Monday, May 1, 2017

First of May, Choosing Day and Carny Weddings

The first of May is once again upon us, the signal for circuses to start the new season! Traditionally, May 1st is the beginning of the circus year, a date whose significance likely stretches back to the days of the early mud shows. These small wagon based shows had to wait each year for the winter thaw and the early spring rains to finish in order to travel their territories without getting stuck, usually around that date. Eventually, the term "First of May" came to be used as a derogative term for a member of the circus in their first year and one of the most derisive insults you could use against a circus veteran. Since the circus season starts on the first of May, the date is also referred to as "all clown's birthday," since a clown's career officially starts on that day as well.

Shortly after the first of May came "Choosing Day," at least, if you were on a permissive show like the Great Wallace Shows. On Choosing Day, held early in the season, the unmarried members of the troupe would select their mates of the opposite sex for the duration of the tour. Once chosen, the unofficial couple were stuck together as no swapping of partners was permitted after the day was out. While numerous shows were permissive enough to allow for "the old tradition" as Billboard referred to it, American society wasn't. Concerned for their reputations (and thereby their attendance numbers) the vast majority of shows stopped the practice, many going so far as to become "Sunday Shows," family friendly circuses with strict rules about fraternization between the sexes among other behaviors.

Unmarried couples who cohabitated as they did with Choosing Day were considered to have a "carny wedding," though this term also refers to other types of unofficial marriages as may have been necessary on a show when a priest wasn't available. In some cases, a more formal carny wedding ceremony was even performed usually consisting of the couple riding one rotation of a merry go round or Ferris wheel officiated by the show boss.

That's it for this week! I'd like to welcome anyone who's made it here from Motor City Steam Con where I'll be guest speaking again this year! Happy first of May and All Clown's Birthday!