Monsters of the Midway

A Campaign of Lost Magic in the 1930s Dustbowl

Who Am I?   -   Timeline   -   Circus Slang


Who Am I?

You are a circus performer, general hand (roustabout), sideshow freak, or someone else attached to the circus.  You've been brought on board by Shadwell and Myles because they know about your special abilities or because some physical feature has made it so that you could no longer hold down a normal job or be around normal people.

There is an age of magic brewing again.  Word was that once there was magic all across the world but that it has been buried for centuries and now for some reason it has been let loose.  The normal people of the world would fear you, and perhaps rightfully so, if they knew what you were.  But now you're hidden in plain view, thought to be a carny trick.


1887    The Garrity Brothers sell their wild west rodeo show to French immigrant Emile Shadwell and his partner, American former performer, Andrew "Hook" Myles.

1914    Franz Ferdinand assassinated, ushering in the start of World War I.

1918    Allied victory, WWI ends.

1929    Stock Market crash sends the US Economy and that of most of its trading partners into a tailspin.  The Great Depression starts.

1933    As a result of agriculture overproduction from the war, terrible dust storms develop and tear away topsoil.  Slowly the Midwest and Southwest become the Dust Bowl.

1934    Shadwell & Myles circus tour comes through town…

Circus Slang

Advance Man.  (Travels ahead of a circus to put up posters and advertise.)

Alfalfa.  (Paper Money)

Banjo Light.  (A pan-shaped metal reflector used to cast gas or kerosene light up inside a tent or sideshow.)

Basket Animal.  (Costume shaped like a horse, cow, or other animal that can be ridden, which the performer stands inside, visible from the waist up.

Bible Belt.  (Fundamentalist Midwest and Southwest)

Blow Off.  (The climax of a performance)

Brodie.  (An stupid/clumsy accidental fall.)

Bullhook.  (Hook on a stick used to guide large animals like Elephants.)

Butchers.  (Concessions)

Carpet Clown.  (Clown who works audiences on the floor.)

Cattle Guard.  (Seats in front to accommodate overflow crowds.)

Chinese.  (General free labor, often provided by workers who are contracted to perform.)

Circus Headache.  (Migraine caused by ammonia put out by animal waste and the like.)

Cloud Swing.  (A rope in a simple U with no crossbar or seat.)

Come In.  (Period before the performance in which people load up the tent; Sometimes animal rides are offered to children for free during that period.)

Dressing the House.  (Filling seats in a way that makes the house look mostly full)

Ducat.  (A free pass)

Ducat Grabber.  (Ticket taker.)

Dukie.  (Tickets used by personnel to purchase food.  Giving out some of the pay as Dukie ensured that the employee wouldn’t spend it all on drink.)

Flukum.  (Cheap quality drink sold by butchers, often fruit flavored but made from powder.)

Funambulist.  (Latin for Rope walker)

Gaffer.  (Circus Manager)

Garbage joint.  (Souvenir and novelty stand.)

Gaucho.  (Someone who joins the circus rather than being born into it.)

Gilly.  (Anyone not connected with the circus.)

Grafters.  (Gamblers who often trail trade shows, looking for a game.)

Grease Joint.  (Concession trailer where they cook food.)

Hair Hang.  (An act where the performer was suspended by her hair; As compared to an Iron Jaw, which see…)

Hammock Act.  (or “Spanish Web”; an act in which a performer climbs, slides down, and generally uses a length of cloth rather than a rope.)

Hey Rube!  (An exclamation by a carny belittling a civilian, especially during a fight.)

Ironjaw Trick.  (An aerialist who clings to a bar or rope by their teeth.)

Jill.  (A girl.)

Joey.  (A clown.)

John Robinson.  (A signal to cut an act short.  Sometimes “John Robinson” might be paged over the loud speaker during a performance, signaling for the performers to cut it short.)

Jonah.  (Bad luck person.)

Jonah’s Luck.  (Bad weather.)

Kicking Sawdust.  (Following a circus.)

Kinkers.  (Circus performers, often acrobats.)

Liberty Act.  (Horses who perform without tethers.)

Little People.  (Midgets or Dwarves.)

Lot Lice.  (Locals who show up and particularly get in the way while the circus is setting up.)

March.  (The street parade.)

Midway.  (Central area of the circus, loaded with concessions and games, connecting the big top to the front gate.)

Mud Shoe.  (Metal fitting used to help climb poles.)

Mule.  (Small tractor used to move wagons.)

Papering the House.  (Giving away tickets to make the place seem full to the press.)

Pie Car.  (Used to be the car on the train that sold food, cigarettes and beer after the cookhouse closed; Now generally used for any vehicle that performs the same function).

Ponger.  (An acrobat.)

Rag Out.  (Tighten tent ropes.)

Razorbacks.  (Men who load and unload railroad cars.)

Red Wagon.  (Main office.)

Rigger.  (Assembles the rigging.)

Ringmaster.  (Master of ceremonies.)

Roman Riding.  (Riding astride two horses)

Roper.  (Cowboy.)

Roustabout.  (General circus labor.)

Rubberman.  (Balloon vendor.)

Seventeen Wagon.  (Paycheck Wagon.)

Shanty.  (Man who works the lights.)

Slanger.  (Cat trainer.)

Star Backs.  (Expensive seats, with a star painted on them.)

Straw House.  (Sold out house.  Straw is put down to allow for folks to sit on the ground.)

Wildcat.  (To change routes without notice, often losing benefit of advanced playbills and advertising.)

Windy Van Hooten’s.  (A mythical circus where everything is perfect and everyone is happy.)

Freaks of the Midway