Ward Hall and The World of Wonders Sideshow

 Ward Hall and His World of Wonders

King of The Sideshow

Anyone that has spent time with Ward Hall is captivated by his memory and eloquence. He has accomplished so much in his lifetime. He has even produced a Broadway play. 

Ward Hall has written four books, four musical stage productions, has appeared in seven movies, more than 100 videos and TV Specials, performed in Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center in New York City and has sung in Carnegie Hall.

Ward Hall spearheaded a campaign against a 1921 Florida statute banning the exhibition of malformed, deformed or disfigured humans. He was successful: three years later, judges held the sideshow prohibition “unconstitutional” – because people with deviating bodies have the right to work.

Ward felt that people were going to gawk anyway, why not make them pay for the privilege? He taught them how to make money, and brought them into a makeshift family (“I was the Papa,” he says proudly). Many stayed with him all their lives.

Ward Hall said in his book My Very Unusual Friends: “I have enjoyed being friends with all these wonderful people. I believe they are generally more stable and well adjusted than the average populace.

These people know who they are and what they are. In becoming sideshow attractions, they made an asset of what most would consider a handicap. As a person who is exceptionally attractive may become a model or a person with an exceptional voice may become a singing star, these people intelligently capitalized on their difference.”

Ward Hall has worked with so many famous people in the sideshow industry such as the Percilla Bejano the Monkey Girl, Norbert Pete Terhurne (Poobah) the 3 ft 7-inch dwarf fire eater, Dick Brisbane, with feet growing directly from his hips, causing a waddling walk, became Penguin Boy. Stanley Barent, born with stumps for arms, became Sealo the Seal Boy.  Louise Capps Hill, the armless girl who drove a tractor, milked cows, played guitar and raised her children on her farm, Grace McDaniels the Mule-Faced Woman, Melvin Burkhart the Anatomical Wonder, Eddie Camel, Giant, Betty Lou Williams, the Double Bodied Girl, Frank Lentini the Three Legged Man, Dolly Reagan the Ossified Girl, Betty Macgregor – Stella The Beared Lady, Sandra Reed the Albino Girl, Albert Short the Rubber Man, William Dirks the Three-Eyed Man or the Two-Faced man, and Johann Peterson the Viking Giant just to name a few. 

As a boy, Ward always wanted to be a circus performer. He made the dream a reality. He visited each circus as it came through his hometown. He read books in the Denver Public Library on the circus. He learned about the Billboard, a weekly show business newspaper. He learned he could find the routes of each circus. Then he saw that the Dailey Brothers Railroad Circus would be showing in nearby Boulder, Colorado in July of 1945. He took the Greyhound Bus to Boulder and worked to earn a pass to the show by helping to set it up.

Ward began practicing doing magic tricks, fire eating, and puppeteering using instructions from library books.

Here is what Marc Hartzman wrote after learning of Ward

Ward Hall passed away today. The King of the Sideshows started his career in the 1940s and, despite numerous claims of retiring, he never stopped working. I had the great pleasure of meeting Ward in 2003 while doing research for my book, American Sideshow. I’d had numerous calls with him, each of which lasted about two hours. In the end, he’d apologize for not spending more time on the phone. I was grateful for any minute of his time he offered me.

My wife and I visited him in Gibsonton, Florida, that winter. He and his partner, Chris Christ, welcomed us into their home for a couple of days, sharing stories, photos and answering any questions we had. Ward even drove us around Gibtown (as it’s known by those in the know) giving us the full tour.

One evening, after spending hours chatting in his home, it was time to decide where to get dinner. We’d already eaten at the Giant’s Camp Restaurant and at the Showtown Lounge—the two must-visit places—so we opted for Mexican food. We sat down, ordered, and then discovered it was karaoke night. So, as people belted out songs in Spanish at the top of their lungs, we listened as closely as possible to Ward and Chris continuing their endlessly entertaining stories.

Ward was a tremendous help in the creation of my book. His generosity, kindness, and unwavering spirit for life and curiosity will never be forgotten. I know he had the same effect on many others over the decades.

Rest in peace, Ward. I know you’ll give Heaven a helluva show.

Below is an excerpt from my book:

If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he would either be a dear friend or a bitter rival of Ward Hall. Hall is one of the last showmen from a bygone era. Blessed with a gift of gab and a flair for entertaining, his successful career in the business began in the 1940s and lasted until his retirement at the end of 2003. It was only supposed to last a couple of weeks. Or so his father thought when he let him join the circus back in 1946.

Hall was born in the early 1930s in a small town in western Nebraska. “It was 120 degrees in the summer, 40 below inthe winter, I wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as I was old enough to know there was another place,” he said. An urge to join the circus led first led him to the library, where he studied books on fire eating and magic. By 15, Hall dropped out of school and joined Dailey Brothers Circus for $30 a week. Although he performed magic, he soon gave it up for ventriloquism because, as he explained: ‘I am primarily a lazy person and I objected to having to reload all that magic stuff for each performance.’ The dummy was one simple prop.

Hall’s ambitions grew, and by 1948 he teamed up with showman and knife thrower Harry Leonard and joined Rogers Brothers Circus in Texas. After the resident sword swallower and sideshow manager continually missed shows, Hall took over the reins. From that point on, he managed various sideshows with different outfits until ultimately owning his own production.

When Leonard passed away in the 1960s, Hall hooked up with an aspiring showman named Chris Christ. By 1967, the partnership resulted in the Hall & Christ Sideshow, but was later rechristened the Christ & Hall Sideshow. As Hall explained, he couldn’t put his name before Christ. Together, the showmen produced sideshows for Circus Vargas, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and countless state fairs over the decades. In addition to their live shows, Hall and Christ were involved in the production of numerous sideshow documentaries, including The Last American Sideshow and Being Different.

Having worked with hundreds of performers throughout his career, Hall became known as the King of the Sideshows. His favorite attractions were Schlitzie the Pinhead and Percilla the Monkey Girl. But it wasn’t the unusual freaks that made the most money. ‘People love giants, midgets, and fat people,’ Hall said. ‘Because this is the fairy tale. Jack Sprat ate no fat, his wife would eat no lean, Jack and the Beanstalk, the little people of Gulliver’s Travels. These are stories people have been told when they were just small children. It’s much easier to sell an attraction that you can paint the mental pretty picture about, rather than something gruesome,’ he explained. ‘We’re going to have a man drive nails into his head with a hammer, we’re going to have someone put their face down in broken glass. Or, we’re going to see these wonderful little people. The world’s smallest married couple. Why, they’re so tiny, so cute, you’d want to hold them in the palm of your head. It’s much easier to sell the pretty picture.’ Of course, while it was the freaks that sold the tickets, it was the working acts that entertained the people. The giants were not as tall as promised, the midgets not as small, and the fat people not as fat.”

Huffington Post Presents Ward Hall: King Of The Sideshow

Ward Hall-The Making of a Sideshow ‘Talker’

Ward Hall on Sideshow Illusions & Oddities-Pt 1

Ward Hall on Sideshow Illusions & Oddities–Pt 2

Ward Hall’s First Carnival Sideshow Pt 1

Ward Hall Recalls 1948 Carnival Life Pt 2

Ward Hall: Carnival Games, Girl Shows and more  . . . PT 3

Remembering Ward Hall Tampa Fox 13

To know Ward Hall was truly an honor. The kindest man I have met in this business. We will miss him so much.

Here is what the Washington Post Said

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