West Terre Haute held its first street fair and carnival in October of 1907. For a week the main street, Paris Avenue, was host to a mini-wonderland. The promoters of the event, the WTH town band, promised the “bally-hoo of Coney Island,” as well as everything from snake eaters to “high class vaudeville.” Oriental music played by the band would delight the ears of attendees and many free attractions would be available to enthrall all. Paris Avenue was festooned with banners and illuminated with electric lights for the occasion.
The first day of the fair provided a “plantation show and Creation…. running in full blast… and a jolly crowd of chocolate hued negroes furnished entertainment for the fun seeking throng.”
My guess is that my grandmother was there, as the carnival was only 3 blocks from her home. I can see little, six-year old Hildy Hants entranced by the whirl and the colors. I would also guess that if she was there it was on the hand of her father. This was during the brief period when her parents were divorced before remarrying, and I can see Bill Hants enjoying a spectacle much more than the strait-laced Lulu. I am not sure that my grandfather Ray Chrisman would have attended. They lived in St. Mary-of-the-Woods village, and that combined with their more straightened circumstances may have precluded their offering little Ray this chance of a lifetime. Then again, my grandfather had a job at age seven delivering coal for the local postmistress, so he may hand small coins jingling enough to buy some red lemonade and hot peanuts and to see the show. I sincerely hope he did get to go and ride the merry-go-round.
The carnival company contracted to provide entertainment was late arriving, but when they did hit town they brought with them crowd pleasers. Among them was “Colonel Crawford with his wonderful mechanical figures,” which included full size wax figures representing the “assassination of President McKinley, the electrocution of Czolgolsz, his assassin, and James Parker, the colored hero who was the first to lay hands on the assassin after the shooting.” Also represented was a wax figure of Pearl Bryan (see sketch) . Pearl was the victim of a sensational murder case 11 years previously. A young girl from Greencastle, she had become pregnant by her boyfriend. He lured her to Cincinnati by promising to marry her. When she arrived, she found that his intention was to have her undergo an abortion. When she demurred, he beheaded her. So such was the sensational fare meant for the adults in the crowd.
Also on the bill were the LeGrande brothers trapeze act, a monkey balloon ascension, and a man who rode a bicycle on a hire wire. Not to mention one “Great Yanyske, a heavyweight specialty man” and a steel hoop and ring act.
Two of the carnies themselves provided entertainment in both West Terre Haute and its haughtier sister city to the east on the final day. As the Terre Haute Star reported, “one might be led to believe there was a street fair in progress in Ohio street near Justice Brown’s office yesterday. The ‘serging crowds’ and the ‘South American Wonder’ wagon were both present.
Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, described as “genuine show people,” ran a wonder wagon in which they displayed a human monstrosity from South America and sold “nigger babies,” chocolate candies in shape of babies. Well, it seems that during the carnival Mr. Lambert was arrested for throwing stones at a fellow carny. He was hauled to Terre Haute and ordered to pay a fine in lieu of domiciling in the Terre Haute hoosegow. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Lambert held both the purse strings and the booty from their successful stint in West Terre Haute. She refused to bail him out, possibly, it seems, because her heart had been turned from her husband toward that of a fellow showman. Mr. Lambert was forced to call on the services of an attorney who had a warrant issued claiming Mrs. Lambert had “stolen” his share of their profits.
Lawyers being lawyers, Mrs. Lambert’s mouthpiece claimed she could not be convicted of stealing money she herself had helped earn. Finally it was agreed that she would pay his fine, and she did so by flashing a large roll of cash. Just as everyone thought the matter was settled, Mr. Lambert dashed to the wagon and attempted to drive off, but Mrs. Lambert and her attorney jumped on to stop him. Both attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant urged their clients not to give in.
Sensing defeat, Mr. Lambert said he would give his wife the wagon if she paid his lawyer fees and court costs. One again, she pulled out her bankroll and paid. When last seen she was driving the wagon away like a “conqueror.” One assumes she returned to West Terre Haute to form a new partnership with her huckster paramour.