The history of the carnival
The games and shows of a carrousel
When the carnival comes to town, a weed-grown vacant lot blossoms overnight into an amusement park and magic wonderland. The travelling company unloads its equipment from railway cars or trucks, and soon a town of show tents and wooden booths arises. Workmen set up strong steel frames for the merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel, and rides that whirl and toss giddy, shrieking riders.
The carnival's medley of strange sights, sounds and scents spells glamor and excitement for the children. They are fascinated by the brilliant lights and the bright colors of side-show costumes and cheap wheel-of-chance prizes. The blare of the calliope and the loud voices of barkers, the smell of hot dogs, the cotton candy, and the surging crown pressing past the amusements on the midway all add to the excitement.
Growth of the Modern Carnival
The modern carnival follows centuries of development. Strolling players entertained street crowds in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. When the religious festivals of the Middle Ages brought the throngs to European city squares and plazas, shows came too. Street vendors and sweetmeat sellers mingled with the people, while jugglers, clowns, acrobats, singers, and dancers amused them.
The name "carnival" originally was given to the season of merrymaking held on the three days before the Lent in Roman Catholic cities. Among the most famous are the Mardi Gras festivals in New Orleans, and the carnivals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Binche, Belgium. Each had a procession of gay floats and costumed marchers.
Travelling carnivals, popular throughout the world were especially beloved in American small towns before automobiles gave people access to other entertainment. Carnivals still delight American crowds, even in cities with many rival attractions.
Carival Games and Shows
Carnival owners frequently introduce new rides that appear dangerous and exciting, but nothing displaces the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel as favorites. The merry-go-round goes back to the early 18th century. Its French name, carrousel was that of a tournament entertainment popular in the 17th century Italy and France. Troops of costumed horsemen engaged in contests, drills, and pageants. The Place du Carrousel, between the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden in Paris, was named for a magnificient carrousel given there by Louis XIV in 1662.
Since only the nobility could enjoy these spectacles, a Parisian toymaker set hobbyhorses on a platform to create a make-believe carrousel. It was crudely made and the platform turned slowly with only manpower or horsepower to move it; but it delighted people from the beginning. Modern merry-go-rounds are whirled by motors; but many of them still carry prancing wooden ponies wearing the fancy harness of tournament mounts.
The first Ferris wheel was 250 feet in diameter and held a thousand riders. It was built for the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois in 1893. Carnival wheels are much smaller but they weem sky-high to youth riders.
Mechanical rides, refreshment stands, and live animal rides for children are the mainstays of today's carnival. Tightrope acts, firework displays, or raffles are offered late in the evening to keep the crowd at the lot spending money. The carnival's varied shows once included minstrels, dancing girls, freaks, and animal or snake exhibits. Each was ballyhooed by a barker outside the tent in which the show was performed. Some carnivals still utilize some of these acts.
Many games of chance entice people to risk their dimes and quarters. Shrill barkers constantly urge the customers to pick up a lucky number on a whirling wheel or to toss a ball or a ring to a target. These games are built to bring profit to thier operators, and the few winners get little for their money when they carry away the tawdry, useless prizes.