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Down the Hatch

On the past and future of the carnival, one of America’s great institutions

For over a century, carnivals have provided a unique mix of seedy, woozy, all-American fun. Where else can you knock down milk bottles for prizes, see a man breathe fire, and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl until you throw up fried Oreos? But in a world where entertainment options are vast, what motivates the performers who take on the backbreaking labor and constant travel of the carnival life? In the May issue, author and podcaster David Hill hits the road with the World of Wonders sideshow, a traveling band of sword-swallowers, knife-throwers, and escape artists who remain devoted to the carnival lifestyle, even though their talents might bring them greater fame or riches on TikTok. He joins web editor Violet Lucca for a discussion of his carny ancestors, the history of the midway, and the pleasures of suspending our cynicism and enjoying the hustle, even if that involves spending five bucks to win a teddy bear worth five cents.

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May 2022

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