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Memories of the ‘old’ county fair

Long before there was Disney World, Six Flags and King’s Island, there was the county fair.

And that was back before folks got so sensitive and the world got “politically correct.”

Back then you could watch Mr. Magoo and not be thought insensitive to the plight of nearsighted people. You could read funny books about the Lil’ Devil and dress as a witch on Halloween and not be accused of being a Satan worshiper.

So, in the fall when the county fair came to town, the “carnies” set up 25-cent side shows with the most amazing things – a sword swallower, a fire eater, a knife thrower that could throw knives and split the hairs on a lady’s head and a man that could stretch out on a bed of nails and one that could walk barefooted on hot coals.

And, then, there were the freak shows with giants, midgets, fat ladies, tattooed men, bearded women, the gorilla girl, the rubber man that could stretch everything and

Siamese twins in a jar of formaldehyde.

Once in a sideshow there was a man with a face like a lion, a woman that looked like a mule – really – and the frog boy that had a tongue three feet long. There was also a half man, half woman but you had to go through another tent flap and pay extra to see that. I didn’t.

What I did pay extra to see was the live chicken-eating man. He just snatched the head right off an old feathered chicken and stuck it in his mouth. Everybody ran out of the tent so we didn’t know if he chewed up the head and swallowed it or not.

But the most popular sideshow was off limits to young people. Only men were allowed in the hootchie-kootchie show.

The hootchie-kootchie was always located at the far and dark end of the fairgrounds and usually off to the side of the Ferris Wheel and not too far from the Tilt-a-Whirl. And it was from that high vantage point and those spinning tops that we, the young and innocent, were able to get a sneak peek at the hootchie-kootchie show.

When it was almost time for the show and the hootchie-kootchie girls were going to come out on the midway stage, lights would flash and the music would blare out and the men would come rushing down the midway with their hats pulled down over their eyes and the collars of the coats pulled up around their necks like they were trying to hide from somebody.

The men would gang up with their backs turned away from the stage and the hootchie-kootchie girls would come out in these slinky, shiny dresses that were split up the side so you could see one long leg. They wore high heel shoes with rhinestones and long beads around their necks that they twirled in rhythm to the music.

They all chewed chewing gum, actually they smacked on it and between smacks they would lick their lips and bat their artificial eyelashes. Sometimes they would pucker their lips and kiss the air.

They each had different color long hair and it all looked like it had come out of a bottle.

They would shake their hips to the music and wiggle their finger for the men to come on in and see the show and they did – and in a hurry.

If some of the men hung back, one of the hootchie-kootchie girls would stay out on the stage and shake and wiggle some more. It was an amazing thing to see.

The best vantage point was from the Tilt-a-Whirl because you had to wait for the ride to start and could keep sitting after it stopped so you could get a good look.

What was most interesting was who you could see coming out of the hootchie-kootchie show. And, if I’d known about blackmail back then, I’d be a rich gal today.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Email her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.