NEWS FROM THE PAST---
World of Mirth vitalized the city
Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal
by Dave Sargent
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
That kind of bally-hoo echoed through the so-called mile-long midway at the Lewiston Fairgrounds when the World of Mirth Show was in town.
In 1957 and 1958, the show was paired with the "always Labor Day week" Maine State Fair.
Carnivals and fairs always were, and still are, a strange juxtaposition - the weirdest of sideshows, racy dancers and thinly-veiled con games next to exhibition halls displaying grandma's quilts and apple pies.
During World of Mirth days in Lewiston, thousands of fun-seekers passed beneath a towering orange gate advertising the "Largest Midway on Earth."
In its heyday, it arrived on 50 railroad cars. Memorable features were the Dancing Waters lighted fountain show, jazz revues and exotic dancers - and several politically incorrect shows, by today's standards.
There were two or three huge Ferris wheels, as well as the Octopus, Tilt-A-Whirl, Round-Up, Chair-O-Plane and lots of kiddie rides.
Games of chance abounded, and somehow I always thought I could snare a camera with the Pitch-Til-U-Win hoops.
Our farm is directly across the Androscoggin River from the fairgrounds and the World of Mirth's signature searchlights pierced the night sky. For several nights we heard the midway music and the screech of the Motordrome siren.
The World of Mirth didn't always play at the fairgrounds. Garcelon Field on Sabattus Street was an early location, and it was there that some exceptional events took place.
The show had a bull elephant named Teddy, and in addition to exhibition, he was animal-power for midway work. In July 1941, Teddy staged a minor rampage, upsetting automobiles with his five-foot tusks and refusing to submit to his handlers.
An account in a book by Bob Goldsack, "World of Mirth Shows ... a Remembrance," says a boy from the monkey show was used as a decoy. Teddy was lured to a corral of wagons where buckets of water were placed. When Teddy stopped to drink, workers quickly clamped cables on his legs. After a similar scene in Raleigh, N.C., later that year, Teddy came to a sad end: The show's owners ordered his destruction.
Wild weather hit the World of Mirth on Sept. 16, 1943, when a "miniature tornado" ripped through the Garcelon Field midway. Goldsack's book says show tents and large canvas posters were ripped to shreds and wagons were overturned.
The World of Mirth's first Lewiston appearance was in 1938 and its final show was in 1961.
In 1952, during the 97th Maine State Fair, the Lewiston Fairgrounds welcomed a particularly prominent visitor. Richard Nixon, on a vice-presidential campaign swing through Maine, stopped to shake some hands. B.J. Atwood of Sabattus and Clyde Luce of Farmington were two of the livestock exhibitors he greeted.
The Lewiston Fairgrounds was also the site of a marathon rock concert in September 1980.
About 130,000 "Deadheads" descended on Lewiston (population 30,000) when the legendary Grateful Dead band played through the afternoon and into the evening, accompanied by a spectacular sunset.
It was an astonishing event for local people. A recent Internet post from one of the attendees said, "Between sales and theft, the stores broke about even."