Circus Freaks & The Rings of Giant Kings

What is that one bizarre thing you find escape?

Music has become my entire life...from guitar building, to historical research, marketing...it's all music all the time.  It sounds like a dream until it becomes a focus that has your attention 24/7.

Lately, I've been finding total escapism in my antique circus giant ring collection.  It's such a bizarre quest, my brain gets carjacked to a new world.

Are you stuck in a rut like me?  Let's have some fun.  (There's nothing for sale in this email.)

I've always loved circuses.  It's a simple pleasure dating back to childhood.  They're all awesome...from Ringling Brothers to the small outfits with forgettable names.  They're old-time entertainment and hearken back to a simpler time.

The freakshows at the circus were always my guilty pleasure. I've paid to see dog-sized rats, sword swallowers and the Fiji Mermaid.  I even went to the county fair one slow afternoon and had a 45 minute conversation in the freak tent with "Howard Huge - the 600lb man."  (Real name: Bruce Snowden.  He was a delightful fellow who later had a bit role as the fat man in the movie, Big Fish.  I'll treasure our talk forever, Bruce.  Rest in peace...)

Searching circus freakshow history has become a great diversion for me when things get stressful.  
It was during one of these searches that I discovered the tradition of sideshow "tall men" selling cheap metal souvenir rings for extra cash.  These have become my guilty pleasure.  I scour the internet looking for one by each giant.  

The rings are huge, as big as napkin rings and made from pot metal, lead and other cheap materials.  They're so big, I'm sure they were even a bit loose on the goliath fingers of the 8 foot tall men.  
It's not about the rings, though.  It's about the quest and the magic along the way.
*  Did you know Jack Earle would sell his for 25¢ and would guarantee them for good luck?  If he saw somebody later in public who mentioned the ring, he'd offer a shiny quarter to them if that ring proved to be unlucky.  
*  Johann Petursson's rings were always bigger than the competition and sported a plain JP on the front.   He later switched to a cheaper plastic ring in the 1970s.
*  Ted Evans created his own rings in his garage, using the same mold thousands of times, pouring cheap pot metal and lead into them and hand finishing them on a grinder.

As I type this newsletter, not one bit of my existence is thinking about music, workload or deadlines.  My mind has transformed to that of a 5 year old with eyes as big as saucers, gazing at wonders in the circus tent.

I'm lost in joy.

So what is the one thing that takes your mind on an Alice in Wonderland journey?  What do you consider your "guilty pleasure?" Find your own quest.

My friend, Rod Goelz tells me that there are no guilty pleasures.  Only pleasures.  Personally, I'm gonna go seek more plunder in the land of giants.

Find some peace today.  
-shane

Below:  A Ted Evans ring dwarfs a common quarter.  You can see the molten lines in the inner part of the ring... from when Evans cast it in his amateur setup located in his garage.

2 comments

  • Larry McCormick

    Larry McCormick Bremerton, Wa

    Cool story Shane. I collect cigar box guitars, mainly resos these days. But I truly love diddley bows. I think they are the best start to the guitars because you learn how to improvise and work at new sounds and tricks and it really helps in the long run. I have a tiny ted-a-caster diddley bow that I sent back to Ted Crocker because I got it on ebay and it badly needed electrification and I wanted it to be all Ted. Well, it screams now and I have a hard time putting it down. Love it. I also collect old ceramic , metal, chalkwear dogs, paintings and art too. But my guitars hanging everywhere are the best. Larry McCormick

    Cool story Shane. I collect cigar box guitars, mainly resos these days. But I truly love diddley bows. I think they are the best start to the guitars because you learn how to improvise and work at new sounds and tricks and it really helps in the long run. I have a tiny ted-a-caster diddley bow that I sent back to Ted Crocker because I got it on ebay and it badly needed electrification and I wanted it to be all Ted. Well, it screams now and I have a hard time putting it down. Love it. I also collect old ceramic , metal, chalkwear dogs, paintings and art too. But my guitars hanging everywhere are the best. Larry McCormick

  • Scott Strangfeld

    Scott Strangfeld Baraboo WI

    Awesome story Shane. If you have never been to WI and your looking for a destination for some reason Baraboo is the home of the Circus World Museum. We also for many years were the Ringling Bros. summer home. The Al Ringling Theater in town is a beautifully restored theater built by Albert Ringling in 1915. They host a wide variety of performances throughout the year. Our little town has tones of circus history and would be a great place to visit if you ever get to this area. I you ever do get this way I would love to meet you and shake your hand.

    Awesome story Shane. If you have never been to WI and your looking for a destination for some reason Baraboo is the home of the Circus World Museum. We also for many years were the Ringling Bros. summer home. The Al Ringling Theater in town is a beautifully restored theater built by Albert Ringling in 1915. They host a wide variety of performances throughout the year. Our little town has tones of circus history and would be a great place to visit if you ever get to this area. I you ever do get this way I would love to meet you and shake your hand.

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