Sunday, 11 September 2011

Saved by Sideshow - Rasmus Nielsen

A Carny Hero
On 8th of July, 1946, two days after the worst circus catastrophe in recorded history, the Hartford circus fire, a local paper called the Hartford Tribune, ran the headline reading:
Underneath was a picture of a short stout woman with a young boy of about six, both holding up their unused tickets to the fateful matinee-show where 169 patrons of the Greatest show on Earth was burnt to death.
‘I had bought tickets to the circus and took Frankie Jr down early so he could experience the midway.’ Frieda was quoted as saying.
At one of the Sideshow stages they stopped to watch the ballyhoo presentation of the sensational Scandinavian muscle man Rasmus Nielsen. I have had an interest in this unique sideshow performer for some time so reading this article thrilled me, to the point of creating a routine as an homage to him  back in 2003, but I digress. This veteran showman with the Ringling Brothers Sideshow was no ordinary strongman. His body was covered crown to heal in tattoos. Two fat steel rings pierced his nipples, like bones through a savage nose. His feat of strength and endurance consisted of clamping his nipple and chest flesh between two metal bars attached to a chain wrapped around an anvil! The wing nut screws tightened around his flesh hard enough to allow him to lift the 250 pound blacksmith tool off the ground. As he struggled he let out a stream of offensive guttural sounds.
‘To transcend the pain,’ the sideshow talker had explained. His noises and screams invigorated the crowd but, according to the article, it scared Frieda’s boy witless.
‘I was mesmerized by this barbaric performance, when Frankie Jr. tugged at my skirt. Looking at him I saw horror in his eyes. I got no idea what scared him so much but he was terrified and no amount of mollycoddling was going to stop it. Actually it just got worse and worse, until he screamed louder than the strongman himself. It was embarrassing, so I grabbed his arm and we left.’ Frieda said.
Her boy was so gripped by fright removing him from the strongman’s display didn’t calm him. His piercing screams, like “from a beaten dog,” became an ominous augury of the looming arson havoc.
The Gentle Strongman
After about half an hour of fruitless coercion with everything from treats to threats Frieda took little Frank home, hoping to be able to use her unused tickets for the evenings performance.
‘It gives me goose bumps to think about. Now I just want to thank Rasmus Nielson, the Scandinavian Strongman for saving our lives.’ Frieda finished.

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