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Carnival Knock Down "Punks?" Ball Toss Sideshow Targets

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    Posted 10 years ago

    (203 items)

    A post from the Daily Blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb by Jim Linderman

    Years ago, I had the fortunate pleasure of visiting one of the most prominent collectors of American folk art on a regular basis. Besides teaching me much, I was learning at the feet of a master. (Literally...there was no room in his house and I had to sit on the floor.) We traded things back and forth monthly. I would study them, he would study them, and once in a while swaps were made. The stuff didn't have much financial value then, and I'm not sure if it does today.

    I once brought the collector three huge carnival knock-down targets, each about 3 feet tall, with effigies of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo painted on them. I didn't want Hitler in my house, so I hoped to trade them for an equally not valuable whittled miniature cane he had by a carver from Georgia. (Years later I saw Saddam Hussein painted on some carnival punks at the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, so things never change.)

    I cabbed them down and presented them saying "check out THESE punks!"

    What surprised me was that he immediately asked me why I called them "punks" and I really didn't have an answer. I'd just always known carnival knock-downs as punks. The collector was puzzled, which surprised me, as he had earlier curated museum shows having to do with esoteric material culture from the sideshow and such, and he certainly owned some. I figured no one could puzzle the master.

    He told me "punk" was a term used to refer to a younger homosexual man dating an older man. I had no idea. To me at the time, punks were the Ramones. Or as Joe Franklin, perennial host of a local TV show called them "The Ray Mones" while appearing as puzzled by them as my collector friend was at my punks.

    I knew gay "punks" were called "twinks" which I believe may still be in common usage. I'm a little isolated here, so I don't know for sure, and we should refer to all without derogatory terms anyway. But that also makes sense, as my collector friend was Eastern big-city based, and I suspect knock-down targets received their punk name in the Midwest.

    If you look up punk in a carny lingo dictionary, the slang term has numerous uses. As a rube, a child. a trick, a fake fetus in a bottle, a person primed for a scam, an "easy target" as it were...though the punks here were intended to be a hard target. That's why they had create the illusion of width, and the carny would also encourage the punk in FRONT of him to lean in "for a good toss" because you would then be throwing off balance. He would watch as ball after ball whiffed through the fur not moving the targets at all.

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    1. Benking, 10 years ago

      More please...
    2. vanskyock24 vanskyock24, 10 years ago
      very cool jim i remeber some similar at the fairs
    3. JimLinderman JimLinderman, 10 years ago
    4. kerry10456 kerry10456, 10 years ago
      I can still remember these, lol. Worked on a traveling carnival in the summers of 70-72. Still can hear the carnies crying out their wares and promises of "Winners Here". Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    5. Benking, 10 years ago
      Any photos of you then and there??
    6. zguy2112 zguy2112, 9 years ago
      It's the old "Six-Cat" midway carnival game, usually gaffed! This was a game of skill where the player throws a baseball (usually 3 tries) and tries to hit a stuffed cat. But in order to succeed, the player usually has to knock over all 3 cats completely off the shelf to win the big prize.

      There are many ways in which the Flat Store operator would gaff this game, such as weighting down the cats, attaching projections to the cat or shelf so that they will fall over but remain on the shelf, or by rigging the shelf itself to make it appear that it is more shallow than it really is at eye level.

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