Something Wonderful This Way Comes!

When the Carnival Comes to NJ…

I LOVE carnivals…and they definitely fit into the Steampunk genre with their “old-timey” sideshows and eclectic fan-fare.  So below is an article I wrote for the Steampunk Landing Gazette, a 50+ page, full color magazine now on it’s 4th issue.  This is just a teaser of what awaits you in this publication which can be yours in hard copy or PDF version for a VERY reasonable price.   To see more of the wide world of Steampunk, get your issues here:

Have you ever watched those old-time movies where every summer, an entire town gets really excited knowing the carnival will be coming to town?  Then, when the big day finally arrives, people from all over come out for the festivities?  Well, that still happens, at least in Central NJ!  Now, this is no small town but every summer a huge carnival visits the North Brunswick area, taking up a giant lot off the expansive Route 1 Highway.
It seems to grow every year too, adding new acts, rides and vendors, so I’ve really enjoyed my trips to this carnival over the last couple of years.  So, being that old-fashioned carnivals and sideshows directly relate to the Steampunk experience I thought I’d share some information and photographs with you from this event.

The carnival comes to town every June for about a week.  An empty lot is transformed into a wonderland of bright lights, monstrous rides, greasy yet delicious foods, exotic animal acts and, of course, a home to a sea of people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  First, the rides; I’ve always been fascinated by the colorful, loud, lit-up rides at a fair…I was never one for riding a lot of them, although I LOVE the huge Ferris Wheel where you get a bird’s-eye view of the whole enchilada!  But I do enjoy watching the screaming masses getting whirled, flung and twisted around on these dangerous looking metal beasts.  The North Brunswick Carnival really has an extensive selection of rides from the classics like the horse-driven Merry-Go-Round, to tall towers with extended, spinning arms that fly people through the air in head spinning circles and drops.  And the colors and lights…especially at night…really awesome!  The whole look and feel of the carnival with the big, Victorian sideshow style signs and posters, flashing lights, barkers taunting you to play their tricky games, the smell of fried food and fresh corn on the cob, striped big-tops…this all transports you to a different time and place.

Now for the shows!  This year they really stepped it up.  I always love the big red & yellow striped tents enclosing the classic sideshow with the sword swallowers, fire eaters, contortionists, jugglers (& I even got in for free due to my 18 inch fingernails…we “freaks” (& I mean that in the best way) do like to stick together!).  Also favorites are the animal shows.  Now as a huge animal rights advocate I’m always leery about animal shows as I don’t want to support any group that mistreats their four-legged co-stars but I have to say the acts here were well done and very respectful of the animals.  The performers (the human ones) also stressed facts about protection for the animals such as sea lions and horses, and the shows represented groups that specifically deal with their particular species.  There was also an extensive petting zoo with domestic and foreign wildlife that did all appear to be well cared for and to be in healthy conditions.  I do hope these animals came from  rescue zoos or shelters but it was such a busy night that I didn’t have time to inquire.  The attendants did seem to be caring and attentive to their penned “co-workers”.

Another excellent show was the magic act!  The magicians performed the classic tricks like making someone disappear, having animals and birds appear seemingly from thin air, but with a new twist.  What was most impressive was they performed on a relatively smaller stage with the audience very close and yet no one was able to decipher how the tricks were done.  Real magic perhaps??  They also called audience members up on stage, sometimes with much persuasion, to help with some of the tricks and this really engaged the viewers.  I was especially impressed by the magician’s ability to roll with the punches when a very young boy was asked to help with a trick and wasn’t quite following orders.  It turned into a comedy routine but in the end the trick went off successfully.

Finally, the food!!  Yup, you have your choice of burgers, dogs (as in hot), fries, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos (disks of heart attack??), ice cream, cheese-steaks…all the typical carny  fare…but one of the best treats…and a much healthier one…were the grilled corn on the cobs with a wide assortment of toppings and seasonings.  Also,  fresh squeezed lemonade was delish and refreshing in the June heat.  This year there was also a big food pavilion with grilled chicken, pizza and other choices that was under a tent with a bunch of picnic tables so that made it more convenient to eat as opposed to walking around trying to balance your meal in your hands while navigating the huge crowd.

The turnout for the fair was amazing and I have to say, although it’s great to experience the carnival during the day, it really comes alive after sundown when the lights are in full bloom and everything is glowing, moving, making noise.  Something about the fair after dark really brings out that hint of mystery and uncertainty as to what lurks beneath the big tops.  Before I went to the carnival this year I had recently finished reading Ray Bradbury’s (RIP!) Something Wicked This Way Comes and as I strolled around the festive complex I couldn’t help but wonder if there were any supernatural, sinister beings running the show behind the scenes…not that I encountered any or found reason to think something shady was going on…but it’s that hint of danger in the rides and shows (& maybe some of the food, depending on your digestive composition) that really adds to the excitement of the event!

Oh, and by the way, at $4 per person, it’s affordable too…that includes all the shows but the rides can get a bit pricey so if you’re a dare-devil, bring more cash.  The food was reasonably priced and there was also a bunch of vendors selling colorful wares and souvenirs.  And of course the games where screaming barkers will taunt you to step up to their booths and try to shoot, knock over, blow up their crazy set ups of dolls, balloons, pins, balls, etc. for wacky prizes.  I’m sure many people ended up paying $20 for a $3 stuffed giant banana but it’s all about the fun, right?   So it’s really up to you to decide how much cashola you want to splurge with but you can get away with an inexpensive night if need be…but if you can go crazy, why not?

So, next summer, if you find yourself in the Central NJ area in June, drive down Route 1 until you see that big Ferris Wheel looming in the sky and come out and enjoy the carnival!   You can’t miss it from the road and there are huge, free parking areas all around the festivities.  In the meantime, as a teaser, I’ve included a bunch of my favorite photos I shot when I attended the carnival.  Here you can see some of my favorite rides and shows as well as get a feel for the event as a whole.  And maybe something wonderful like this carnival will come your way too!  If so, feel free to share it with your friends at Steampunk Landing!

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