The Great Hall

sprinkle_0034You won’t find dinosaurs at The Carnival Museum. You won’t find canoes, tractors, boats, planes or live farm animals. We just don’t have those things. But don’t worry. You won’t be disappointed. We have the freakiest, coolest collection of crazy Carnival stuff you’ll ever see. We’ve got an electric chair, a bed of nails, a whole collection of clown shoes, amazing games, arcade machines and full size rides. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. You’ve got to see it to believe it!

Our Great Hall Collection

The Museum collects, preserves and exhibits Carnival & Circus objects. We research their background and history and rate the object in order of importance before picking them for display:

  1. Pro active
  2. Working
  3. Uniqueness
  4. History
  5. Size

The Museum’s staff are mostly retired carnies so that they can help with the descriptions and history.

The Collection

1928-letterheadIn 2008, The North American Carnival Museum & Archives, NACMA acquired the Conklin Collection of artefcacts that span the 1910-2014. The Collection consists of a diverse collection  of archives and artefacts plus an extensive, book, photo and film library.  The Conklin donation also included arhival material from other show owners, E. J. Casey Shows, The Bill Lynch Shows and Lou Dufour.  Lou Dufour was the famous 1893 Chicago Wolds Fair showman who first conceived and introduced the concept of Believe It Or Not.

Since its inception, the museum has continued an aggressive add to its collection
NACMA’s diverse collection includes:

  • Banners painted by Snap Wyatt and Fred Johnson;
  • Artwork and renderings by Jack Ray;
  • Unused billboard-sized circus posters;
  • Carnival route books;
  • Marketing and promotional leaflets;
  • Sound recordings and photographs of carnivals and fairs numbering in thousands;
  • Film archives from the 30s, 40s and 50s
  • Sideshow equipment built by John “Red” Trower, such as bed of nails, electric chair and sword ladder.
  • Vintage penny arcade machines, including DIGGER cranes,
  • Mutascopes, ‘Love Tester’ and other arcade games
  • Magician’s illusions including the guillotine
  • Puerto Rican gambling horse game
  • Guess-your-weight chairs, complete with tripod and scales;
  • Chalk-Ware figurines prize merchandise;
  • A large assortment of gaming equipment, including wheels of fortune, live mouse wheel, crown & anchor
  • Full Sized 1930s RIDES: Carousels, Chair Swings, Ferris Wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl and more

The History of the Dime Museums

Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. These were often displayed in “wonder rooms” or “cabinets of curiosities.” Public access was very limited and was often for only the elite.

In the last decades of the eighteenth century scientific institutions began to appear which contained a mix of art, taxidermy specimens, wax figures, mechanical devices, exotic artefacts, live animals and human oddities.


In the first half of the nineteenth century when theatre and other forms of pure recreation were frowned upon, scientific institutions filled the void for the public, which still craved entertainment.  During the Victorian era, when the average person’s knowledge of the world was still very limited, all things foreign and curious were of immense interest THE DIME MUSEUMS.  These institutions fulfilled this need and provided a cover of enjoyment while learning.

In 1841 P.T. Barnum launched his American Museum in New York City.  The stodgy “Cabinets of Curiosities” were transformed into the new “dime museums.”  Almost overnight, Barnum transformed museums into places where families could come to spend the day.  The public was exposed to human oddities, music, lectures, ballet, magic shows, dramatic presentations and scientific demonstrations. The dime store museum reached their peak in the 1880’s and 1890’s.  In the early 19th century, carnivals and circuses began to incorporate all of these aspect into their traveling shows.