A Traveling Carnival Came to Our Mill Village
Carnival Comes to Tuxedo
Those of you who read my articles know that I grew up in Tuxedo, NC and lived in a cotton mill village. Our lives were simple and when something as huge as a carnival came to our village when I was just a youngster, words cannot begin to describe the excitement we all felt. The following is taken from my book,My Tuxedo Doesn't Fit Me Anymore- Memories of a Mill Village Brat.
Towards the end of the Green River Mill Era, a traveling carnival show came to the baseball field in Tuxedo. It was the Johnny T. Tinsley Amusement Carnival. For me and my siblings it was our first time ever to see the neon lights and hear the electrifying hypnotic music blasting away along the midway. Our eyes became wide as we saw Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds and an assortment of rides and equipment we’d never ever seen suddenly appear and were meant solely for thrills and adventure. My dad told us kids this was carnival was run by a band of gypsies and it was only a money racket, we were awestruck by the novelty of the carnival but at the same time terrified of the people who ran the carnival.
It was late in the evening, I had been watching the neon lights and listening to the music coming from the gala affair when I realized that it was past time for me to go to the barn and milk old Bessie and feed the calf. I grabbed my milk pail and headed out to the barn at almost dusk. The barn was in close proximity to the carnival. I couldn’t see what was going on but the sounds of the carnival were easily heard. It was this evening that I had an experience that scared me within an inch of my life.
Since it was already late in the day, I decided to milk in the stall rather than take the cow out in the hallway as was my custom. I fixed the feed, grabbed my milking stool and set about my chore. I was really hurrying because one it was late and two I was afraid some gypsy would take hold of me and cart me off. I would forever be lost to the traveling carnival leaving my mama and daddy to weep for their lost boy, I had read the book about Toby Tyler and was afraid a similar fate might become my lot.
About that time, I looked up, and staring at me over the top of the cow stall was a figure that is forever been stamped into in my brain. An elderly man dressed in black, coat and hat whose face was weather beaten and the color of chalk showing discernible expression, was watching me milk. No doubt old Bessie sensed my fear as my milking hands went into cyber motion and there is no doubt in my mind that my hair was standing on end.
Then, I realized it was Mr. Millard Ward, an older man that lived in Zirconia. He never said a word after watching me for a few minutes went on his way, I don’t know if he ever knew how much he scared me that evening but I felt very much relieved when I finished the milking, fed the calf and headed back to the house.
Mr. Ward was a familiar figure in our community. He had a reputation as being a sharp shooter with a slingshot. It was commonly reported how he would visit the local garages and gather up used or worn out ball bearings that would have been discarded. He would use these as ammunition in his slingshot and to kill squirrels.
The carnival, as it turned out was a lot of fun. We were able to go just one evening as money for entertainment was scarce and we enjoyed the rides and listening to the hawkers that tried to get us to play their games for “one thin dime, one-tenth of a dollar”, our first candied apples,cotton candy and the sites, sounds and games along the midway.
The carnival never returned to our village but we did have our county fair which was very similar. As the years went by our Mountain State Fair held each fall near Asheville, NC has become a popular event. There are more rides and the midway is filled with vendors selling funnel cakes, cotton candy and all sorts of treats. In addition the animal exhibitions, and nightly events cater to all of WNC.