By Robin Labarge and Roger Black
From 1935 to 1939 The World of Mirth Carnival came to Plattsburgh to set up their show at the fairgrounds located at Mooers Field near the intersection of Oak Street and Boynton Avenue. Called the largest outdoor traveling amusement company in the world by manager Max Linderman, the amusement organization boasted over 50 midway shows and rides carried on the World of Mirth’s own train of 35 (some sources say 80) double-length railroad cars which carried over 100 carnival wagons loaded with equipment and animals.
Operating from 1933 to 1963, the World of Mirth Carnival began and ended its tour route in Richmond, Virginia. World of Mirth maintained a northeastern route through the United States from Richmond to Ottawa, then returned down the coast to Georgia before coming home. Stops in the Northern NewYork area included Lake George, Massena, Ogdensburgh and Cape Vincent. In Canada, they visited Ottawa and Montreal.
As spectacular as the World of Mirth Carnival may have seemed to the residents of Plattsburgh, the feat the carnival workers performed at each tour stop was also impressive. After the travelling troupe pulled into the Plattsburgh rail yard, the private train loaded with over 100 wagons had to be unloaded, hauled to the carnival set-up site and the shows and rides erected. At the end of their visit, which could last a week or more, they then had to perform the whole sequence in reverse before travelling to their next stop. Inevitably, repairs would be required and for that the carnival brought along its own repair shop wagon. As these photographs show, the set-up process attracted its own audience of spectators.
Sponsored by the St. John Baptist Society in Plattsburgh, the World of Mirth advertised 220 big midway shows and 15 modern rides. In the huge “Odditorium,” were exhibits of a complete Midget Village, headed by Ike and Mike, twin midgets, and other oddities. The midway also included a fast-paced revue with a bevy of pretty girls presenting a singing and dancing show.
The midway also featured 22 rides to thrill carnival-goers including the Octopus and Speedway, the latter featuring gasoline propelled racing automobiles. Another innovation was lighting the 5,000 watt search lights located on top of a special electrical wagon which blazoned white light into the sky above the mile-long midway and special illumination of the “City of Laughter”.
Animals were also an attraction for carnival attendees. Along with the elephants, the Mirth Carnival apparently had an alligator on exhibit. It was reported in the Plattsburgh Daily Press on August 15, 1936 that Travis Cotton, 18, performing in the Mirth Carnival while in Ogdensburgh on August 14, 1936, was bitten by an alligator during the show. “With his head in the reptile’s mouth while he held its jaws apart, one of his hands slipped. When the jaws were pried apart, Cotton was bleeding from cuts around the ears. Later he was a second too late in snatching his hand away and was bitten on the finger.”
At the end of the celebration was criticism from some residents. Walter Brault, coordinator, denied that the organization took all the money out of town. Brault said that the organization would make a profit but a full 95% would be left in Plattsburgh in the form of salaries of which the show people spent a large part there for room rent, meals, clothes and entertainment. “The carnival is the poor man’s entertainment. Where else can a person buy so cheap as much amusement as he received on the World of Mirth “Pleasure Trail”?
In 1954, the World of Mirth had contracts for 14 fairs, but by 1963 it was down to eight. At the Ottawa Fair in 1962, a 4-year-old boy fell from World of Mirth’s Meteor ride. He sustained minor injuries, but the boy’s 10-year-old sister died attempting to save him. During the next year’s Ottawa Fair, nine people were hurt after a car from their Kilimanjaro Ride (a Himalaya type ride) rocketed off its track and smashed into the ride’s control booth. The fair canceled World of Mirth’s contract. The carnival finally struck its tents in 1963 when it was seized for debts in Winston-Salem, NC and its equipment was auctioned off the following year. Frank Bergen, the show’s long-time owner and founder, died in 1971 and his wife, Hilda ,in 1975. Sadly, the wagons that once transported The World of Mirth were last photographed deteriorating in a field in Winston-Salem, NC.