You could also throw darts or shoot BB guns at balloons to win prizes that would quickly go into the attic to be retrieved with quizzical looks twenty years later by someone asking “what did this cost you?” I was always very good with numbers but the distinction between shiny and crap took a few more years to figure out.
Once in a while a travelling circus, in place of the carnival, came through with the requisite elephant and a menagerie of snakes and turtles for the big show. The show women, who had once been beautiful, wore spangles and high heels that were out of place on the Campus School athletic field where imagination and mystery could coexist only in the dark.
Nevertheless I went each year for four or five years and every year saw the same things but saw them differently. In time I came to see these shows as a window on a seamy outside world. My parents after all were right but I had to see it for myself.
Looking back it was how people reacted that was most telling. Many never went. The fairs it seemed were sentenced before any testimony was even given. For others who did go there was sometimes something in their eyes that was unsettling. They could seem as caged as the monkeys. New Paltz, it would turn out, would not be enough. More than fifty years later most have left. The kids I grew up with, like the plentiful milkweed silky seeds we could find every fall, have moved on or been carried away. In either case, driving or driven, they are gone. And for the few of us who think about it the impulse to leave probably owed something to what we saw as we sat on the Ferris wheel, rising high, seeing ourselves disappearing into the night and thinking we wanted to go higher.
The images with this piece are photos of the carnivals and circuses in the Hudson Valley taken about 65 years ago. Elephants can live to 70 years so its possible that one of the elephants in this picture still lives. If so, it will be because it didn’t eat the cotton candy.