The Huffington Post David Moye First Posted: 08/04/13 EDT Updated: 08/05/13 EDT
The man known as "King of the Sideshows" is now becoming the main attraction of a new book and Kickstarter campaign.
Ward Hall, who at 83 years old is entering his 70th year in the carnival business, will be the subject of "Ward Hall: King Of The Sideshows," a new book about his career, if -- drum roll, please! -- a Kickstarter campaign can successfully raise $10,000 by Aug. 8.
As of Aug. 3, the campaign has raised around $7,373, mostly from the relatively small community of circus and sideshow enthusiasts.
But book author Tim O'Brien believes Hall's story has appeal beyond that teeny demographic.
"This is a story about a kid from the Midwest who ran off to join the circus when he was 14, and owned his own circus by the time he was 25," O'Brien, a former vice president for Ripleys, told The Huffington Post. "On his first day on the job, he burned down a shed trying to learn how to eat fire because he said he could do it in order to get hired."
O'Brien isn't planning a straight biography, preferring to use Hall's long career as a way to tell the story of how the American sideshow has changed since its heyday between the 1920s and 1950s.
"One of the things that is different is that there are fewer 'freaks,' or what I call 'human anomalies,'" O'Brien explained. "Before there was a welfare system, the only way a human anomaly could survive was working on the Midway. Parents would go to a sideshow owner and say, 'I've got this kid whose 8-foot, 3; or I've got this dwarf or this girl with no legs.'
"Ward took these people, watched out for them, helped them make money and teach them skills so they could go out on their own."
Life in a sideshow wasn't always a circus for Hall.
One of the stories that will be in the book if the Kickstarter campaign succeeds concerns a court case concerning "pickled punks," the carny term for fetuses in formaldehyde-filled jars.
"Ward had more than 20 of them that were confiscated at a show in Illinois in the 1970s," O'Brien said. "There was a year-long trial because it was illegal to show corpses without a death certificate. However, because these fetuses had no birth certificate, they also had no death certificate."
People who want to help the book get made can donate as little as $2, the cost to get into Hall's World Of Wonders sideshow, but a $10,000 donation will land a specially bound edition the book, as well as 10 signed copies of Ward's out-of-print book "My Unusual Friends," a personal phone call from Hall, an audio CD of him telling stories and a special tour and VIP lunch at the sideshow.
If all goes well, the book will be published in February, 2014.
O'Brien is keeping his fingers crossed the campaign will succeed because he's been bugging Hall for years to agree to the book.
"For years, I'd ask him, 'When can I write your book?' and he kept saying, 'I'm not ready.' Finally, he agreed."