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Con Carny: 1939

Summer 1939. Carnival at Bozeman, Montana. View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration.

Summer 1939. Carnival at Bozeman, Montana. View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration.


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Betty Lou

Fascinating! Thanks for posting the story, Goober Pea. I also find it interesting that the poster appears to depict her as extremely Caucasian. Maybe the farm boys don't pay to see an African-American woman with four legs?

Step Right Up...

Yes, Laura, Popeye appears to be shilling for Betty Lou, the Four-Legged Girl on the poster. It was (and is) common to use characters from popular comics to sell products – Popeye was at the peak of his popularity in 1939, so it makes sense that the carnival would use his image (unlicensed, I’m sure) to promote Betty Lou.

It is interesting to see the barker with what appears to be a microphone at the entrance to ZaZa’s tent. There is a speaker mounted on the stanchion between ZaZa and Betty Lou’s posters. The barker is looking to his left, in apparent direct eye-contact with the gentleman in the black coat and hat. ZaZa’s poster depicts her in the nude – or nearly so, and the banner on the right says “exotic” something or another…wonder if she was a stripper or hootchie-coo dancer? The group of guys with their hand in their pockets seem to be on a bee-line for her tent.

“Step right up and see the Enchantress of the East, the Amaaaazing ZaZa! She whirls, she twirls, she offers you all a peak at the pulchritude beneath her veils…”


Thank you, Gooberpea, for the info on Betty Lou. That's very interesting stuff! I do have a question though - are my eyes playing tricks on me, or is Popeye the Sailor also in the banner with Betty Lou? I wonder why? Advertising gimmick, perhaps?

Dark's Pandemonium Carnival

The very first thing I thought of when I saw this was "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Great story and a great photo.

Four-Legged Girl

The poster on the right advertises "Betty Lou, Four Legged Girl" Here is Betty Lou's bio from and corroborated by several additional citations:

"Betty Lou Williams was born Lillie B Williams in Albany, Georgia on January 10, 1932. She was the daughter of a poor farming family and the youngest of twelve children. She was also born attached at the side to a parasitic sibling that consisted of two legs, one tiny arm-like appendage and a more developed arm with three fingers. Despite the fact that the head of her twin was embedded deep within her abdomen, Betty Lou was a very healthy girl and doctors proclaimed that there was no reason she could not live a long and healthy life.

She was originally discovered at the age of one by a professional showman named Dick Best. Best changed the name of the little girl to Betty Lou – perhaps in an attempt to promote the parasite as a male, a lie that was popular in parasitic twin displays – and he began to display the infant in his New York Museum. It was there that she drew the attention of Ripley.

Working for Ripley, at the age of two, Betty Lou made an astounding $250 a week. As she grew into adulthood, she made over $1000 a week. With her earnings she purchased a 260 acre ranch for her parents and sent all eleven of her siblings to college.

The jump in Betty Lou’s earnings was due in part to the fact that, as she matured, she developed into quite an attractive woman. Her beauty and generosity drew many male suitors and, at the age of twenty-three, she became engaged to one of her admirers. However the husband-to-be was little more than a heartbreaking thief. He left Betty Lou taking a great deal of money with him and, distraught over the breakup, Betty suffered a severe asthma attack at her home in Trenton, New Jersey.

Betty Lou suffocated to death at the age of twenty-three."

Photos of Betty Lou from childhood to adulthood can be found at:

Goober Pea

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