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Sideshow Gathering 2005

1 - 4 September, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Handbill for 4th Annual Sideshow Gathering, designed by James G. Mundie.

The Colossal Convocation of Carnies

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "If you didn't make it to the Sideshow Gathering this year, you should be kicking yourself." Why? It's a whole holiday weekend of sideshow mayhem taking place in northeastern Pennsylvania. Did I mention this is the only convention of its kind? Did I mention that the top performers from the sideshow world were in attendance and up on stage? Did I mention that new Guinness World Records were attempted and set? So, you were there right? Good. But for those who weren't, here's a sample of what you missed.

Aye Jay working the crowd at 4th Annual Sideshow Gathering

Between acts, all-around entertainer and self-proclaimed carny trash Aye Jay worked as emcee.

The strange, the unusual and the freakish took center stage at the 4th Annual Sideshow Gathering. Showmen from across the country congregated in Wilkes-Barre to celebrate the giddy thrills and forbidden mysteries of the circus and carnival sideshow. Over the holiday weekend, carnies swapped lies (or “cut up jackpots”, as they say), performed outrageous feats of physical daring – and allowed the public to watch.

Performers at the 4th Annual Sideshow Gathering included: New York’s Bindlestiff Family Cirkus; Sideshow Bennie, the One-man Ten-in-one; The Pickled Brothers; The Great Nippulini, World’s Strongest Nipples; Natasha Veruschka, Queen of Swords; Matt the Knife; Denver’s Crispy Family Carnival; Ses Carny; and carny jack-of-all-trades Red Stuart. Unfortunately, although initially scheduled to perform, George the Giant was unable to attend this year's Gathering for medical reasons.

In addition to the performers, many vendors were on hand to display unusual items such as two-headed animals and freakshow memorabilia.

The Great Nippulini with his unholy spawn

The Great Nippulini with his infant doppelgänger.

The Pickled Brothers Sideshow

Travis Fessler asks a member of the audience to remove his sword

A bit of audience participation
The Pickled Brothers kicked off the performances with sword swallowing, a whip act, and a bed of nails routine in which two large gentleman weighing a combined 700 pounds stood on Travis's chest. Ouch!

Ses Carny

Ses Carny's eye hooks act

Ses Carny's eye hooks act

Oh, the humanity!
Ses abuses himself with the fiendish eye hooks for our twisted enjoyment.

Natasha Veruschka

Natasha Veruschka swallows a sword

Natasha Veruschka swallows the neon sword

22 inches of electric danger
Natasha swallows the neon sword — on her knees!

The Big Swallow

The SSAI attempting a new world record for sword swallowing

At midnight on Friday, members of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International (SSAI) attempted to break their own world record for the greatest number of swords swallowed at one time with “The Big Swallow” — and succeeded. There were only nine sword swallowers on stage, but they managed to swallow fifty-two swords at one go — a new record. Red Stuart carried the bulk of the record by swallowing a sandwich of twenty-four swords (prepared for him by the Great Nippulini) wrapped around a broadsword — a new personal best. Dan Meyer, founder of SSAI, topped his own personal best of three swords by swallowing seven at once. Natasha Veruschka swallowed eleven blades, Keith Nelson three, and the rest swallowed either two or one blade.

52 swords - a new world record

Quit chokin' and start pokin': Down the hatch!
Left to right: Travis Fessler, Keith Nelson (a.k.a. Mr. Pennygaff), John Metz (a.k.a. Façcade, Johnny Mayhem), Dan Meyer, Natasha Veruschka, Red Stuart, Roderick Russell, Matt the Knife Cassiere, and Charles "Crispy" Knight.

Matrimony, sideshow style
Immediately following the Big Swallow, Mr. & Mrs. Johnny Mayhem were joined in holy matrimony by the Rev. Travis Fessler

Red Stuart

Red Stuart plays to a packed house

Red Stuart plays to a packed house
Although a bit hoarse from the previous night's record-breaking sword feat, Red Stuart starts off Saturday's festivities with a 5-in-1 demonstration of blockhead and human pincushion.

Sideshow Bennie

Sideshow Bennie plants his face in broken glass

Sideshow Bennie invites a young lady from the audience to step on him while he plants his face in a pile of broken glass.

Sideshow Bennie stands in broken glass

But wait, there's more!
Bennie stands on broken glass, then demonstrates why his vertical leap makes him a lousy basketball player.

Sideshow Bennie Back Dart Championship

My proudest achievement...
Bennie invited Kate and me up on the stage to compete in a round of darts. Let it be known far and wide that I am the official 2005 Sideshow Bennie Back Dart Champion — and I intend to defend my title against all comers! Because there are no losers in a Sideshow Bennie Back Dart competition, Kate had the consolation of extracting a Bag of Mystery from Bennie's Big Ass Box of Cool Stuff. Whee!

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

Mr. Pennygaff and Mistress Philomena

Mental floss duet
Keith Nelson (a.k.a. Mr. Pennygaff) and Stephanie Monseu (a.k.a. Mistress Philomena) about to share a mutual sinus cavity moment with the aid of two balloons.

Crispy Family Carnival

Boobzilla in the blade box

Consultation at the blade box
Firefly, Crispy, and Ukulele Loki puzzle over how to insert the next blade through Boobzilla.

Boobzilla unleashes her mighty double-L endowment

Boobzilla unleashes her mighty double-L endowment
Hide the children! Boobzilla uses her massive mammaries to hold telephone books, and even the wee Firefly on a folding chair!

Crispy's flame blast

Crispy spits fire
In the courtyard after the main performance, members of the Crispy Family took turns eating and blowing fire.

The Great Nippulini

The Great Nippulini

Pride of the league
The Great Nippulini suspends sixteen pounds of regulation bowling ball from his nipples.

The Great Nippulini

Perfect game
Nippulini adds a set of pins for a matching set.

The Great Nippulini

The Great Nippulini

Sideshow Bennie gets a light
Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

The Great Nippulini

Do not attempt this at home
He's a trained professional, folks.

The Amazing Nipple Midget Lift

Midget on a nipple swing
Firefly of the Crispy Family Carnival enjoys a bit of a swing suspended from Nippulini's powerful nipples.

Matt the Knife

Matt the Knife

Plastic bags are not toys
Bound with chains, handcuffed and wrapped in a plastic bag attached to a vacuum cleaner, Matt the Knife effects his escape from the airless deathtrap to thunderous applause.

Matt the Knife

Seeking the elusive balloon
The finale of Matt's mentalist act: a metal mask obscuring his vision, a reluctant assistant, an audience member holding a balloon to his noggin, a nervous audience, and one very large kitchen knife.

two-headed turtle

Oblivious to all this madness, Col. Hunsley's two-headed turtle happily floats in its tank.

On Sunday morning a brunch was held in honor of this year's special guest, Slim Price. Additionally, Franco Kossa, organizer of the Sideshow Gathering, extended tokens of appreciation to various individuals, performers and organizations helping to keep this form of entertainment alive. Among this year's awardees were Captain Don Leslie, Carnival Diablo, the Lucky Devil Sideshow, and In a completely unexpected turn of events, Franco — dear man that he is — also presented Kate and me with this plaque in appreciation of the help we had given him in promoting this year's event. Franco, it was my pleasure, and I will do whatever I can to help make the next Sideshow Gathering a success.

Sideshow Preservation Award

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All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2005