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Rusty Gold with American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe - Ticket To Ride

As much as I love fall and winter, after about five months of all that coziness, the last few weeks start to get itchy. Time to fold up the blankets, throw open the windows, breathe in some fresh air and let a little light in. And while you’re brightening things up, maybe add a pop of colour?

OK, I’ve never said “pop of colour” in my life. But this thing is six feet tall, it’s all kinds of green and blue—and some yellow and pink—and I’ve got TWO of ‘em. A pop of colour if I ever saw one. And, of course, there’s a story to tell.


In the late 19th century in Europe, “sideshows” popped up everywhere, touring the country sides, gathering crowds who’d spend a penny or two to eat some popcorn and gasp at conjoined twins or a bearded lady. I’m not vouching for the morality of this, but 150 years ago, it was pretty good entertainment for the price—and even a bearded lady had to make a living. When the “outdoor amusement” business spread to America, most of the shows looked like the original ones; same kinds of acts, same cheap plywood sets and props copied from beautiful French Art Deco designs.

This was popular mass entertainment right up through the ‘20s—when movie theatres started cropping up in every town—and even into the ‘30s, when nobody had a spare penny or two. By the end of The Second World War, the shows had changed a lot, featuring clowns, magic acts and pony rides.


That’s when Capt. Harvey Lee Boswell got into the business. He bought up leftover oddities, hired performers, collected some animals, put them in tents and travelled by railroad, carrying his Palace of Wonders to corners of small-town America right up until 20 or 30 years ago. The shows got more family-friendly, the carnies got cleaner and the animals were treated better, but one thing that didn’t change was that when you entered the tent, you dropped your ticket into the slot.

This is a ticket box. If you’ve got a big crowd outside, You'll need a pair.

Mike WolfePart sleuth, part preservationist and part cultural historian, Mike Wolfe is the star and creator of American Pickers on HISTORY. Find him online at antiquearchaeology.com Read more