On Saturday, 28 May, Kate and I spent the afternoon out in Bucks County at Washington's Crossing. She worked on a pastel drawing while I walked along the shoreline of the Delaware River. We planned to spend the day there
and then hit the Pennsylvania State Fair at Philadelphia Park on the way home. About 4:00 P.M., an intense and sudden storm sent us scurrying for the car. Luckily, we made it to the car with Kate's new drawing
just before the rain became a torrential downpour.
Finding ourselves back in the car we decided to drive a round a bit scouting painting locations for another day. The rain was not letting up, so we
thought we'd have to scratch our plans to attend the fair and come back some other time. However, as we were headed back down I-95, the sky opened and the sun came out.
The Bensalem exit was right in front of us, so we figured that we'd take advantage of the situation and head out Street Road to the fair.
The real reason we were heading to the fair was not for puke-inducing rides or funnel cake, but to see the latest incarnation of Ward Hall and C. M. Christ's World of Wonders & Palace
of Illusions, which having been unveiled at the Florida State Fair earlier in the year was making its official season debut at the Pennsylvania State Fair. Ward Hall had announced retirement at the end of the
the 2003 season, but that didn't last long. Ward is proof positive that you can't keep a showman down.
When we arrived at Philadelphia Park, the place was nearly deserted. The rain had chased most people away, but now that the sun was out people were creeping back onto the lot (ourselves included). The World of Wonders didn't seem to
be quite ready for business yet, so Kate and I strolled around the midway for a bit soaking in the atmosphere and distributing our patronage around to small attractions like the Giant Pig on view for a mere 50-cents (worth every penny).
There was also the fair's free display of barnyard critters to check out, which is always amusing. By the time we made it back around, Ward was talking a free bally with a crowd in front of him. Little Pete "Poobah" Terhurne was eating
fire in a long-practiced manner. Swords were swallowed, a pretty tattooed girl was trotted out.
It was a pleasure to observe Ward Hall's talking performance. The man had an endless and effortless stream of patter that never seemed to ebb. Here was a seasoned professional going through his paces, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
The performers did their turns on Ward's cue, and then he's back in the ticket booth collecting money — but the pitch continued on a grind tape played over the PA system. Seamless. As soon as the tip had been turned and sent into the
tent, the next bally started up again. I would have liked to have chatted with Ward for a bit, but he was so busy that I didn't want to disturb him.
We handed over our cash and headed into the tent ourselves, where we were treated to Freakshow Foley performing the blockhead, bed of nails, and hoisting a bowling ball with his earlobes. Chelsea climbed the ladder of swords, Ses Carny
dinged the Wonder Mouse, Serpentina made an appearance on her tree stump, and Chumley did the human pincushion as a blow off. A fine time was had by all, and as a stormy sunset cast its dying rays on the rides, we left satisfied but
knowing we'd be back later in the week.
We did come back briefly on the evening of Memorial Day, but we didn't enter the fair. We had been out painting again that day, and Kate decided she'd like to do a pastel drawing of the fairgrounds. She set up her easel in the
parking lot, while I read and snapped a few shots of the concessions and rides. By the time Kate was finished with her drawing, we were both tired and starving, so we headed home for dinner.
We returned on Sunday, 5 June, the last day of the fair. The rain we'd had off and on all week had finally cleared out, but left blistering heat in it's wake. When we came around the midway to the World of Wonders,
Little Pete looked exhausted. I think he was looking forward to a couple of days off and perhaps some air conditioning.
I don't know how we missed it the first time (maybe it hadn't been set up yet), but there was another attraction of freak animals on display nearby, next to the Himalaya. I gladly forked over two bucks and was
treated to a live sheep and a bull sharing 12 legs between them (you do the math), a dwarf cow and similarly stunted goats, and a cross between a donkey and a zebra.
There was also a Homer Tate mummy gaff that had seen better days, next to an array of pickled specimens and the obligatory Giant Rat (capybara).
Having enjoyed our brief sojourn in the land of Jack Contantine's freaky livestock, we returned to the World of Wonders. This time around, Red Stuart had joined the bally.
Inside the tent, Red continued to swallow swords of ever increasing length — and a coat hanger for good measure. Afterwards, a series of performers took the stage, with Ses
Carny acting as MC/lecturer.
Spidora, Serpentina, the amazing shrinking head, the blade box, the headless woman, Voltara, and more! Its all Alive on the Inside!
Now that you've seen the arty black-and-white shots, here are some pictures of the whole gaudy spectacle in living color.
[All photographs by James G. Mundie. These photographs may not be reproduced without the express permission of the photographer.]