RICHARD HYATT: A certain attractive seediness

October 17, 2013 

I was 13 and busted.

Our homeroom teacher had caught my friend and me going into the hoochy-coochy show at the Southeastern Fair and he wanted us to tell our classmates what we had seen.

We shuffled our feet and stared at the floor. How were we going to describe a raucous show where nearly naked women who were old enough to know better jiggled around a stage and amazed teenaged boys with a display of tassel twirling?

Such was life on seedy midways where for one week a year 4-H kids mingled with unsavory carny workers and upstanding families stood in line to see a two-headed cow.

For 60 years, the Southeastern Fair set up shop at Atlanta's Lakewood Park and there wasn't an ounce of difference between it and the original Chattahoochee Valley Fair in Columbus.

Both did business with Gooding's Million Midway -- one of the premier shows on the circuit -- and, in an era where nobody worried about the safety of the rides, Gooding's featured all the daredevil favorites.

We visited the exhibits and caught the aroma of blue-ribbon animals and were duly impressed at the first-place quilts, but it was the sideshows that we came to see.

There was the woman smaller than a 3-year-old child; the woman with a beautiful body; a severed head that was kept alive through the wonders of modern science; and 629-pound Baby Suzie, the world's fattest girl.

These distasteful attractions aren't acceptable anymore. The Greater Columbus Fair, going on this week at the Columbus Civic Center, has rides and wholesome entertainment but lacks the insalubrious charm of those old midways.

Such as Carson McCullers described in "The Member of the Wedding":

"In the early autumn of every year the Chattahoochee Exposition came to town. For a whole October week the fair went on down at the fairgrounds. There was the Ferris Wheel, the Flying Jinney, the Palace of Mirrors -- and there, too, was the House of Freaks. The House of the Freaks was a long pavilion which was lined on the inside with a row of booths.

"It cost a quarter to go into the general tent, and you could look at each Freak in his booth. Then there were special private exhibitions farther back in the tent which cost a dime apiece. Frankie had seen all of the members of the Freak House last October … Frankie had wandered around the tent and looked at every booth.

"She was afraid of all the Freaks, for it seemed to her that they had looked at her in a secret way and had tried to connect their eyes with hers, as though to say: we know you. She was afraid of their long Freak eyes. And all the years she had remembered them, until this day."

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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