Carnival and Medicine Wagons

The other night, while watching the offbeat, but visually beautiful Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus by Terry Gilliam, I was charmed by the impressive Imaginarium wagon that the movie characters travel and live in. While the wagon in the movie (best known as the late Heath Ledger’s last performance) is whimsical and transports visitors to realms of fantasy, the basic idea of the carnival/sideshow and medicine show wagon is included in the tall, elaborate structure.

The rural areas of North America in the 19th century enjoyed traveling sideshows and medicine shows as their entertainment – welcome during the time of the Great Depression. These shows included circus performers, burlesque, vaudeville, Wild West spectacles, oddity exhibits and theater productions. Medicine shows traveled around delivering “miracle cure” medications and other products between various entertainment acts. Many of these types of shows traveled in horse drawn wagons decorated with elaborate paint and filigree to add to the flair of the production. Because of the transient nature of the job, many of the performers lived in these wagons full time. Movies like 1932’s Freaks and shows like HBO’s Carnivale give a glimpse into how these people lived on the road.

imaginarium-doctor-parnassus

Very few of these wagons exist today, but some can be found refurbished and used as decor or displays. Even modern day fortune tellers like Suzie Kerr Wright, aka Astrogirl, has a recreated carnival wagon where she reads palms and interprets the Tarot.

astrogirl-wagon

medicineshow

carnival-wagon

sideshow-wagon3

sideshow-wagon

sideshow-gypsy-wagon

dr-parnassus-wagon-build

dr-parnassus-wagon-detail

 

Photos by Scifi-Universe, Dreams, Legends of America, Go California, Dr. Solar, j_pidgeon, Astrogirl12, Frogpond, Moses Lestz

 

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Lisa - March 10, 2014 Reply

Oh, thank you for sharing these pictures; they’re fabulous. I love the big structure; is this really a house? Wish there were interior pics of it; truly fascinating. But I can’t help but wonder if this structure is taller than 14.6; I mean, how does it navigate bridges. Lol, as you can see, I’m a true TH person; always thinking in TH terms. Thanks, again. And if you have any more like this in the future, don’t hesitate to post them!

katee - March 10, 2014 Reply

Way cool

Swabbie Robbie - March 10, 2014 Reply

This was the most fun post I have viewed in a long time. I love the eccentric lives people can lead. Perhaps this will inspire some of the Tiny House Builders to get their “freak” on, too. It makes me thing that perhaps some of the Burning Man buildings have a direct lineage to these wagons of another time.

The “Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a favorite of mine. Besides, I am a looong time Tom Waits fan.

Cathy Johnson (Kate) - March 10, 2014 Reply

What fun! Thank you so much for this collection!

Lynne - March 10, 2014 Reply

While recovering from a freak accident that left me with a badly broken arm, I’ve been reading Miss Read’s “Thrush Green” series, set in a small village in England. The first book centers around a traveling fair, and the proprietress, Mrs. Curdle. One of my favorite bits is the description of the inside of her ‘gypsy’ wagon, and her morning and evening routines in it. I wish there had been pictures. Love these photos here!
By the time of the sixth book in the series, when the fair was no longer able to sustain itself, Mrs. Curdle’s wagon found new life as a beloved guest cottage in her grandson’s back yard, in the little village she had loved so much.

Paul - March 10, 2014 Reply

Have a look at this.

http://www.oddsocks.co.uk/theatre/about/history

I saw OddSocks Shakespeare Company perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the back of a wagon that was very reminiscent of Imaginarium Stage. They were brilliant too. Just wish I’d go some decent photos 🙂

david head - March 10, 2014 Reply

this site just takes me, each day, into a whole new dreamy place. It really does.

Paul F Duvall - March 10, 2014 Reply

Brings to mind, “The imaginarium of Doctor Pernassis” Hope I spelled that right. A wonderful movie, much of which takes place in a huge wagon, much like the first picture above. I have to watch it again, to see if it’s the same wagon.

Anne - March 10, 2014 Reply

Thanks for showing us these – they always fascinated me when I saw them in movies as a kid.

alice h - March 11, 2014 Reply

There used to be a travelling horse drawn caravan theatre troupe in BC http://www.caravanstage.org/history.htm If you scroll down to the bottom there’s a great little NFB film about them from 1979.

David Remus - March 12, 2014 Reply

I even like the hippy wagon under the red vardo!

Susan J. - March 12, 2014 Reply

What a fabulous post. Thank you, Christina the Creative One!

Bern - March 16, 2014 Reply

I’m totally in love with these wagons. Thank you for a fabulous post. More please!! Interior shots too. Thx.

Carnival and Medicine Wagons | BEATNIKHIWAY - March 26, 2014 Reply

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