Sideshow banners

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sideshow banners have long been a staple at fairs. Made of durable canvas with colorful and lurid scenes painted on them, they've long been parting the rubes from their pocket change for a chance to see the wonders and curiosities they advertise.

The French site La boite verte has a post, Bannières pour des spectacles de fêtes foraines, that shows examples of sideshow banners from the 40s and 50s. 

I picked the 'Popeye' banner to lead off this post because I distinctly remember seeing him in a sideshow when I was a kid. He started his act by inviting a cute young girl up to the stage and telling her to cup her hands because he had something to give her. When she did, he leaned in and popped his eyeballs out of his sockets. Needless to say, she screamed and ran off, and the audience howled with laughter at the prank. 

His act, although extremely weird, was pretty good. He mixed a lot of humor into it. After the show you could go up and talk to him, an opportunity my brothers took advantage of. I remember him being a friendly old guy who chatted with us and good-naturedly answered our stupid, and in retrospect slightly offensive, questions about what the life of a freak in a sideshow was like. 

There are more of the banners after the jump, and of course even more at La boite verte. By the way, those banners also improved my vocabulary -- from them I learned what the word legerdemain meant.