Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Brill's Bible

It's rare that a single figure crosses the boundaries between the worlds of the circus, the carnival and the magician's stage. Aaron K. "Scoop" Brill was one such figure. Brill got his start managing and building props for a lion trainer before moving on to the carnival where, among other things, he specialized in building rides. Known on the midway as "Headline Harry," Brill set about documenting everything he could related to rides, attractions, and concessions before going overseas during WWII. 

Starting in 1946 after his return to the U.S. until his death in 1986, Brill began publishing A. Brill's Bible of Building Plans, making himself the keeper of design secrets for the outdoor amusement industry. For $1, an enterprising soul could purchased Brill's Bible, a catalog of blueprints and designs for everything from bleachers and carnival rides built from old truck parts to cotton candy makers and stage illusions like the "floating chair suspension" and "girl to gorilla" transformation, often used as a sideshow act. For an additional fee, one could then order full plans from Brill's catalog. Based on Brill's designs, one could practically build an entire show from top to bottom. 

While notoriously against government regulation, Brill claimed that he never designed a game or feature that wasn't on the up and up, though he did know the secrets of the carnival grifter. He trusted in his reputation as a businessman to get him through and considered selling the plans for rigged attractions was too big a risk for too little reward. Today, an original Brill's Bible can fetch top dollar at auction and his plans are bought, sold, and traded by magicians, carnies and outdoor amusement owners and enthusiasts even now, though many believe that not all of his plans are complete or entirely accurate (Brill was known to measure only a few parts of an attraction and then extrapolate the rest). His Bible even has a place in the Library of Congress. 

After Brill's death in 1986, the business was bought by David L. Hewitt, who, with the help of his children restored the original catalog and plans, adding additional notes gathered from Brill's estate. PDF copies of the 1970 edition of Brill's Bible can be purchased from and originals can occasionally be found on auction sites.