Gentlemanly Lecturer

The following excerpt is from the book I’ve been reading entitled On the Road with a Circus (written in 1903 by W.C. Thompson). This section documents the “bally” I’ve been hoping to emulate with my ongoing writing / spoken-word project. In the authors words, It is interesting as a truthful reproduction of a style of unique oratory which prevails nowhere else.

The whole energies of a slender man with a trim figure are devoted to entertaining the side-show visitors. He talks almost unceasingly from morning until night in brief but lucid descriptions of the assembly of oddities. His addresses are delivered with great ostentation and search after effect. He is a man of easy wit and repartee, and of tact and practical intelligence; qualifications necessary to the successful conduct of his vocal calling. Each "freak," barring the "wild man," has for sale personal photographs, the receipts for which the management lays no claim to. This is an important part of their incomes, and the lecturer's failure to call attention to the offering brings upon him reproach and censure. I attach one of his harangues, exactly as he delivered it one afternoon before an audience of grinning Connecticut countrymen. It is interesting as a truthful reproduction of a style of unique oratory which prevails nowhere else.

“Now in about five minutes we will start our regular show in here and have it all over forty-five minutes before the circus commences. (The band blows hard for five minutes.) Everybody pay your attention this way. We commence our show here first. I call your attention to Signor Arcaris and sister. They will entertain you with a wonderful performance known as the impalement act, better known as knife-throwing, without a doubt the best act of its kind in the world. (The act and music.) Now down this way next. I take great pleasure in introducing Princess Ani, the wonder worker and mind reader. We will have what is known as spirit calculations on the blackboard. We will have a number of gentlemen place some figures on the board. The minute you place a figure on the board she knows what figure you place there, although she is blindfolded. She can describe anything and tell you while blindfolded what you are thinking about.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you how this lady tells fortunes. She reads the lines of your hand. Every line denotes some peculiar trait in your character. Tells you what you ought to do for your own benefit; tells you what talent you possess; tells you when you are going to get married; tells you how many children you are going to have, if any. The line is there in your own hand, you can’t get away from it. Tells your lucky day, lucky number, family affairs, love affairs. Tells how long you ought to live by the life line of your hand! Now, it is all private. She don’t tell it out loud. First she explains about the large lines. She whispers so that no one can hear but yourself. And for the small lines you get what is known as the number. The rest your hand-reading calls for is all printed on this slip of paper. No two alike. Every one’s fortune is different. Just show her your left hand. The price fifteen cents all the way through. Walk right up and show her your left hand.

“Now to the stage. I call your attention to the smallest lady ever placed on exhibition, Miss Bertha Carnihan, twenty-nine years of age, stands thirty-nine inches in height and weighs thirty-eight pounds. The most perfectly formed little lady on exhibition. She is well educated; has been all over the world. Step up and have a talk with her. She will answer all questions in regard to herself. She also has her photographs for sale.

Now direct your attention to the large stage in the centre. You will be entertained by Professor Lowry’s Nashville students. (When the negro concert is finished, the “big song book, words and music, fifty songs, five cents a copy,” are sold.) Now, fix your interest this way, please. I call your attention to Miss Millie Taylor, better known as the Queen of Long-haired Ladies. This lady has without a doubt the longest hair of any lady before the public. The length of the lady’s hair is seven feet four inches. Step up and examine it for yourselves. She also has her photos. Now we come to Miss Julien, the world’s greatest snake hypnotist. The lady will entertain you with her large den of living monster reptiles, introducing anacondas, boa constrictors, pythons and the turtle-head snake of Florida. (The performer coils snake after snake around her form.) The lady now has one hundred and sixty-eight pounds of snake around her body, neck and arms. You will find her entertaining to converse with. She will tell you all about snakes, etc. She also has her photographs for sale.

“Over this way next. I call your attention to the crowning feature of our side-show. The tallest man in human history, Hassan Ali, better known as the Egyptian giant. Born in Cairo, Egypt, twenty-six years of age, stands eight feet two inches in height and weighs three hundred and twelve pounds. To give you a better idea in regard to his height and reach we will allow the tallest man in the audience to stand on this high chair. The giant will stand on the ground. If the man reaches up and touches the photograph Hassan Ali holds up between his fingers, we will make him a present of a ticket, taking him all the way through the big show. There (pointing) is a tall man. Would you be kind enough to stand on this chair and reach with him. All right, you see (turning to the audience) he comes about six inches from it. This gives you an idea in regard to the size of the giant’s hand. Here is a good-sized water pail. See how far you can span it. Goes about half way. The giant spans it. His fingers go two inches over the rim. Now, he has no thick soles on his shoes, no high heels. There’s his foot, No. 18. He also has his photographs for sale.

“Now pay your attention over that way. That’s Neola, the electric lady. By shaking hands with her, you will receive a slight current of electricity, the same as you would from a battery. Don’t be backward, walk right up and shake hands with her. She won’t harm you. She also has photos.

“Now, the wild man! Down this way for the wild man! Now, stop that crowding there! Take your time, remember there are ladies and children in the crowd. (He pulls the curtain aside and pokes at the inmate with an iron bar.) There he is, with flat head and low forehead, showing he has very little brain. You notice the maniac look of the eyes, just the same as a beast. He has teeth just like a lion, arms four inches longer than our arms and walks on all fours. Captured in the everglades of Florida, a little over four and a half years ago. Handcuffed and shackled ever since he was caught. Now if you stop to think, you know there is a cause for a monstrosity of that kind. Just before he was born his mother was frightened by a beast. It left the mark on that freak of nature, just as you see for yourselves. Half Indian, half negro, don’t understand a word, don’t talk, growls like a beast, eats nothing but raw meat. (He draws the curtain.)

“Now pay your attention there. You will be entertained by musical Swarts. (A man gets melody from bells and various instruments.) Over this way next. The old-time funny Punch and Judy. (He enters a booth, gives the familiar show and reappears.) Now, I will show you how I change my voice. It is done with a reed, made of silver and silk. All you have to do is place it on your tongue and talk right. The sound of the words goes through the reed just like this. (He illustrates.) That’s the way to do it. There are full directions how to use it. Ten cents, three for a quarter. If they don’t blow as I represent, hand them back and I will give you back your money. (When the sales are finished he concludes in loud tones:) The big show commences in five minutes. All over in here."

The lusty-lunged orators on the outside make a great clamor as the crowd passes out, and one of them shouts : “The gentlemanly lecturer will now pass around again, explaining the curiosities, monstrosities and freaks of nature. Come on! Come on!” The heartless band lures with brazen notes and the scene is repeated without variation.