Most of you reading this are probably too young to remember spook shows. They came in a number of varieties, from the travelling professionals to the local Knights of Columbus. Their heyday was the 1930s and experienced a decline by the late 60s. Your city or town may still put on haunted houses or hay rides, but the spook show was a whole different animal. They generally took place in a tent or rented theater, and starred a variety of showmen: generally, magicians, carnies, and hypnotists.
One thing was for sure, they were always a racket. The “REAL DEAD BODY” was a chicken from a local butcher, the ‘FREE BABY” was a baby chick, and the shrunken heads were always plastic. If you were an adult stupid enough to believe the ads, you deserved to lose your quarter; but, if you were a kid, it didn’t matter how lousy it was. When you told your friends about it, it would be the greatest, most horrifying thing you ever saw.
Besides, kids back then were easily amused. I remember being scared shitless over the lights being turned off and chains being rattled. They were always pretty seedy, so you never could be quite sure these carnies weren’t the kind to really decapitate that girl on the table. And another lure were the young beauties (hired from the local modeling agencies) at the entrance.
Despite the fact that most of these shows were run by hustlers and thieves, I actually kind of miss them. It was a unique experience. I can imagine how it would go down nowadays – idiots would sue, petty assholes would demand their money back and report them to Better Business Bureau, and religious nuts would run them out of town for violating indecency laws.
Well, let’s not dwell on the negative. Here’s a few more ads I found from the glory days of the spook show….
I love this: “Extra – On Stage, The Beatles Singing For You Mystically Transformed!”….. of course, the live baby giveaway has me intrigued as well.
One of the things I recall from these spook shows were warnings that the shows were not for the weak of heart and that a nurse would be on site to deal with any trauma that may arise. Of course, this just sparked my curious little brain, but overprotective parents would never indulge me.
Sure, these haunted attractions were a bitter disappointment once you got inside, but that wasn’t the point. The name of the game was (1) conquering your fears and (2) having something to brag about later.
The fact that it was not nearly as terrifying as the horrifying exterior would lead you to believe was a actually a good thing. You manned up, pulled the trigger, and came out on top. The fact that it wasn’t particularly scary merely meant you were a Man of Bravery and Courage.
Of course, you would be sure to embellish the truth the next day at school. I once went to a carnival attraction that consisted of the lights being turned off and a crummy Halloween sound effects record being played. You could even hear the scratches on the record. Nonetheless, I was sure to tell all my friends (and any girls who cared to listen) that it was a full-on balls-out horror extravaganza complete with a beheading and freak that got loose from its cage.
To finish things off are a few photographs from inside a haunted attraction. Is there anything more fun than this?