Picture Perfect 51

Picture Perfect 51

Dan could smell popcorn even before he had opened the front door of the Maritime Circus Museum. As he opened the door, calliope music announced his entry. Man, that must get irritating for the people who work here, he thought.

The inside lobby was a ceiling to floor front of a circus tent – a ticket booth in the middle, a partially opened tent flap, & two large canvas posters on either side of the ticket booth. They had to be at least twelve foot high. The ones on the left were for ‘Cora! Queen of the King Cobras’ – it showed a wide-eyed, smiling woman clad like a bellydancer, charming a king cobra by staring into its eyes. ‘Cora can charm the most dangerous of poisonous snakes. Think of what she can do with mortal man.’

Beside it was one for ‘Sharko – The Fish Man’  A thin man in bathing trunks was half twisting to show the fin on his back, his legs were covered with scales and there appeared to be gills under his jaw. ‘See his scales, his fin. Watch as he dives deep and stays underwater longer than humanly possible.’

On the other side were posters touting first, ‘Fireball.’ It showed a man putting a flaming touch into his mouth. He was wearing a flame painted costume with a what appeared to a lighting bolt of flame flashing from his crotch. Beside the ‘Fireball’ was one for ‘Madama Cabanalla’: a Gypsy woman staring out at him with a crystal ball floating over her palms. ‘Madama Cabanalla sees all! Tells all!’

A sign on the ticket booth invited him to ring for service. An arrow pointed to a rope that he followed with his eyes as it went through a series of pulleys to a fire-station type bell on the wall behind him. A group came in the door as he was about to pull the rope. Two adults and six children.

Dan pulled the bell rope. The alarm rang loudly for a minute and then res & yellow balloons shot up from the roof of the ticket booth with a loud bang. The children screamed and laughed. Dan shook his head in amazement.

A man dressed in a red blazer, with a striped yellow vest and black check pants stepped out from the tent entrance.

“Welcome! Welcome.” He reached his hand out to one of the adults. The adult was leery and squinted as if expecting a hand buzzer as they shook hands. Nothing happened.

“Welcome one and all to Chamberlain’s Maritime Circus Museum. I am Winston Chamberlain. The Happy Hippo Travelling Circus has been in my family for several generations since 1899 when Grant and Isabelle Hill started it. It toured the Eastern Provinces changing with the times over the years until it could no long keep up with the times.”

“You are free to explore the exhibits and the grounds as you want to for free, or you can take a guided tour with ME.” He pulled a bouquet of flowers out of his coat sleeve and presented it to one of the young girls in the family group. “The cost of the tour is your soul … just kidding. It’s a mere $10.00 each.”

“How long will that take?” One of the adult asked. “An hour.” Winston answered. “An hour you will never forget.”

“Can we Daddy?” one of the children asked. “Can we?”

“Is there a children’s rate?” The man asked.

“Only if their feet never touch the ground.” Winston answered. “And their hands don’t touch an exhibit, unless instructed to.”

Dan laughed at Winston’s spiel. He saw that it disarmed the parents of the children, who reluctantly paid the admission fee. 

“And you kind sire?” Winston asked Dan.

“I think I’ll explore a bit first. It might be quieter.”

“I hear you.” Winston nodded. “If you want the printed guide to the exhibits that’ll be $5. Which you can pay to my lovely assistant right though here.”

He lifted the tent flap wider and tied it back so they all could enter.

“That included with the tour Mac?” The dad asked.

“Nope.” Winston said. “But you each do get a free bag of popcorn.”

Dan went into the tent and bought the guide. The assistant was an automation pirate that dropped the booklet down a slot & out into his waiting hand. The museum was divided into several areas. One that dealt with the history of it, one that had a display of the various flyers, posters, costumes; another that devoted the various carnival games and food; in an out door area were rides dating back to the first years of the circus. Not all of them were functional and the ones that were would cost $10.00 each to ride or any three for $20.00.

“We’ll start with the Carnival Food Fair,” Winston said to the family, who were joined by several other people. 

Dan went in the opposite direction to the first of the exhibit rooms. The guide book gave a concise time line of the carnival, explained the difference between a carnival and a circus. A circus always had animals, lions, tigers; always had performs like clowns, trapeze or tumblers; rarely had rides. Whereas a carnival had more games of chance; rides; some would have freak sideshows such as The Fish Man; large ones might have simple animal acts like dogs or the occasional snake charmer like Cora. Animals always slowed down travel time and over the years were phased out as the rides became a bigger draw.

The exhibit hall Dan went into had a map of the Maritime provinces filling one wall. There were different coloured and sized circus flags representing the decades and places various carnivals had traveled to when they were on tour. The Happy Hippo was the only one based the wartime’s but a couple of the bigger ones, like the Conklin, sent touring midways to Halifax every summer. The larger the flag the more frequently it visited a particular town or city. 

Some would get an annual visit, others every two or three years. It would rarely stay longer than a week at any one place unless there some other festival or event going on at the same time. 

There where three Happy Hippo touring shows. Dan hadn’t realized this before. He’d always assumed that there was just the one he recalled from his childhood. Each of them had different rides, games of chance. The larger the town or city the larger the carnival would be, hence the three different shows. It also meant three of them could be on the road at the same time and participate in more than one local festival at a time.

There was a computer interface with the map where one could input year, month and see what locations which show was performing. It would also tell you what rides, sideshows and specials where appearing with it, how long it stayed. But not how much money it made.

Dan typed in the month they had left for Toronto. All three shows were on the road. The one nearest Stellerton was the smaller number 3. It played in Truro the week before and had moved on the day after his family left. He saw that a Madam Cabanalla was featured in all three shows. So there must have been more than one of her. Though perhaps her psychic power allowed her to appear in three places at the same time. He’d have to ask Glaucia if the was possible. The Truro special was Cora Queen of the King Cobras in the Court of King Tut. He took pictures of the various pages before they disappeared.

Was Cora why he was so disappointed in not getting to the circus that last weekend? He had been so into Tut that summer for some reason. Following links on the computer screen he found a flyer for that area’s carnival. It also said that the actual flyers could be found in Exhibit Hall two. He consulted he guide to see where that hall was.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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