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Personality Fat Girl: 1938

Personality Fat Girl: 1938

August 1938. "Sideshow, county fair, central Ohio." 35mm nitrate negative by Ben Shahn for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Another View of the Fat Girl

Another view of the same Side Show, with a clearer view the "art." I note that kids could get in to see the Fat Lady for a nickel! During the early 1970s when I was in my early teens, I couldn't get in to the "girly" sideshows. I was just too damned young!

The Lady

The lady was not quite as well trimmed as Millard made her out to be, but she was quite content with her lot. After all, around twenty million of us were either starving or on the verge of starvation at the time, and anyone who could afford a layout was on the road, scuffling for every copper they could get.

For some, it was a suitcase and three pieces of half round secured with a leather thong, the "tripes and keister" of the pitchman. Those who lacked the talent to
"work a tip" did what they could. For the lady, it meant displaying her ample charms up to 16 hours a day, and a 36 hour stretch with very little sleep on tear down and go days.

But seeing new towns? Hardly. A carny hardly had time to leave the lot, and if you did, the locals generally looked at you like you had two heads. Sometimes you saw something that interested you, out of a truck cab, but it was gone by the time you could turn your head to look.

Not so jolly fat people

To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train

O Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
      Missing so much and so much?
O Fat White Woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grasss is soft as the breast of doves
      And shivering sweet to the touch?
O Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
      Missing so much and so much?

-- Frances Cornford

This may give some insight to previous anonymous tipster who wondered about the life of the fat lady. You may also watch the movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"

Life of the Fat Woman

I have to wonder at the life of the fat woman. Did she enjoy touring, seeing new cities? Was she mocked constantly? What a life it must have been.

The "Too Fat" Polka

Although it is definitely not fair that in today's society, the only people we are allowed to make sport of are overweight people (who are never off-limits), this reminds me of a very insulting polka that used to be sung in my youth:

I don't want her, you can have her,
She's too fat for me, she's too fat for me.
I get dizzy, I get numb-o,
When I'm dancing with my jumb jumb jumbo.
I don't want her, you can have her
She's too fat for me, she's too fat,
She's too fat, too fat for me!


That's the best comment ever to appear on Shorpy!

Jazzy Brolly

I really like the carnival barker's sun umbrella. It could easily be sold in Bloomingdale's haberdashery dept. today. One wonders what the colors were.

County Fairs and Carnivals

The Old County Fairs and neighborhood carnivals were always great fun. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for them to come to town every year. Todays kids don't know what they missed. Great side shows, rides, and cotton candy.


What used to be so rare as to have sideshow status you can now see in the aisles of any Wal-Mart.

Why pay for what you can get free

Just think - at a county fair in central Ohio nowadays, you would not need to pay either a dime (for adults) or a nickel (for kids) to see a girl as fat as the one in the Coney Island produced picture. There'd be plenty of them all around you! (Don't know if they'd have that "personality" though!

Millard and Bulsterbaum!

Inside Jim Secreto’s 8,500-square-foot photography studio in suburban Detroit, rare and unusual works of 20th-century folk art fly from the rafters and emblazon the walls. The rarest and most unusual piece in the collection, "Only 3-Legged Football Player in the World! -- Alive," was acquired from veteran showman and banner connoisseur Kent Danner. "It has incredible provenance," says Secreto, “because it was painted by Millard and Bulsterbaum, who were considered the best in the business.

[The original article by Tricia Vita, from which this paragraph was taken, can be read here.]

Proto Botero

This bewildered me enough for me to do a little research. The artists whose names are on the posters, Millard and Bulsterbaum, were apparently well known for their banners advertising circus midways and Coney Island sideshows -- and also their artistic renderings of zaftig women. I have to admit that though this woman is of majestic dimensions, it's still an oddly flattering image. The Library of Congress has another one (photo by Jack Delano) that's even more unique.

Where's Jenny Craig?

She could make a "big" splash today with advertisements and reality shows.

Huggin' and Chalkin'

The posters immediately recall to me Hoagy Carmichael's song hit, recorded by him for Decca in 1946. I first heard it about 1990, sung cheerfully one evening at a dinner party, by a friend in her sixties who remembered it word for word.

Huggin' and Chalkin'

I got a gal who's mighty sweet
Big blue eyes and tiny feet
Her name is Rosabelle Magee
And she tips the scales at three-oh-three.

Oh, gee, but ain't it grand to have a gal so big and fat
That when you go to hug her, you don't know where you're at
You have to take a piece of chalk in your hand
And hug a ways and chalk a mark to see where you began.

One day I was a-huggin' and a-chalkin' and a-chalkin' and a-huggin' away
When I met another fella with some chalk in his hand
A-comin' around the other side - over the mountain! -
A-comin' around the other side.

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