The concept of the modern North American travelling carnival was born on the Midway Plaisance of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chigaco, Illinos. Since that time, showmen, artists, athletes and carnies have been crisscrossing the continent by wagon, rail and truck, bringing both the modern and the mysterious world to cities, towns and villages all across the continent. This itinerant lifestyle created a sub culture of carnival workers, colourful characters who developed their own vocabulary.
The early carnivals were a collection of shows, exhibits and concessions with maybe a couple of rides. They would travel from town to town uninvited following the money. As the 20th century progressed, the carnivals became more organized, more lawful and more focused on thrill rides. The midway became a fundraising draw for agricultural fairs and other events.
The Carnival Museum was born in 2009, a not for profit museum spun off of a living history 1930s carnival called Carnivale Lune Bleue. Originally exhibiting in tents on fairgrounds, the Carnival Museum is once again taking to the road due to zoning issues at the Brantford Winter Quarters which prevent us from opening to the public. By turning the Great Hall Carnival exhibit into a single-o travelling museum, The Carnival Museum is once again capturing the essence of the carnival.
Originally developed in 2014 for The Carnival Museum’s Fun Factory in Brantford, Ontario this open storage style exhibit with interactive components was in the 3,000 sq. ft. Great Hall.
Step Right Up!: The Travelling Carnival in Canada will weave visitors through 150 years of the history of the travelling carnival, from its origins in both travelling entertainment and agricultural societies to its genesis at the 1893 World’s Fair and the developments through the 20th and 21st century that made it one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country.
Select artifacts, posters and photographs from The Carnival Museum’s collection will be on display behind reader rails which weave a narrative of the history of the carnival to North American culture. A separate set of didactic panels focus on carnival lingo, a dictionary of words created solely for use by the showmen and carnies who travelled across North America.
- Exhibit Size – 2,000 to 3,000 sq. ft.
- Rental period – 3 months
- Installation – includes 2 people to supervise installation and provide orientation to staff and maintenance instructions for mechanical diggers for a maximum of 5 days.
List of Components
This travelling exhibit consists of the following components
Display - 10 wood and acrylic English only reader rails / barriers
Display - game concession components - mouse wheel, cat rack, merchandise wheel, six arrows wheel, crown and anchor wheel, horse race gambling game, high striker, contents for small games showcase
Display - prizes - a selection of historic prizes for 1 showcase including chalkware, stuffed animals and slum and a display of flash (modern prizes)
Display – rides - 1927 Dodgem Jr. bumper car, 1920s Eli Ferris wheel wood ride bucket, 1930s Rideo horse and saddle, tilt-o-whirl ride bucket
Display – carousel - 3 carousel horses, carousel rounding board, small artifacts
Display – food concessions – pop corn maker, candy floss machine, miscellaneous food preparation artifacts
Display – arcade coin ops – love tester, miscellaneous coin-ops
Display – artwork – large Jolly Fat Boy side show banner, large Terrell Jacobs Circus poster, collection of posters, collection of framed photographs
Display – miscellaneous - Guess Your Weight chair and scale, Uni-phone musical instrument
Interactive - 10 coin operated diggers
Interactive - 4 fun house mirrors
Interactive ride buckets - 1950s kiddie elephant ride bucket, 1950s pony cart, 1950s car ride bucket, 1950s aluminum car ride bucket, 1940s fire truck ride bucket, 1950s sky fighter ride bucket, 1920s King cast iron horse, 1950s Mangles boat ride bucket
Didactic carnival lingo panels
Videos of vintage carnivals
Banner art activity
Text Panel Storyline
- 1.1 – Pre 1893 - Carnival Origins (Circus, theatre, other travelling performers)
- 1.2 – Pre 1893 – Carnival Origins (Agricultural Socieites)
- 2.1 – 1893 World’s Fair
- 2.2 – 1893 Midway Plaisance
- 2.3 – 1893 The genesis of the travelling carnival
- 3.1 – 1895 Chicago Midway Plaisance Amusement Company (first carnival)
- 4.1 – 1900-1910 – first Carnivals come to Canada
- 4.2 - 1900-1910 – types of shows (wild west, 49ers, girl shows)
- 4.3 – 1900-1910 – types of rides (MGR, Ferris Wheel)
- 4.4 – 1900-1910 – types of concessions (food from St. Louis worlds fair, gambling)
- 5.1 – 1911-1929 – Carnivals team up with agricultural societies
- 5.2 - 1911-1929 – types of shows (athletic shows, minstrel shows, cinema, war)
- 5.3 – 1911-1929 – types of rides (Tilt, Whip, Bumper cars)
- 5.4 – 1911-1929 – types of concessions (crackdown on gambling, new foods)
- 6.1 - 1930-1946 – Depression and War
- 6.2 - 1930-1946 - types of shows (side shows, aquatic shows, circus)
- 6.3 - 1930-1946 - types of rides (Chair o planes, kiddie lands)
- 6.4 - 1930-1946 - types of concessions (games of skill, merchandise wheels, new foods)
- 7.1 – 1947-1970 – The Rise of Thrill Rides and the Demise of Shows
- 7.2 – 1947-1970 - types of shows (illusions, globes of death, war, ethnic)
- 7.3 – 1947-1970 - types of rides (Wild Mouse, bigger faster rides)
- 7.4 – 1947-1970 - types of concessions (games of skill, prize every time, new foods)
- 8.1 – 1971-2016 – The modern carnival
- 8.2 – 1971-2016 - types of shows (cinema 360, technology, throwbacks)
- 8.3 – 1971-2016 - types of rides (modern technology, bigger, taller)
- 8.4 – 1971-2016 - types of concessions (mirror prizes, inflatables, new foods)
- 9.1 – The future
- 9.2 – Discover the old carnival – Carnivale HBO series, Carnivale Lune Bleue, the Carnival Museum’s Living History Road Unit
Copyright © 2014-2017 by The North American Carnival Museum & Archives