There’s progress to report about my ongoing writing project. I’m writing a spoken word routine about The Outside Talker who performs to announce the carnivals or freak shows, etc. I got stuck wondering about which image to choose. I imagine its as though I’m strolling through the midway, between the tents, beside the boxcars, with a camera. I can only take one photograph. I only desire a single image, before I can write. There are the snake charmers, sword swallowers, bearded ladies, siamese twins, etc. None of those would do, so I hit the books. (well, okay, I didn’t actually hit very many books, but I did quite a bit of reading online)
Eventually, I came upon the text of a book written in 1903, On the Road with a Circus by W. C. Thompson. The book enticingly introduces itself:
The faithful recording of daily life with one of the "big shows", wandering with it under all vicissitudes, fortunate or adverse, is the errand on which this book is sent. [...] We will study the life, character, and habits of the motley throng of "show" people and learn of morals and manners, of hopes and fears, of trials and solicitudes...
There, in that book, the shutter in my imagination’s camera clicked. W.C. Thompson introduced me to “The Electric Lady”
The "electric lady" is one of the phenomena of our side-show, and a source of great wonder to the gullible visitor. She is saturated with the mysterious force. A continuous supply passes from her finger tips to whoever touches her flesh. Scoffers are confounded at the manifestation, and there is a general feeling among the side-show sightseer that she is a supernatural being. There is nothing indicating a violation of natural law in the lady's appearance, and nobody appears to enjoy the curiosity she excites more than her own merry self. A strange feature of the exercise of the invisible agent is that it generates only for commercial purposes. For instance, the power leaves her when the performance closes for the night, and does not develop again until she is on exhibition the following day. Then, too, the current confines itself to a fixed spot. It passes away instantaneously if she moves from her chair.
It wouldn’t be proper showmanship to divulge here the secrets behind such an uncanny performance, but I do happen to have learned them. They are dangerous secrets.
I also found a few old show posters for these kinds of acts, although it seems most of these acts were done as mock electrocutions, playing upon the public’s awareness of the relatively new method of electrical execution.
Also, there are a few modern photographs out there of a performance like this.
With an idea firmly in mind, I’ve taken to my notebook.