sideshow tent, but that’s just because we’re not used to it, said Jim Zajicek, self-described “curator of the unusual.”
“The only thing that’s unusual about them is that people aren’t familiar with them,” Zajicek said. “We see these animals every day. They’re like our pets.”
It’s creepy,” said Lee Stevenson of Silesia. “Oh, my God, a two-headed baby.” Only three of the 30 attractions are fake, according to Zajicek, but he politely declined to reveal which ones. “It’s more fun to try to figure it out than me telling you,” he said.
The sideshow has a rich history in the United States. Carnivals were once anchored by human and animal “freaks,” but as midways began filling with lucrative rides, the oddities were edged out, Zajicek said. Today, there are five banner-front, or multiattraction, sideshows operating in the country, he said. Still, fairgoers haven’t lost their taste for the weird.
“People don’t change,” Zajicek said. “The only thing that’s changed is the politically correct came in. People still want to see the strange, unusual and bizarre no matter how you package it.” Zajicek’s sideshow has only one human exhibit Mephisto the Master, a professional fire-eater. He also pounds nails into his nose.
“I should have graduated college in 1970,” said Meph-isto, who lives in Powell, Wyo. “Instead, I flunked out and became a fire-eater. I don’t regret it.” Early in his career, Mephisto, who is deaf, worked sideshows with human “freaks,” including a giant and a bearded lady. “People who think sideshow attractions are being exploited have it backwards. They’re the ones exploiting the public,” he said.
Story By DIANE COCHRAN The Gazette Staff – Billings MT.
Photos By CASEY RIFFE The Gazette Staff – Billings MT.