When sideshows ruled state fairs

King of the Sideshows
Ward Hall, or "King of the Sideshows"
Nikki Tundel | MPR News file

Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | This story originally aired in August 2006.

What killed the fair sideshow? Political correctness, in part.

In the 1950s and '60s, the U.S. had over 100 traveling sideshows — or "freak shows," as they were once known. They used to be a fixture at the Minnesota State Fair's Midway.

But in the following years, the number of these attractions dwindled fast.

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People lost an appetite for calling someone born without arms or legs "Turtle Man." It fell out of favor to call a woman with dark complexion and lots of dark hair "Monkey Girl." Same with sticking the name "Elephant Girl" on a woman with elephantiasis in her feet.

By 2006, there was just one sideshow left, run by a man named Ward Hall, who said his shows always used "genuine human oddities."

And Hall was convinced that the people in his shows would be put into institutions or left to live on welfare, if they weren't working for him.

"They were in sideshows because they wanted to be," he said. "They love applause!"

Nikki Tundel, formerly of MPR News, caught up with Hall in 2006.

Use the audio player above to hear the story.

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