AMC’s Freakshow Goes To Gibtown! (Gibsonton, FL)

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I’m jealous that “Freakshow” went to Gibtown. I wish I could have lived in Gibsonton, Florida in the 1940s and ’50s.  Half girl Jeannie Tomani and her giant husband Al ran the Giant’s Fishing Camp, which was a trailer park and restaurant.  Percilla the Monkey Girl and her husband Emmit the Alligator Man spent summers there.  The famous Hilton Sisters (Siamese twins) ran a fruit stand.  Called “Gibtown’ by residents, the small Florida town has been winter quarters for circuses and sideshows since the 1930s.  With carnivals and circuses in decline, Gibtown is a shadow of its former self, but some glimmers remain.

Grady Stiles III meets the Venice Beach Freakshow at the airport to start them on their tour of Gibtown. Grady has been on the show before, and he always presents himself as a kind, intelligent man.  Grady is part of the famed sideshow Lobster family, and he seems to be a permanent resident of Gibtown. He grew up there, his father was murdered there, and we can only assume that he still lives there.

Ward Hall still winters in Gibtown.  Mr. Hall is in his 80s, and is called “The King Of The Sideshow.” He has been in the business for 70 years.  Ward and his partner, C. M. Christ, meet the “Freakshow” crew at a bar and agree to put on a joint performance with the Venice Beach Freakshow. I wish there had been more Ward in these episodes.  The man must have stories for days and days.  He has worked with so many of the greats.  He was famous, for a time, for his legal problems over displaying human remains (his Pickled Punk show).  Ward has seen it all, done it all, and Ward’s sexual orientation alone has to make for some fascinating tales.  Ward didn’t exactly grow up in the more tolerant times that we currently enjoy.  Hats off to Ward Hall!  There’s a new book out about Ward.  I hope a digital version comes out, soon.

The show goes off without a hitch, in spite of torrential rains and a flooded tent.  These people are troopers.  Nothing stops them.  The Amazing Ali even breathes fire, thanks to some fast instruction from sideshow great Red Stuart.  Hats off to Ali too, for wanting to do more in the show than exhibit herself.

The companion episode of the evening follows Asia Ray in her quest for her own apartment.  She hunts with the help of friends.  It’s evident that Asia and her friends are growing apart, and the growing gulf becomes even more evident when Morgue joins the group.  Morgue are the girls are oil and water, and he answers their questions about his relationship with Asia with a terse, “None of your business.”  Incidentally, lots of people want to know if Morgue and Asia are dating.  I’ll tell you right now…I don’t know.

Giant George Bell is also showed at his home in Virginia.  George has decided to leave his job with the prison system and his girlfriend to join the Freakshow full time.  I wish George tons of luck and happiness. 

Back in Gibtown, Todd Ray and his family accompany Grady Stiles on his first visit to his father’s grave.  Grady Stiles Jr. was sideshow royalty. He spent his life onstage, displaying his lobster claw hands and tiny, malformed legs. He was The Lobster Boy, and he was murdered in 1992 in Gibtown by a sideshow geek.  Grady’s ex-wife and stepson were both convinced of the conspiracy that resulted in Grady Stiles Jr. dying with three bullets in his head.  Grady III sticks with the family defense, which is that his mother and brother never intended for his father to be killed.  Their hope was that some minor violence and intimidation would curb Grady Jr.’s drunken, abusive behavior, but the geek went too far.  Grady Stiles Jr. apparently drank to excess and beat his family with his lobster claw hands.  He actually got away with murder in 1978. He was convicted of the murder of his oldest daughter’s fiance on the eve of the wedding.  In spite of confessing in court, Stiles was given probation because the Pennsylvania penal system wasn’t equipped to deal with an inmate with ectrodactyly.  It’s hard to dismiss the family’s stories of his violent behavior, and Grady III obviously doesn’t care for his father to this day.  He thanks his dead father for teaching him what kind of man he should not be.  Here’s what is considered to be the definitive book on the Lobster Boy murder, if you are interested.  It’s the Kindle edition, but used paperback copies are also available. 

I loved the little taste of the past in these two episodes of “Freakshow.”  I’ve long had an interest in the golden days of the American sideshow.  Todd Ray obviously loves the old days of the sideshow. I hope that other fans of the show also develop an interest in sideshow history.  There are no better stories in the world. 

 

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